Go Deeper

Tina Brock And Her Absurd Theater Company Take On Kafka

Posted June 7th, 2013

Nobody told Tina Brock that starting a theater company was going to be this way.

The Idiopathicridiculopathy Consortium, producing Kafka’s The Castle at the 2013 Fringe Festival, did not go through the typical track that many theater companies go through: clicking with like-minds at school, then building a company upon graduation. “Ours is not that story at all.”

Currently on the Clinical Skills Evaluation Board by day and directing theater by night, Brock came to theater indirectly; she studied journalism in college and took classes in theater and dance before she moved to Philadelphia. After a job at WHYY radio, she found herself with the other two founders of IRC at George DiCenzo‘s scene study class at what used to be the Triangle Theater. “I used to get the critique, ‘You’re really right for this absurdist stuff.’ And I would think, ‘What does that mean?’ and it probably has something to do with the existential anxiety that I feel 24/7,” she laughs.

Thus began the Idiopathicridiculopathy Consortium. “The consortium is a couple of us, and then it’s more than a couple of us. I’m the producer and artistic director with another colleague who does more of the technical part, and then it’s a group of actors who tend to be consistent in this ensemble.”

These actors also come from and contribute with a variety of backgrounds. “We work with a mix of disciplines: several have graduate degrees in theater, some with dance, music, philosophy, English. The writing is very musical, so experience in dance or with an instrument is common.”
The actors themselves are sort of nomadic, yet their unique individual processes mix well under the direction of Brock. In all of its manifestations, the consortium has consistently produced about two shows a year.

“There’s a form to the work–and a way of working on it that together–that we’ve developed and experienced with. This process isn’t necessarily the way most people would work if they were going to work on something like American Realism.”

“Absurdist theatre” works as shorthand to describe the content of the plays, but Brock is quick to qualify the label that Martin Esslin used to pool together authors like Arthur Adamov and Eugene Ionesco together in the fifties and sixties. “It’s not so much a title; it’s more a list of attributes that the work seems to have in common.”

And how does one process absurd, existential, or nonsensical theatre?

When the consortium first started, “We just got on our feet and just tried to work through the material because so much of it is not plot-driven. It’s like an episode of Friends; little happens. It’s about an emotional state that fuels the action or non-action . . . it wants to be visceral and not cerebral.”

Her challenges come with directing those who are not naturally inclined towards anxiety. “I come to the character by way of the movement, because that’s when I find the emotional trajectory of the character. But for other people they don’t find it first from that place. They come from a logical, cerebral place, which is just as valid of a place.”  Brock came to her style by way of her own experimentation and initiative, so it’s natural that she respects each of the individual processes in her directing.

In casting, Brock has a preference for people who already have an existentialist streak themselves for good reason. “It’s hard to ask people to be anxious. Anxiety is not a state that people want to be in. It’s not a place anyone chooses to reside, it’s hard on the body and mind–it can be tricky to authentically create and sustain.”

Another challenge involves the give and take between audience and performer in a little space.”One of the reasons we work in a small space is because I want the audience to feel the loop of it. That’s where humor comes in order to really trim the edges off of it.”

Balancing the immersive and the intimate becomes especially important when you figure in the electricity generated by anxiety-provoking plays.  “If the character’s energy is too sprawling or generalized, the play loses shape. . . .There’s no hiding in your head in this material. We have to bring it onto the stage so the audience feels it.”

Set Idea for The Castle Credit: Anna Kiraly

Set Idea for The Castle Credit: Anna Kiraly

This year’s performance marks the fourth theater production of Kafka’s surreal work ever, and uses the adaptation the Manhattan Theater Ensemble did in the early 2000s. Meticulous about set design, Brock has produced a play that is visually captivating in order to communicate how “the castle is out there” within the limits of a twenty-four by eighteen foot space.

What we get out of a play like this are the experiences that enable us to become better, or at least more interesting people. Whatever it does, a cringe followed by a laugh can apparently do wonders in the weighty business of existing.

“Here you have the best of Monty Python, and you still have the depth and the philosophy of Kafka, who I find hilarious.”

–Monica Rocha