cont. (from previous post): scene ii, dreams, plans and schemes, ideal, S.O.R.T. O.F.

– image courtesy OMA

What theatre practitioner, performing artist, thesb, with a room or without one, a broom, or without, would not be excited by Rem Koolhaas’s re-imagination of the bricks-&-mortar playhouse he or she would claim to be more familiar with, would, indeed, claim to have a more creative and imaginative engagement with, than any architect?

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, part of the Dallas Centre for the Performing Arts, in Texas (unsurprisingly), deterritorialises the entirety of the theatre and its conventions on the vector of the conventional fly-tower. It surprises theatre design, catching it in one of its offhand aspects, an aspect, or feature, now almost considered redundant: the fly-tower. Here the whole building becomes a fly-tower. The vertically arranged auditorium and ancillary administrative, backstage, and public components are able to be redeployed, are flexible, less in the multi-purpose sense than in that which makes Wellington’s Hannah Playhouse, Downstage’s home since 1973, a clear precedent.

The Hannah’s auditorium, like that of the Wyly, could be configured with a proscenium, a thrust, in the round, traverse, in ways to which economics were the sole constraint, in more ways, in fact than have as yet or are in future ever likely to be explored, since economic constraints now play – hence the past tense – a greater role in its administration – and, it follows, on its stage – than the compulsion to create, or explore; and since, unlike the Wyly, the Hannah hides the modes and modalities of its contents – its very muscularity as a theatre space, its flexion – in its modes of form, in order that they are to be discovered; since the latter give away very little of what’s inside, its design may be called ‘brutalist,’ but it exactly doesn’t bruit it about, and remains, in its reflexive muscularity of form, shy, like the cliché of the musclebound hunk with a heart of purest cashmere, not prejudicing its viewers, to the point of appearing to some unprepossessing: squatting concrete; that is, the Hannah may not immediately attract the imagination but certainly rewards it.

– image courtesy OMA

If the Wyly is its unconscious legatee, it departs from its antecedent in causing an immediate flutter, is rather coy than shy, wearing nothing but a curtain: there is an immediate seduction. And whereas the Hannah is both muscular within and without, all flexion and flexibility on the inside, in its modes of contents, and reflex, caught in concrete spasm, or plexus, on the outside, in its modes of form, the Wyly is a flying cube, and is consciously contradicted, vicedicted, in its cubic form by its flying form, its exterior curtaining, like a wing: a literal fly-tower.

– image courtesy OMA

The flexibility we find in its modes of contents, configural variation, permitted by that musculature of the theatre space, translates, in its formal modes, to vertical flight. The Hannah may have neither longevity as the home of Downstage Theatre Company – the company ceased there in 1994 – nor in being the flexible space as Raymond Boyce conceived it, but its architectural legacy is assured.

I’ve heard it said, and not just by family and close friends, that the Hannah enjoyed its halcyon days when my father, Anthony Taylor was artistic director of Downstage and Raymond Boyce the company’s designer. Who am I not to concur? The potential of what I’ve called, after Deleuze and Guattari, the building’s modes of contents has never, either before or after, been so fully explored as during those six years, up to 1982. The production of Bernstein-Sondheim’s Candide was perhaps most exceptional, in a list of productions and production designs – that is, both in terms of how the show was set and how the set used the auditorium – which could not be replicated outside of that playhouse. Candide took place in the audience, above the audience, below the audience – and, that there were swivel seats, ‘behind’ the audience – occupied the ambulatories surrounding the auditorium and was broadcast out into the street during the day. You could say that the auditorium was played flat floor, in traverse, thrust, in the round, pros. arch at the same time, with a few more dimensions thrown in – the floor of the auditorium being modular and removable, the rostra being movable, the lighting grid, a permanent quadrate network of gantries, able to be used during performances, and the flying gantries constructed for the set being steel mesh, able to be looked through from the below, and at gallery height.

– image courtesy OMA

The Wyly comprises eleven storeys of height as a pure vector of movement, vertical flight; the floors take on the aspect of curtain-floors, like curtain-walls and flutter, float, or, again, fly. The real curtain around this real theatre – construction began in 2006 – opens not on a stage but on Dallas, the city, and, equally, from the point of view of the theatre, the spectacle, the soap, in a reciprocity of stripteases. The excitement here is the building’s dandiacal audacity, which is in part a camp reversal of the roles played by city and theatre. The city finds itself at the heart of the theatre and at heart theatre: the curtains open and what is revealed is the city-setting. The Wyly bears witness to its own drama: it excites because it is able to be construed as an act of imagination, theatrical imagination, architectural imagination, as much as it is actually constructed as an imaginative creation, a creative creation, by an artful art. It is a play on itself.

