rose like the ancient god: BAAL.
in 1998, I conducted a number of workshops with David Branson to
prepare for the later rehearsals of the production. At the time, I
was concerned that David focus all his energy on to the one role and
not be distracted by the multiplicity of activities that drove him
and compelled him forward. The result was one of the most amazing and
powerful distillations of life and art I have ever witnessed.
His body and voice
merged with the particular content of Brecht's play to create moments
of intense power and disturbance. Audiences would later glimpse
something of this. Although it must be said that only two or three of
the scheduled performances revealed anything like the power evoked
during those workshops in December 1997. For here was David Branson
in full flight without self-consciousness and without the need to
perform. He was the creator. He descended into the psychic pit where
creative demons evoked their subversive energies that gave rise to BAAL.
Here was David flowing and driving with a tide of energetic
inspiration that merged spirit with flesh.
And it was caught
Here were moments
that can be witnessed: scenes that illustrated the processes of life
and art being sculptured by the will of a creator. Here was David
Branson submerged within some greater power tapped for his own use in
giving form to invisible urges and energies that frighten the social
orders of our rationally constructed and constricted lives.
I believe BAAL
was a revelation to David on a personal level just as his work on DEMONS
was a social cultural revelation of forces and energies captured and
shaped by Dostoyevsky. I don't know when David first expressed a wish
to play BAAL, but it would be
hard to imagine a role that allowed him to pitch himself so fully. BAAL
was closer to the surrealists in style and inspiration than any of
Brecht's later works. It presented a wild absurd universe where man
either conformed to the petty rules of social order or raged as a
brutal god: a law unto himself to end in inevitable self destruction.
This was certainly
at odds with the later more orthodox socialist Brecht. The
contradictory nature of BAAL
was more problematic than any of his later characters: The moral of
the tale more concealed beneath the poetry of the telling. But the
element of free spirits outside the social constraints of stifling
orders and authority rang bells for David Branson.
were always with the anarchists and those who defied orthodoxy of any
kind. He shunned the easier roads that might have absorbed his talent
and energy. He understood the risks of contributing to the dominant
culture and allowing it to sap his will and limited hours. For
David's limited hours were spent in constant acts of giving to those
he considered travelling on the same waves of creative energy.
Anything that hindered the creative spirit was the enemy and had to
be opposed. The result was that David was constantly causing ripples
where ever he found complacency and stagnation.
David gave new
meaning to chaos theory. He achieved works of art through constant
breaking of form and unity. In doing this, he paradoxically liberated
others to achieve the finality which he shunned.
he insisted on the inclusion of Camus (who's adaptation of
Dostoyevsky's novel provided inspiration for our work) as a character
in the production. More significantly, he insisted on having the car
crash which killed Camus in real life. The violent nature of this
incident broke through much of the reality being established through
Wayne Macauley's well crafted deconstructed text. However, David was
insistent against the opinion of virtually everyone connected with
Still, he argued
his point clearly and consistently. We could have over-ruled him. But
somehow, he challenged all of us to try something outside of the
obvious: to allow the chaos to pattern itself and find it's own reality.
He was determined
that the work express the concerns of S11 and the anti-globalization
movement. To do this required that art and life merge and the lines
be left less rigid. Camus' position as the outsider in European
politics fifty years ago was thus relevant. The artist as both
outsider and participant in real life historical events provided
contradictory psychological and political tensions within the production.
And, with David's
death in a car accident while on his way to the theatre some weeks
later, one can't help but acknowledge the art and life pattern
created from the seeming chaos of his methodology and the focused
order of his intentions. For David Branson never seemed to waver from
a very personal and ordered intention to galvanize individuals and
community into artistic expression. David never ceased to create a
performance out of his own life; a performance that ensured a little
chaos and unpredictability was injected into all social situations
... and often challenging the accepted social order while drawing
people's attention to the fact of their existence in a specific
moment. Not just in a general sense; but in a very specific and
This isn't an
exaggeration. The power of David's focusing a moment will be a
lasting legacy. His performance was so strong as to go beyond
performance and into a hyper-reality. In David's presence, everyone
woke up. While all around us, the dominant forces of culture and
society are drugging us into an abstracted state where existence is
becoming increasingly abstracted into generalized images of being:
The image of being
distracting and distorting our experience
And so as I am
left to watch the video of David energizing a space while working at
merging his physicality and psyche with Brecht's character, I
struggle to take some of his incredibly chaotic energy and merge it
with the equally incredible focus of his intent. In real meetings
with David Branson, one became infected with this duel experience. In
memory, one is left to be a witness to it and then to be a carrier; a
bearer of that same purpose.
On the video, I
see him rising like the ancient god, BAAL just
before he begins repeating the phrase: "I'm so close to you."
HOUSE PITS reaffirms
its commitment to art and theatre that ignites perception of both the
light and the dark of our existence in the wake of all that is
deadening our sense of our potential as human beings. Sometimes
individuals emerge who can assist us in our own clarification of what
we must do and what we are. We thank David Branson for his gift to us.
(10th. Jan. 2002)