Tim Crouch is well known for breaking with convention. Since the opening of his first play, My Arm, in 2003, the British playwright and actor has received international acclaim for his works. Now, Crouch comes to the Yale Center for British Art with his show England, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. Its four performances have been sold out for over a week. In addition to starring in his own show, Crouch will guest teach several theater classes and speak at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Thursday.
The News catches up with the artist about his show, career and visions of Yale.
QYou’ve had so much recent success as a playwright, but you only came to it after years as an actor. Describe this transition.
AThe difference between acting and writing, for me, is a clearer sense of authorship. I still have it both ways, writing and performing what I write. This has altered the focus of my acting. Performance for me is now more clearly a means to an end, and the end is the communication of my text. It’s less about revelation of ego or psyche and more about communication of ideas … 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.
QWhere did the inspiration for England come from?
AThe inspiration for England — the story of a heart transplant — came from notions of transplantation that exist on the show’s macro level. It’s a piece of theater transplanted into a gallery, one art form inside another. It’s interesting to explore the consequences of that transplantation, where a heart from one culture is placed inside a body from another. I have lots of questions around the distinctions between viewing theater and viewing visual art. Those two dynamics of viewing happen in the play — something that needs a material container for its idea and something that is more conceptual.
QWhy ditch the stage for an art gallery?
AIt’s obvious, but theater doesn’t need ‘a Theater’ in order to be theater. It is created through a relationship with an audience, a relationship between agency and reception, between action and reaction, between an aesthetic act and a critical witness to that act. This relationship can happen anywhere. We have become lazy in our architectural notions of theater with the need to place the audience in the dark, in a passive configuration. All I’m doing with England is taking these ideas for a walk — literally as the audience is guided around the gallery. ENGLAND is two acts, however. In the second, the more traditional theater configuration is reasserted. The audience sits and faces forward, engaging with an alternative reality. So the two models are presented, but ‘theater’ is in both of them.
QWhat are you looking forward to doing during your time on campus here?
AI have absolutely no grasp of a Master’s Tea! The images in my head are gowns and cucumber sandwiches and long silences and a bottle of sherry and angel cakes. I rather hope that is the reality, but it probably isn’t. I’m excited about placing the play within more traditional art works. Usually, we work within contemporary exhibitions, so it will be fascinating to see what connections are made to the [J.M.W.] Turners and [John] Constables. I’m also excited about being in the U.S. so close to such an important election. Is anyone there proud that George W. went to Yale…?
QWhat’s next for England? What’s next for you?
AEngland keeps touring. Next spring it runs in London for six weeks. Lots of international work, including a trip to the Under the Radar festival in New York this January. And then, in September, I open a new play at the Royal Court called “The Author.” It’s a busy time, but I’m not complaining.