“The Red-Haired Man” by Danill Khrams
We began to research who Danill Kharms’ was before reading the text and decided what was more interesting for us to perform. After we read all the stories together we resulted in choosing “The Red-Haired Man” because we all
understood the text in a similar way. Then we all read silently the useful questions to ask when considering the “story”. Where is the story set? At that moment we were thinking about the life of Danill Kharms’ … Our groups’ main objective was to use what we have learned during the lectures and to try to pass from one text to the reality in a way that we could be active within the society.
We all believe in the social context of the message to create ‘alive theatre’. We were really concerned with the concept of being understood. So we picked the key point of the story: if the red-haired man does not have anything he does not exist. But he exists because he has red hair so he is against what is happening and no one wants to listen (to be red means to be in the inferior level of society). For us Danill Kharms’ was telling children his own story. The avant-garde literary societies that Kharms’ was associated with were banned by the Stalin regime. He could not write freely, he did not have a voice. “He writes the poem in 1937 and dies starving in jail in 1942.” The story is written for children which is why he uses this language and imagery. He wanted to talk. This was the platform for our performance.
“There was a man…,” we created a neutral character that loses the energy and disappears. The character appears in front of the audience with a strong presence yet neutral body, however, when sat on the chair his presence weakens due to the entry of the remaining characters (i.e. the society in general). These other characters cover his eyes, his nose, his mouth… with the same sequence that happens in the text. During each of these movements we used a sound of a gun in a way to create curiosity in the audience and a connection with the rest of the performance. The sound was used to create an image of war in the audience and was representing the idea that every time that we block one of someone’s five senses, the person dies or disappears. This interpretation has to be our response considering the date the text was created. By the time that Danill Kharms’ wrote this text, Russia was at the peak of a communist Era. Stalin was in power, the state was extremely repressive and people had no freedom of speech. All property was controlled by the state, individuals possessed nothing. The world was on the verge of The Second World War. People were struggling to survive.
We pass from the chair scene to another where is a man on stage at a superior level (as he is on a platform) above three women side by side. This was the area I took responsibility for in the oral presentation. The man represents the power and ownership over people exercised by the state in 1937 and also in a way reflects upon what occurs today. He is ripping questionnaires with audience’s identities and there are three women positioned like in the army, just to reinforce the war image in people’s minds. The soldiers become women weeping progressively more. The audience is alerted to the connection between the past and the present and that they are also part of a society which has its own problems. We connected Danill Kharms’ absurd style of writing with the absurdity of the weeping women. This has been done in a ‘clown’ way because initially the story was created for children and we were devising the text for our five minutes performance. In this scene, we were also looking for a break in the routine. The cry was not fitted on the original text, but it was implicit. It was a very serious issue.
After this each one of the three women steps to the front and in their own language tell us of a very actual social issue they were experiencing. They spoke in their own language because we wanted to express the world’s multiculturalism. This scene was portrayed in a grand playful manner. We worked ensemble.
The last scene sums the entire story up with each one of the women sitting again on the chair doing nothing. We did not have any specific intention in doing this, but looking back at it I now think this is representative of people’s apathy. The whole performance finishes with one more gunshot. We tried to keep repeating the use of certain props, such as the gun and the chair. Our characters experienced different feelings, ranging from the neutral in the beginning, passing through fake and real emotions because we are learning and we have to experience as much as we can. We were concerned about using the space properly.
In the end we did what we could within the time we had available. The theme could be expressed more strongly but we didn’t intent because the all audience researched about it. After the performance we realised some surprising facts, such as there being more women than men filling in the forms, some students suggested new ideas to use this fact in the play. The absurdity of the cry was discussed as fake, we took the risk and we assume the responsibility. Our group were very happy because we performed and achieved our goal of engaged the audience and make them think about society in our days. During the time that our group have been together everyone was always full of new ideas to try to improve our performance that is why was so exciting to do this work.