Turning a transcribed phone call into an all-singing, all-dancing theatrical epic
Pavol Liska doesn’t have a voice in his head warning him to keep things small. “I have the opposite problem,” he says. “Life is too short. I stopped caring so much about pleasing people or being loved, and realised I needed to think large. As large as I can.” Along with his wife Kelly Copper, Liska is the co-director of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma – and they’re bringing Melbourne a production over ten hours long.
Seven years ago, company member Kristen Worrall was asked to explain her life story over the phone. Life and Times: Episodes 1–4 turns that transcribed monologue – every digression, every stumble, every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ – into song and dance. The focus for Liska isn’t autobiography; it’s the way it was told. “I could have asked her other questions,” he says, “but this question produced the most amount of language.”
“If we wanted to have language that’s already aesthetically pleasing, we could have chosen Shakespeare or Chekov – but we’re interested in raw material.” Liska compares it to refusing to airbrush so-called flaws from a photograph. “People do that for fashion magazines, but we’re not doing a fashion show.” Instead, it captures the musicality of language as it’s actually spoken. “I’m not prejudiced against those sounds that humans make.”
But isn’t setting Worrell’s words to music, to be sung on stage, another way of shaping the material? Yes, says Liska, but that’s what lets audiences hear it anew. “I bet right now you haven’t noticed a single ‘um’ or ‘like’ I’ve said. You’re translating. I probably sound much more intelligent than I actually am.” Shedding preconceived notions of what language suits the stage makes this an almost anthropological project for Liska – something that’s “made out of curiosity”.
Liska admits to having a short attention span, but he seeks out art to challenge it. “I know myself, and I push myself.” That’s what Life and Times offers, too. Audiences can see it over multiple nights, or all at once – and Liska says no one attends the marathon on whim. “People prepare. They decide what to wear, decide how to eat beforehand. They make a commitment.” (Another selling point: food is served between each episode.) “You exercise your attention. You exercise your senses. You exercise your aesthetic sensibilities.”
Life and Times isn’t even halfway complete. Once finished, the ten episodes will run for 24 hours. Will it be a relief when it’s done after all these years? “Every day we’re confronted with the possibility that it’s not going to get finished. Whether it’s our health, or finances, or you just never know. It takes a toll, and it’s not an easy project,” he says, “so I will be relieved for sure.”