“To be or not to be, (…)
To die, to sleep, no more (…)
To sleep! Perchance to dream (…)”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
EXIT is the title of a research project that Kris Verdonck and dancer and choreographer Alix Eynaudi carried out together, in collaboration with Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek).
The basis of this project is a question: in a traditional theatre set-up, using all the media at the theatre’s disposal (lighting, sound, movement, language, images, stage design, etc.), what influence can we have on the sensory perceptions of an audience? To what extent are artists capable of manipulating the spectator’s consciousness (and subconscious) using these theatrical means?
An audience comes to the theatre to ‘undergo’ or ‘experience’ something. What stimuli do our brains absorb in the course of everyday life, and how do they differ from those received during a performance? In theory, the audience enters the theatre in a state of openness and receptiveness. They sit, immobilised, in seats in the darkness of a heated theatre. Physically, they are forced to remain passive, and mentally, as a result of the concentration they need to take in what is being shown, they are in an ‘altered’ state of consciousness, a state of attentiveness different from that of every day (before and after the performance). These conditions can be manipulated, for example by making the darkness even more complete, by raising the temperature in the theatre, increasing the comfort of the seats, and so on.
But what sensory stimuli that can be produced onstage are able to induce sleep? We know from our experience of the cinema and television that sound can create tension, but can certain sounds also bring about complete relaxation? Are there particular types of light that can weaken our attention or even shut it down? Do narrative structures have a greater impact on our alertness than abstract forms (cf. dance and music) in which repetition plays an important part? Do concrete conflicts, situations and characters hold our attention more? Do we follow a line of dramatic development consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously? And what about the language, which we try to understand but which can also have the effect of an incantation, or bring about a stupor or intoxication
In addition to generating all sorts of experiments with theatrical parameters, Kris Verdonck and Alix Eynaudi also involved the knowledge of scientists and parascientists in their working process: they contacted sleep specialists, brain researchers, hypnotists, etc.
Kris Verdonck: “Sleep is about quality time, quality-living, learning, understanding, evolving. However, sleep is absolutely underestimated in the capitalistic / Fordism-like times we live in: sleeping is looked at as a complete waste of time. Sleep in the way I see it now, is something anarchistic, not in a destructive way, but dangerously constructive.
During our research, we discovered that there are two different kinds of sleep / dreaming: There is the “deep-sleep”, where information from during the day that has to be remembered is stored, and put in places so we can find it when needed. The second sleep is the “light-sleep” or “REM-sleep”. In this period we make associations and connections, in order to understand things and to develop an opinion about it. So in our sleep, the brain renders information on all levels. If we want to understand the world that surrounds us, sleeping time is essential. To be able to take good decisions in our lives, “we have to sleep on it”.
Our way of living and the organization of society does not permit us to take our time to sleep, and by this, to take the right decisions. Without sleep, our ideas and knowledge become superficial, like mass-products, and therefore easy to be overruled. Our ideas become less dangerous. So in this sense, time really becomes a resource. It's a beautiful contradiction: by doing nothing we are more productive and our knowledge is more profound. We become less fragile. Taking our time to sleep well, is something that helps to make our lives and ideas of higher quality. »