refining crack: the process

It would be disingenuous of me to say that the problem, Is theatre an artform? is being presented without prejudice. I’ve already made up my mind.

Now where should I look for support? and how prove it? Perhaps it’s better to ask: Is theatre not an artform?

– Robert David MacDonald (left), Philip Prowse (centre), Giles Havergal (right), directors of the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, in a painting by Adrian Wiszneiwski, 1995

“A bunch of poofs strutting around in tights pretending their kings and queens,” is Robert David MacDonald’s summation of the view of a contemporary audience. Is this all that’s going on on stage to lead us to consider theatre not an artform? a camp theatricality? which, according to the logic of camp as the ‘the lie that tells the truth,’ swings both ways: to cheap and tawdry imitation and to expensive and shameless self-display?

Where I’m heading is this: both ‘ways’ deal with representation, a certain ‘distinct obscure’ relation of theatre to representation, and do so before they deal with concepts of incarnate or embodied or performance practice. It is a matter of priority, then, for me, if I want to show theatre to be an artform, or to argue the point, to see how theatre holds up against the charge made in Gilles Deleuze and repeated in others’ texts about Deleuze of theatre being the art of representation par excellence.’

– Dorothea Olkowski

Representation is – and this is reinforced by Dorothea Olkowski’s aptly titled Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation – the gatekeeper to theatre’s entry to the privileged group, art forms. Why Deleuze? Because, as his philosophy shows, the field of a concept’s contestation is often where that concept appears with the greatest clarity.

My argument in practice starts here: the concept of representation is most hotly, painfully, riskily contested on stage. Theatre engages this concept in a more problematic sense than other artforms (in fact, par excellence). And this is the reason for theatre’s relegation to non-artform status. Its status is rendered ambiguous by its relation to representation.

– Anthony Burgess in a photograph by Liana Burgess, taken in New York, 1972

A clear example of the preceding lies in the fate of the erstwhile ‘colonial’ stagecraft employed in New Zealand theatres. We had the British Rep. schtick down. A period of experimentation with other models marks the 70s and 80s as getting over colonial practice, developing postcolonial strategies. Today we might be said to have adopted a new abstract position, neocolonial. The metanarrative of representation remains, on at least one axis ‘colonialism,’ a barrier to what happens in these ersatz contexts being ‘art’ or, I would argue, ‘theatre.’ (And theatre is in this case like Anthony Burgess’s hand with which he composed music and not like the typewriter with which he wrote books: it has a direct line to the heart; this makes it highly, archly representative.)

Deleuze interests me as providing a strong conceptual framework – and, to be honest, a fluid one – for a valorisation of art as uniquely able to give access to what is: the famous virtual ontology or transcendental empiricism. And, therefore, because of the signally important place of art in his philosophy, and because he wrote little about theatre, the challenge is to bring his thought into theatre, to contest his concepts in theatre, and, thereby, to contest the concepts of theatre.

Deleuze called his two books dealing with cinema works of philosophy. In a similar way, I’m proposing a philosophy of theatre that is also a theatre of philosophy. In fact, to follow a Deleuzian logic, one cannot but be the other.

In our initial discussion over at Massey’s Albany campus, Dr. Paul said something like: I don’t see how, if you are writing the texts, you are going to find anything you haven’t already put there. My part-answer was along the lines of a radical differentiation between the arts of writing and of rehearsing. On reflection, this is hardly satisfying. Rehearsing is an entirely different creative process to writing (or reading, for that matter, pace, Rolande Barthes).

– W.H. Auden

I would rather say that the revolution is in the realism and align myself with Auden. Not quite any text will do but if the assumption is that theatre is first an artform where it is last or least representation, then there are any number of historically recognised dramatic texts which will do. It comes down to what we are looking for: not for what is absent but for what is non-representational in the text and dramatic practice, what is not actualised but virtually creative on/of the text or practice.

– Gilles Deleuze with Felix Guattari

We ask the preeminent question of Deleuze and Guattari: How does it work? How does Hamlet work? How do we make a Hamlet machine, Herr Müller? The text has its way of working, its ‘logic of sense,’ its ideal ‘realism,’ and it is different from theatre’s; it differs from the same question we would ask in rehearsal: How does this scene work? with this actor? this style? this aesthetic? (and so on, along the lines of representational logic).

To grab a bit of Barthes, borrowed for the same reasons by Olkowski, the punctum is a non-representational and non-matricial property of the photograph. The studium, knowledge of what makes the photo, knowledge of context and content, is quite a different thing. And between studia, as it were, between the studia of rehearsal and dramaturgy, a great and productive gap opens, a crack-process, generating differences: neither a text nor the interpretation of a text (how it works) is equal to its realisation in rehearsal or performance (how it works); they will always work differently and, if they do work, continue to generate differences.

There is nothing revolutionary about the idea that every revolution in the arts is brought about by a new realism. (Auden was a great exponent of Bergsonism, like Deleuze; some say to the former’s detriment.) In practice, the texts have to work at their own level. I’m sure you’ll recognise this as nothing new either. The level, or milieu, we exploit, to give us a plane of consistency, in rehearsal, is quite different. That there is this difference to start with points to the possibility of theatre as art.

What is a theatre of philosophy?

Étant donnés, Marcel Duchamp

Well, it’s a unique selling point!

And now tell me it’s anti-platonic!

Étant donnés, Marcel Duchamp

It is.