The Journey of Tim Crouch’s Work and Aesthetic
There are many lessons to be learned from Tim Crouch’s journey of actor to theatre maker. After many years as an actor he found he was unfulfilled artistically and instead of waiting for jobs to come to him he decided to take full ownership of his work by beginning to create for himself and self produce. Very little is available on Tim Crouch’s’ life before the 2000s when he began to make his own work and be recognized for it. In the 80’s he was a part of a politically active theatre collective in Bristol, UK, that performed in venues from community centers to prisons. He then, as he describes in his keynote speech at the Theatre Forum Ireland Conference, became “a bit giddy and went to drama school and became very excited about getting an agent.” He further explains that it was all a bit strange given what his values had been prior to going to school. Something about the institution of drama school made him very anxious to be publicly recognized for his work through film and television. He was able to realize this dream, and after school he spent some time on the iconic British soap opera Coronation Street as Denny Bull as well as a few appearances in the West End theatre scene. He then appeared on a SKY Television series called Fresh Air playing a lecherous pilot named Captain Richard Beardsley. It was an experience on this series that Crouch pinpoints as the moment when he realized he wanted to start writing and developing for himself. A particular episode of Fresh Air had him in a studio in London in nothing but Captains hat and a leather posing pouch, for lack of a better word, man thong. As he describes, “and this was my big break in a way, this whole series. And it was very hot in the studio and I remember sweat dribbling down the crack between my two buttocks and thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing? What have I invested in?” (Theatre Forum Ireland Adress). And so, at 37, after working as an actor for 15+ years, with no prior experience he began to write.
He will readily admit that he is no expert, but he has learned to value this, because, as he says, he is not constrained by a sense of what he can and can’t do or of having to get anything right. He has set out to ask questions about theatre; about the way we experience it and the preconceived notions we carry into it. The minute we involve labels, like “experimental” which is often used to describe his work, things are fixed in such a way that affect our ability to witness a piece organically in the moment.
“My mission as an actor is to start at the same place as the audience — not to pump myself up into some ‘performance state.’ Then, as the transformations of the play take hold, they do so in an acknowledgement of their shared provenance and construction with the audience. They haven’t come from some magic theater place, or some over-complicated self-referential art place. Those transformations are everyday and are co-authored between the actors and the audience” (Yale Daily News).
He often compares this theory to the way in which we encounter visual art. A visitor to a museum or gallery does not typically prepare themselves for the experience the way we do with theatre. We encounter it from where we are in that moment but it can still have just as profound an effect on us. This shared provenance between actor and audience was the focal point of Crouch’s first foray into writing with My Arm, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2003. The play follows the story of a boy who decides to live his life with his arm above his head, and the ensuing medical and media attention he receives. The defining quality of the piece is that while Crouch speaks all the text, the boy is played by a doll Crouch moves around, and all the other characters by objects collected from the audience before the show. The audience literally fills in the holes of the story with their possessions and photos of their friends and family. As a result, they have a special relationship with the story, bringing more of themselves to it. This exemplifies Crouch’s use of the act of removal in his work, which he feels can be just as effective a tool as addition, “because I am not creating a vacuum, there is no empty space. What floods into that space is as conscious, strong and physical an idea as if I got a group of people to do strictly organized movement across space” (Siobhan Davies Interview). He expands his exploration of this concept across his subsequent work. In An Oak Tree, which premiered in 2005, also at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a father confronts a struggling hypnotist who killed his daughter with his car. Crouch plays the hypnotist and the father is played every performance by a different actor, a person selected from the audience an hour before the show who Crouch guides through the show. ENGLAND, Edinburgh Fringe 2007, is a play that can only be performed in art galleries. The audience follows two actors through the gallery as the story examines transplantation; of organs, culture, and emotion. In The Author, Royal Court Theatre 2009, Crouch sits in the audience and the story plays out in dialogue with them. All of these works exemplify Crouch’s experimentation with how an audience brings itself to and witnesses theatre. He attempts to free them from preconceived notions of how it is supposed to unfold and allow them to make distinctly personal connections to the story.
Crouch currently works as an Artistic Associate at the Franklin Stage Company in New York, and at the National Theatre in London as an Education Associate. For his own work he regularly works with the directors Karl James and a smith, and the producer Lisa Wolfe. He produces work for younger audiences as well, including his 2007 piece Shopping for Shoes, an examination of the power of brands, and his I, Shakespeare series, which looks at the stories of Shakespeare’s plays from the perspective of a single, often overlooked character. So far this series includes; I Caliban, I Peaseblossom, I Banquo, I Malvolio, and I Cinna. The latter will premier this summer with the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon, while Crouch will be directing the National Theatre’s youth program production of King Lear. He has won countless awards and grants for his work, for more information visit his website: Tim Crouch Theatre