posabilities / compossibles

1. durational – time – Tim Etchells provides this note on Forced Entertainment’s durational performances.

KA MOUNTAIN and GUARDenia Terrace, staged in Iran by Robert Wilson and The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, took 7 days. Wilson was incarcerated on drugs’ charges during the rehearsal period. Artists and writers, Henry Miller among them, interceding with the authorities on his behalf, he sent drawings of his intentions to the company. In the end, the show had about three weeks’ rehearsal. Performers and audiences report hallucinating to the point of disagreeing about what was actually in the show. Wilson collapsed with dehydration. On awakening, he quickly discharged himself and returned to the mountain.

2. stations – venues & sites: i) karaoke bar – can have durational aspect, like Kouvola Karaoke Club, holder of the record for longest continuous karaoke singing sesh;
ii) strip joint –

as in this 2000 production of Measure for Measure, in New York, at Show World, directed by Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner (also responsible for The Karaoke Show);
iii) art gallery – like my unrealised production of study for a passion, discussed in previous posts;
iv) shop-window – ‘large-glass’ – grande vitrine: this picture, courtesy Reuters, 14/12/07, shows an audience of one watching a performance in a shop-window in central Madrid –

Works at Phantom Galleries, Los Angeles, an organisation set up to curate art exhibitions in shop-windows, also include durational performance works.

Station theatre usually implies a directorial interpretative gambit, wherein the audience goes from place to place, either inside or outside the theatre, and thereby actively engages in constructing the narrative, peripatetically. I recall a production in LA that occupied a villa for several years in the late 80s, scenes taking place in the various rooms, but I can’t find a reference online. Wallace Shawn, I think, wrote it. Station theatre as an approach or strategy seems to have come about, particularly in German theatre, in answer to – and therefore raising – the historic problem of the Repräsentationskrise.

(Montgomery Burns: What do you think of today’s popular music scene? … Lisa Simpson: I think it distracts people from more important issues. … Montgomery Burns: My god, are you always on?! Simpsons, 7.30 pm, 20/07/08)

Peter Stein outstanding exemplar and outspoken opponent of Regietheater moved his audience from the narrow court to the forest of Arden, an indoor forest, complete with a stream, for his three-hour production of As you like it in 1977. In his Faust, in 2000, the problem of scenic overhauls was dealt with by shuffling the audience between auditoria. On arrival, they might be standing, they might be seated. The journey itself, according to Johnathan Kalb, through the interactions of the audience, became a significant part of the experience of being in attendance, as, over the duration of the 21 hour production, the audience produced its own story of expectation and endurance.

3. modular – heterogeneity of forces – performers – numbers and skills: Heiner Müller allows, in pieces like The Hamlet Machine, for different numerical forces playing characters we recognise as singular, multiple Hamlets and Ophelias. The tradition of the Walter Plinge institutionalised the doubling up of characters played by a single actor or actress. In recent NZ one-man/woman shows, we’ve applauded the skill of the actor or actress in their characterisations and transitions among sometimes as many as twenty or thirty different characters. But, to be ‘useful,’ as John Cage might say, what are the ultimately minimum or maximum numbers a piece can be played by? Can we write for 1 as well as 50? And what of the proportion of actors/actresses to non-performers? or performers from other disciplines?

Our RJF Project [see left margin], last year, ended up being a piece for mixed forces, a dancer, singers, musicians and actors. I’ve discussed here, in posts, the problem of allocating roles for skills – i.e., our problems in filling a role that had become the dancer’s and could not thereafter be filled by an actor or actress.

I have no examples of the kind of modularity I’m suggesting, except perhaps the experiments conducted again in the name of director’s theatre, wherein a known classic may be cast with performers from different skill bases. Ariel is a dancer. The Mechanicals are a pop group. Albeit that such experimentation is not often brought into play, into the play, or called for by contemporary works of theatre.

– from Black Milk by Douglas Wright

In dance, or dance-theatre, it’s much more common. Douglas Wright uses speech and acting and often does so, or so it appears, as some kind of antidote or antithesis to the formalism of ‘actor’s’ theatre, does so with the amateurism, the mawkishness and naivety of the dancer’s vocalisations, readings, actings-out, in mind. But for what? With a higher conceptual aim, of course. As if the actor’s professionalism may compromise the authenticity of the performance. Non-actors, if I am to generalise, are what performance as an art-form is all about, in the way of ‘performance art.’ There’s clearly rich ground here for exploration of this prejudice.

What I would rather do, to be useful, is to write a compelling piece which could be played by different forces, using different performance skills. Semele’s orgasm could be a dance piece. Zeus is all about voice work, since he comes – in all senses – in utter darkness. And the ability to present the show with a relay of virtuoso solos or in a staggeringly on display of ensemble theatre. I’m considering here the writing as much as I am the contingencies of actors’ availability, non-availability, performers who are interesting but not principally actors, without the prejudice that authenticity is a function of amateurism.

4. polystylism – heterogeneous modes of form to suit modes of contents – a crack-process – Alfred Schnittke endorses polystylism as an answer to and where the problem is raised of composition in the pomo dispensation.

– Alfred Schnittke

Polystylism is where the form of contents passes over into the form of expression. Bakhtinian carnival.

I am talking here about the writing of the piece as implicated in the ‘world’ of the ‘play,’ and so neither world nor play. I am dreaming about taking the writing from style to style without encouraging charges of formalism or mediocrity. Style here would mean the actualisation of the particularity of a virtual being – not hiding the crack-process, not glossing over it, or making the veneer art; and this despite my contention that the greater the stylistic jumps an audient or onlooker is asked to make, the less difference he or she hears, sees, the less it is audible or visible – sensible: which is not the same as saying the difference is less. It has more to do with the bad habit of looking for the same before looking for the disruption. The contour is more readily perceived as an edge than as a middle. In the middle is where polystylism places the contour, or crack, and whence growth comes. Here we also find non-linearity: the self-organising of parts of a work with no effort to make them conform to a stylistic template to a narrative line.

5. larval characters – Tim Etchells’s company Forced Entertainment has used cardboard signs worn around actors’ necks to disrupt the recognition of an audience by hitting them with it right upfront. Brecht had his characters declare who they were in order to do a similar thing, but without a similar intention. In Forced Entertainment cardboard placards were worn, saying “Drunk lying in a gutter,” “Mummy’s boy,” or whatever, to add to the surface, speed recognition, make it smell like burning electrics.

What if characters compete in the actor? What if that’s why we need actors and actresses? because less able performers will not convey to an audience the absence of fit between the disparate elements that are said to make up the image of an identity. “I am an other” — only the actor can add: and another and another and another and another and another and another… the ubu-mensch-rimbaud.

– Arthur Rimbaud

To this end, I would butt up against Semele, the Burrow, and against the Unfinished Piece, the aggressive standup. We would begin with a thunderstorm and end with a carcrash.

– detail from Andy Warhol’s ‘naturalised’ Car Crash, 1978

It should be obvious that the idea of larval subjects comes from Gilles Deleuze: that can sustain movements and torsions and survive forces that ‘adult’ subjects cannot – again, this is the meaning of acting for me: subjective phase-shifters. Will this be a theme taken up by Felix Guattari in his Chaosmosis?