‘Lost and Unfound: Exploring Experiences of Loss on Stage’

Convener(s): Amy Powell Yeates

Participants: People with much more wisdom than I, including a girl with a lovely orange cardy.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

This session was held as a means of generating ideas for a twenty-minute piece of theatre I am making through workshopping. The piece, which is in its very early stages, is at the moment concerned with the somewhat broad subject of loss. In the session, I was interested in experiences and observations of loss - in life and in the theatre.

Through references to plays and the film ‘Precious’, group members were very interested in the triumph of sincerity over sentimentality. In such pieces, humour, hope and bravery take the place of morbidity and regret, qualities that we reflected can so easily define a piece that deals with loss. A playwright in the group was concerned that the loss of his protagonist at the end of his play might produce an anti-climax. Unnecessary sentimentality.

So perhaps one challenge is in creating a piece that has no room for regret. It was suggested that on stage, one way of achieving this is by using the narrative as a character’s escape from loss. They might give their audience snippets about the loss that they are attempting to flee, but these are peppered throughout their diversion, which might be a less than tuneful song played on the guitar. You take comic refuge with them. You are not being made to feel upset for the sake of the theatre-maker’s desire to evoke a reaction.  

Something that will really stick with me is the simple statement that, ‘loss doesn’t have to be tragic.’ You’d rather find a friend than lose one. But you’d rather lose an enemy than find one.

Or perhaps the productive that comes out of loss is the vacuum that it leaves behind. What might the need for this gap to be filled provoke? How far do you think about acting upon something unless there is a space, a hunger for it?

Actors, somebody pointed out, are often asked to ‘lose’ their natural habits. ‘Adopt a physical neutrality’ trainers or directors request. ‘Clear your mind’ the tai chi or yoga instructor asks. Take on momentary losses in order to find something else. Loss produces gaps for a replacement.

Maybe the thing that fills it isn’t productive. Maybe this represents another loss entirely. Loss producing loss. Or maybe the gap remains forever, its contents perpetually unfound.

But this is not the worst case scenario. What if you lose everything? The way we deal with loss, it seems, is by diverting our attention to what we haven’t. What does it look like, feel like to have nothing?

Maybe it’s funny. Loss can have you in floods of tears one second and laughing hysterically in the next. And it’s a relief to find solidarity with a character and their experience of loss.

Because most of the time, we try not to talk, or think about it.

Sometimes loss can inhabit new bodies, new realities. One group member had a picture of a friend that had recently passed away on her digital camera that she hadn’t backed up and it got deleted. She described the feeling as horrific. ‘It wasn’t even real, I couldn’t even hold it.’ Is this about responsibility? If you feel you might have been able to prevent a loss, your attempt to digest it is magnified or extended, or both.

It is not necessarily about the thing that is lost. But how, why and when.


Thank you so much to everyone who participated, I would welcome any other suggestions or comments to [email protected]