I’d hoped to segue gracefully into a second installment of T-Cell & I @ PACE, a scene visited in the previous post, but the connective tissue momentarily evades me and so I append those three points to show a break rather than a continuity. In this break, this lapse, we’ve fallen from the Wyly, from a discourse that I hadn’t, previous to writing, expected to have reached such elevation, down to more mundane matters, which remain at heart also, it must be said, theatre.

My native guide to PACE – native to those pathways, by turns obscure, however distinct, by turns revealing some feature, for example, an architecture, some vista, for example, a plan, to creative and cultural employment, to my creative and cultural employment – Lynn, led me to consider applying a SWOT analysis to the T-Cell idea, alongside a ‘dynamic’ analysis. The latter I’m more au fait with as the build-it-&-they-will-come model. Lynn proposed it as the more creative approach and the SWOT analysis as that focusing on the ‘business’ side of things, albeit that the business end of things is in this case creative.

There exists indeed a confusion around business and creativity promulgated, I would suggest, chiefly by the creative sector, in a gesture, somewhat self-defeating, of self-defense. But then how do we assess creative ventures? By whether they are successful as businesses or whether they are creatively, imaginatively successful? Isn’t creative, imaginative success ‘beyond the brief,’ a surplus for which due preparation may be made but on which we can in no sense depend? I admit, I’ve always judged as successful those creative ventures that survive. However, it is of course their business side that survives; whatever creativity or imagination suddenly flares up, it’s ignited among the tinder-sticks of due and businesslike preparations: business here is the business of seeing the flame kept alight.

Perhaps it’s that social Darwinism leads us to want to put survival down to fitness, implying competition, aggression, testosterone-fueled angst, red-faced men in suits yelling and taking risks that are not at all creative down at the exchange, and that this is why we’ve a resistance to softening, feminising our view of business. After all, creativity – as vouched for by Clive Bromhall – has a lot do with our childish and un-businesslike humanity, with human neoteny, an evolutionary turn that if we suddenly inserted it into social Darwinism might give us a cute view of business, a view that would not lose in acuity what it gained in cuteness. ‘Cute’ could become a business term, like mathematical ‘elegance,’ or ‘nice’ solutions. As for my implication that what is feminised is somehow less serious, more childish, softer, pinker, rounder, cuter, a cute view would demand, nay, politely inquire as to whether the traditional hierarchy of male virtues might do itself a distinct favour by conceding to being gently toppled.

I agreed, then, to Lynn’s proposal of a SWOT analysis as an adjunct to the gradualist and leap-of-faith, or, cute-baby-step-of-faith, approach, called ‘dynamic’ for the fact that there are flows but that they are matters of quality rather than quantity. Flows, of course, as Luce Irigaray would also agree, are at the heart of what is excluded from the already-dead world of male representations and constitute a kind of anti-math.

As I am acutely sensitive to my under-endowment with respect to both traditional male virtues and to an understanding of a mathematics that is sufficiently developed to exclude descriptions of flows from its logical and necessary world-view, I was hedging in agreeing to any sort of analytical approach, including the SWOT, and am hedging here, or at least putting off the necessity of doing it. Every time some arty type says I don’t believe in business, somewhere a small business dies. So, give me a second, I’ll clap my hands and say in a loud voice, I DO, I DO BELIEVE IN BUSINESS! And I believe, I’ll say, that business believes in my artistic and cultural venture.

In the second that therefore remains, I’d like to introduce another impossible task I’ve undertaken to complete before Monday, May 19. You’ll notice I’ve already made it cute by giving it an acronym: S.O.R.T. O.F. Research for the SWOT involves finding out about the competition. The ‘T’ in SWOT stands for THREATS! They’re balanced in a nice way by the ‘O’ for OPPORTUNITIES. (Then there’s the ‘S’ for STRENGTHS and the ‘W’ for WEAKNESSES.)

THREATS and OPPORTUNITIES are supposed to occur in the wild, in the external environment, that external to my abstract idea, the certain delusion of there ever being a theatre group called T-Cell. So to find out what THREATS are out there I intend to write an open letter to the performing arts sector asking a number of exquisitely probing questions, like, who does what to whom for what where and when? and do they pay for the pleasure? And from such questions compile a SNAPSHOT OF the REAL THEATRE ON the FLY, or SORT OF.

I have, you see, found my connective tissue: those pictures of the Wyly theatre I put in at the top of this post constitute SNAPSHOTS OF the REAL THEATRE ON the FLY, precisely, SORT OF.

I look forward to sharing the results of my SWOT with you and your friends and all the friends of business and will formulate my open letter forthwith to be circulated to all known THREATS for the sake of SORT OF.