Pete's Plan for The 'New' Who by Bill McAllister
The Who, two years after 'Tommy', are moving on. In perhaps their most ambitious move yet, they will be presenting what Pete Townshend describes as "total music", on three Monday evenings in February at London's most forward looking theatre, the Young Vic.
Townshend's project aims at the involvement of group, audience and other factors in the making of "'a piece of music' which will enable each person present to get a better understanding of the fundamentals of their own personality."
The first of the three successive Monday evening "concerts" is on February 15 with probably 400 people in attendance.
Townshend, once again acting as spokesman for the Who, outlined their plans at a Press conference last week and summed up the prime-moving force of the experiment by saying: "Rock's real power as a liberational force is completely untapped…so a new type of theatre, a new type of performance has to be devised to present it."
And he added: "If a film of this is made, it will be the first real rock film…because it will reflect a reality."
Reason behind the Who's presentation of their new music concept at an unfamiliar rock festival as The Young Vic, in preference to say the Albert Hall, is Townshend's enthusiasm over the South Bank theatre's approach to extra-theatrical elements like rock music.
"Pete came along here some months ago to see 'Waiting For Godot'," explained The Young Vic's Frank Dunlop, "and then he brought the rest of the Who, and they were enthusiastic, too. It was this which prompted them to give a concert and we threw the doors open and let anyone come who wanted to. Even the police came and wanted to dance to the music.
Dunlop's decision to give The Who free rein is typical of the adventurous approach his theatre has taken since its opening three months ago. But, he explained, the mixed media events which The Young Vic staged during its first few weeks have had to be dropped of late due to lack of finances. "Contrary to what most people think," he said, "we don't benefit in any way from the National Theatre's grant. Instead, we have to exist on £40,000 a year, which is equivalent to, say, a provincial theatre like Nottingham."
If the venture is a success, Dunlop hopes it will sway the Arts Council into giving The Young Vic a further fund from which mixed media programmes can be financed.
Townshend hopes so, too. "This room will be so good to do it in," he said, indicating the almost Shakespearian-styled stage area and audience tiers. The room is octagonal, built from roughly scored concrete blocks. The stage, jutting out well into halfway the area, leaving room at its sides for rising steps upon which are red wooden benches, is met at its rear by a balcony arrangement whose wooden fixture are also painted red.
You can easily imagine the atmosphere that can be generated, because the room is intimate and welcoming. It is a good place to do it in.
Townshend was, as usual, in a talkative mood and was genuinely excited about what he was saying, almost as if for the first time he was really getting over an idea which meant a lot to him.
If it seems at first the Townshend's ideas are rather obscure – and he does admit that his "ideas are all abstract at the moment, there needs to be more physical testing" – then the motives justify the project.
"There is a harmony in The Who," he said, "which has come from our music. When we give performances there is this elation, which is completely free of any drug stimulus, and it's from the fact that the music is good, and the event is good and the reactions are real. Theatre people will know that a really good performance will last in the audience's minds for months afterwards. We want to get this going in a permanent way."
Both Dunlop and Townshend mentioned that The Young Vic and The Who will also be collaborating on a way to present "Tommy" there. "But we don't want it to be just an ordinary musical," Dunlop said, "but something which will involve the audience, make them contribute to it."
Looks like the Who are back on the right road again.