I've never been drawn to narrative or plot-driven forms of storytelling. When I reflect on my childhood (or even on the events of the past day, for that matter), I tend to remember still images and emotional themes rather than the specific actions that made up an individual event or a series of events. I fixate on strange facts that most people ignore or forget - facts that become dislodged from any given moment in time by their bizarre singularity. And I have a difficult time conveying the jumbled product of those facts, images, feelings, themes, etc. as a complete memory. This has led to a fascination with performances, both live and in film, that follow a less linear or consistent arc - stories that are developed around mood or images rather than a strict plot driven forward by the obvious needs of its characters. More on that later.
But first, this interest has also led to a fascination with inconsistencies in performance, and repetition as a tool for the dislodging of moments from one particular period of time. In thinking back on my work over the past decade, I've often felt most connected to the moments I've created that have conveyed partially constructed truths or events. These incomplete truths are never completed in the piece, but rather they're challenged by a slightly altered repetition of the original moment or by new "phrases" that exist solely to "discredit" the earlier moment. The simplest execution of this phenomenon tends to require the quick and simple establishment of a repeatable rule - for instance, every time performer "A" faces downstage the other performers must drop to the floor - and the eventual abandoning of that rule, possibly for no particular reason other than that the latest moment doesn't require the majority of the cast to drop to the floor. This inconsistency then challenges the audience's basic understanding of the rules, and continues to dislodge the actions of "facing downstage" and "falling to the floor" from any particular moment in the performance - those actions no longer belong to a threaded event, but rather exist as actions that once took place and could take place again.
Now while some may argue that these inconsistencies are representative of an egotistical favoring of "art" over "story" (I can't tell you how many times I've been urged to think of the audience, as though I had no intention of creating work for an audience) I argue that these inconsistencies are actually creating their own story. This story just won't be communicated by the linear enactment of a plot told through the actions of a cast of characters. Instead, this story will consist of contradictory images, facts, themes, moods, stillness, movement, etc. that together create a complex impression that will most likely be open to interpretation.
Of the several definitions of "story," I'm most drawn to Merriam-Webster's:
If we're adhering to this definition, then a story simply needs to consist of a statement - a clear expression of the facts - that pertains to a particular situation that is being questioned. This expression requires a clear structure, but that structure does not need be constructed by following the blueprints of traditional performance passed down by commercial institutions. Facts create rules. Rules can be broken. New facts arise. And we then can interpret those facts in any number of ways. As an artist interested in inconsistencies, repetition, imagery, soundscapes, stillness, etc. the structures I build to express a statement tend to resemble something other than the familiar two-story house many other artists are attempting to build. But this abstract structure is just as much a home for storytelling as any other artistic expression.
Of all of the artists creating their own structures for abstract forms of storytelling, I'm most interested in filmmaker David Lynch - specifically his method of telling the consistently inconsistent story of Twin Peaks. Unlike many fans of the original show (and Lynch's work, in general), I'm particularly enamored by the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the latest season of Twin Peaks: The Return - specifically the ways in which they challenge the original series. I can't help but notice, and subsequently find great beauty in, the inconsistencies that arise throughout the twenty-five years worth of story that Lynch has crafted. Characters come and go. Images morph and transform. Events are misremembered or significantly altered. Facts are no longer factual. And while at times Lynch may simply be revealing additional information that forces us to question our original position on (or understanding of) a particular character or moment, he is more often than not purposefully ignoring information he once conveyed - facts that we as members of a culture that seems to universally embrace plot and narrative accept as universal truths - and creating inconsistencies within an already challenging world of complex storytelling. These inconsistencies, as far as I've been able to observe, tend to reflect Lynch's need in that moment to express his current artistic interests. The plot of Twin Peaks has never dictated the progression of the story. Lynch is utilizing imagery and mood to convey a statement on life and death, good and evil - a statement that has changed over the years as he's grown and developed as an artist. Therefore inconsistencies, and even repetition of images and themes, become valuable tools - they point out these changing moods and force us to focus more on the new images being shown than on the plot being expressed in tandem with these images.
And in an unusual twist of fate, I'm able to not only remember the events of Twin Peaks but find comfort in conveying those memories simply because they're not reliant on plot, on a series of cohesive events. The story of Twin Peaks already exists as a jumbled product of images, moods, sounds, etc. and therefore can be viewed as a series of dislodged moments that form a complete artistic statement, but only in the individual interpretation of those moments by audiences who are challenged by the inconsistencies found within. And after recently watching the latest series of Twin Peaks and revisiting the film, I've done little else than reflect on my interest in inconsistencies and repetition, forcing myself to acknowledge my strained relationship with memory and the ways in which that relationship manifests in my own work. In many ways, I find myself repeating certain moments or phrases and purposely creating inconsistencies in order hold on to each moment I create onstage - to establish strange fact after strange fact so that the performance onstage represents the "memory" of the performance that will eventually manifest. The story I am telling has little to do with an overall plot, but rather moments I'm hoping to remember as singular facts that somehow convey a statement I'm attempting to make, whether I'm fully aware of that statement or not.