initial notes without the slightest gloss towards a virtual ontology of theatricality, with paintings by Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov

Glory to the Heroes of Conceptualism, Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov

A new theatre or a new (non-Aristotelian) interpretation of the theatre; a theatre of multiplicities opposed in every respect to the theatre of representation, which leaves intact neither the identity of the thing represented, nor author, nor spectator, nor character, nor representation, which, through vicissitudes of the play, can become the object of a production of knowledge or final recognition. Instead, a theatre of problems and always open questions which draws spectator, setting and characters into the real movement of an apprenticeship of the entire unconscious.

– Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, quoted by Timothy Murray, in his Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime, excerpted here

What is theatricality? it is theatre-minus-text, it is a density of signs and sensations built up on stage starting from the written argument.

– Roland Barthes, from ‘Baudelaire’s Theatre,’ quoted by Christopher Balme, in his essay ‘Metaphors of Spectacle‘ [Balme includes a brief and helpful historic survey of theatricality]

the cross-dressed figure was an object of visual fascination for Elizabethan audiences in precisely the way youthful and virginal figures were. A figure inevitably caught in between two categories, the cross-dresser is in a state of constant transformation. This transformative nature lent itself easily (and delightfully) to performance. The cross-dresser on stage becomes a spectacle due to the open possibility of transformation in either direction by maintaining an in-between doubleness, a state of being that could potentially (but not yet) resolve into masculine or feminine. This state of being is not uniquely about gender but finds its parallel in other theatrical fascinations of transformative performability, including the virgin who exists as a being in transition, and the boy who is potentially to become a man. In all of these cases, the audience is meant to speculate on these transformative identities, such that they become not transitional states to be passed over and resolved but the centrally spectacular aspects of the plays themselves as the actor is arrested in a state of potentiality, always on the verge of transformation. The primary purpose of this study is to argue for a new framework for thinking about gender transformation on the early modern stage that forms not only part of a non-gendered discourse on sexual misdemeanour in the legal world but also, and more significantly, part of a series of other explicitly theatrical transformations that do not have primarily to do with gender issues or male-female power structures, a proposition very much supported by close readings of instances of cross-dressing in the plays.

Barbie, Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov

The moment of Rosalind’s decision to cross-dress and her verbal enactment of undressing and dressing forces the audience to pause over, and revel in, the precise instant of undressing and to speculate the specifically theatrical capacities of the transformative.

The performativity of in-betweenness is in no way limited to the cross-dresser.

The theatre thus capitalised on its imaginative capacities by refusing to identify characters as pre or post certain transformations in favour of prolonging indefinitely the experience of transformation itself.

The theatre provided audiences a space for prolonged speculation on these transitional states of being, whether they were embodied in the boy, the virgin, the transvestite or the actor himself, whose volatility was particularly theatrical and spectacular.

Perhaps, then, cross-dressing on the Elizabethan stage was in large part about theatricality. And perhaps the fascination with cross-dressing in the theatre rested, at least in part, not on the cross-gender garb but on the space it provided for imagining a proliferation of other equally plausible disguises, as the spectator speculates on the undressed boy actor, capable of any series of transformations.

– Sara Gorman, in ‘The Theatricality of Transformation: cross-dressing, sexual misdemeanour and gender/sexuality spectra on the Elizabethan stage, Bridewell Hospital Court Records, and the Repertories of the Court of the Aldermen, 1574-1607.’

Inspiration, Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov, 2000

Re-inventing the queer tradition of camp and theatricality.

Traditional left-wing agitprop is frequently dull and dour. This tendency to be too serious can, sometimes, be a turn-off that inhibits the effective communication of a political message. It is important to think carefully about getting the balance right between humour and seriousness. OutRage! has shown that many gay equality issues are open to being conveyed with wit and satire, as with our 1992 posthumous outing of British military “heroes”, in protest at the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. The statute of Field Marshal Haig in Whitehall was draped with a pink feather boa, and the memorial to Admiral Mountbatten postered with the slogan “For Queens & Country”.

This bent towards theatricality cannot be explained solely in terms of OutRage! consisting of lots of out-of-work actors, graphic artists, scriptwriters and costume designers. Our theatricality stems from a conscious choice to utilise queer culture, as well as a pragmatic recognition that theatricality works.

Christ in Moscow, Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov, 1999

Throughout gay history, the queer tradition of camp has been mostly apolitical, misogynistic and even self-oppressive. We have attempted to turn this tradition on its head and reinvent camp as an instrument in the service of lesbian and gay liberation.

– Peter Tatchell, ‘Protest as Performance,’ 2000

theatricality remains an opaque and impenetrable body, at the centre as well as at the periphery of critical discourse. The text would generate theatricality which would then exist as a separate and independent structure, because the passage from text to stage, from written word to top performance has somehow been conjured away and thus appears unrepresentable. By definition the dramatic discourse would become the discourse of a fault, of a rupture between subject and object – in essence a discourse without content.

– Franco Tonelli and Judd Hubert, ‘Theatricality: The Burden of the Text,’ SubStance Vol. 6, No. 21 (Winter 1978-9, pp. 79-102), of which a brief excerpt here

Harvest Celebration, Vladimir Dubosarsky & Alexander Vinogradov, 1995