Frankfurt Lecture – 2nd Fragment

30 September 2007
Plane Window

Officially I am here to speak about dramaturgy and will do so in a voice that lends itself to such a task, here, sat at the desk, perhaps with some quotations and examples, making statements or constructing theories. Unofficially though I might well slip or break the ranks I establish…

As if all discourse were a matter of surfaces. A surface being a code, an agreement, a formal instruction expressing expectations about what will be said or otherwise expressed here and how. And as if our dramaturgy might be the controlled and deliberate setting up and then cracking of these surfaces, the slow and/or rapid breaking of these agreements, the dynamic play between what is legally, officially said here, and that which is not meant to be said, that which is denied in the situation, that which is too much or too little for the context, that which is illegal, literally ‘obscene’,

As if now, having said this much of my lecture I might say without further warning, that at the airport this morning I was suddenly and unaccountably extremely tired of all this travel and that I would have paid good money then and there for the flight to be cancelled which would have provided an excuse that I could not be here now to speak about dramaturgy. Or as if I might say now that I scrolled thru the texts in my phone as I sat there at the airport, looking for something and that by accident I read what X wrote me as she sat in a café on such and such a street in such and such a city and that I was suddenly thinking of her…

Not Frozen

27 September 2007

I’ve been writing for a performance lecture as part of a big Post-Modern Dramatrugy Conference in Frankfurt on Saturday:

I know that I often talk about mistakes in performance (or in text), about errors, and about the liveness and dynamic force (of rupture) that comes from those things.. but watching the kids pantomime late last year I was suddenly aware of how controlled the work I’ve done, alone and with Forced Entertainment is, always, in fact – how very stage-managed and on top of the game we like to be. That first night of the pantomime was a huge rolling exhibition of distraction, nervous ticks, absent-mindedness, costume-tangles, nose-picking, disputes about cues, miss-timing and generally ill-advised stage behaviour. I’m sure it wasn’t at all out of the ordinary as a performance involving 38 kids goes but it was pretty complex. 

My favourite scene was the one where the whole of the Royal family, the court, Aladdin, Widow Twankey and a motely crue of hangers on, servants and townspeople were supposedly frozen into statues by a spell from the genie, as instructed by the evil Abanazer. The sight of 38 kids on the stage, 36 of them attempting to be perfectly still was pretty captivating, mainly because so few of them could get close to it. Almost everywhere you looked there was wavering and blinking, fidgeting, cramping or just a good-natured lack of concentration. The kids performing were so very very there in it though, so revealed, so visible in everything they did, intentional or not, that it was impossible not to love this scene, for all its failure as an illusion of magically induced stillness.

I guess the big difference (between the kids as performers and ourselves) is that if we ever did such a thing as this ‘frozen scene’ in rehearsal/improvisation for a theatre performance we’d very likely spend the next six weeks studying the tape of it, notating and plotting the timeline, trying to understand its dramaturgy, isolating key or feature moments, comparing one improvised version to another and another and another, cherry picking good bits. This done we’d probably end up trying to fix some things, or simply letting them settle as such things do inevitably by dint of repetition, so that in the end the scene’s broad shape could be more-or-less reproduced (a scene with a structure, a piece of time that unfolds with a particular direction, a piece of time with a particular weight that can be used as point or counterpoint in a larger dramaturgy) even though the scene’s detail would stay live, playable, endlessly contingent in the way that performance always is.

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Waiting

26 September 2007

In early research and rehearsals with Forced Entertainment. The collective talking, fooling and digging around for clues, trying to get a scent or catch a hold of something we want to pursue. This part is always hard hard (hard hard) work, and in some way (perhaps an optical illusion) always seems to feel harder than ever before. Ratio right now must be something like 5 hours talking to one hour of practical work. In the studio we are circling and looping and blundering around in the same territory though so something seems to be happening, unable to get a clear position but slowly certain landmarks become clear as they come into view repeatedly thru the fog and the mud. Seems strange that a process so utterly unforgiving (florescent light/no daylight, relentless pulling apart of ideas, diet of coffee and water, room is concrete) can also have me crying with laughter some days. And sometimes, when you really expect nothing, people make the smartest moves in improvisation and suddenly the whole conversation is turned on its head.

When dancer and choreographer Wendy Houstoun first worked with us on Bloody Mess she wrote a piece describing “… a sense of waiting for some silence to fall over the group – of waiting for everyone to give up trying to make it better.” After this kind of silence is generally when something can happen.

Kate McIntosh, whose Loose Promise rehearsal I wrote about recently here, mailed me an image from the studio.

Kate McIntosh - Loose Promise rehearsal

Exit Trail

23 September 2007

I had some really interesting back and forth in email with Julie Tolentino, who sent more thoughts about her work, and the text I wrote about her 24 hour dance performance A True Story About Two People, recently here and here. Here’s a part of what she wrote:

what captured me… was that you discussed the ‘leaving’.  after the premiere of this work in NY, this was the most memorable and poignant experiences, as well as the most visceral and palpable.  if there was any sensation that was heightened, it was as if i could feel the start of the departure between me and my [dance] partner – ages it seemed, before the partner would actually leave.  or if i didn’t feel it, i was acutely aware of the palpable ‘exiting trail’ – the moment [of] the last separation of physical touch.  i was shocked every time at the depth of sensation, the pliable withdrawing, the real sense of loss. also the manoever. what was slipping away in the form of composure and decision-making. also, it was as if i was a butt of my own joke, unplanned and unexpected…. i think i was surprised at the continued, still surprising density of those experiences in the berlin presentation.

Word Bombs

22 September 2007

Watching Kate McIntosh rehearse in Leuven day-before-yesterday. The piece is called Loose Promise and it's a project that I've contributed some text to via a series of triggers/frames that Kate sent to myself along with a number of other writers (Deborah Levy and Mike Harrison included). Green carpet was one of the triggers; there really had to be a green carpet somewhere. Great watching the rather disparate fragments accumulate in the space and through the time of the piece, and great watching Kate accumulate the traces of the stories too through the actions and images that she's slowly building up around them. At this point the text itself – strewn as pages on the floor, folded in clumps, shredded in piles – is a major presence in the performance. Very often its under duress – torn, soaked, falling to pieces in her hands.

Still reading Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts which is also dripping in text – at the level of structure you're navigating layers of stories, and texts nested inside each other etc but as you drop into the vivid madness of the story itself you soon find characters hiding out in vast labyrinths of books, carrying stolen letters as psychic decoys, or throwing bombs made of fireworks and typewriter keys. In a beautifully Burrough's move (with echoes of his essays in The Job) Hall's central character periodically hides his presence in a room by placing dictaphones in its corners playing back tapes in which other people have been recorded as they talk or go about their their daily lives – the result a kind of identity camouflage.

There's a great pleasure reading strange, intelligent, funny and compelling fiction that happens to come from, and is at times set in the north of England. Some perverse pleasure in seeing your own landsacpe mythologised. With Hall and Tony White Sheffield Hallam University starts to look like quite a little contemporary fiction-factory. Raw Shark is very smart. There's a nod to House of Leaves, to Philip K. Dick maybe, and something of a David Mitchell-ness to it but there's plenty of originality, invention and wit in how its put together. I'm liking how these ideas books (like Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Tom McCarthy's Remainder, Tibor Ficher's The Thought Gang…) are so full-on in embracing plot as a device – action and super-abstract ideas all tangled up with each other. It's an interesting moment.

 

Now Not Moving

21 September 2007
1001 Prompt - Now Not Moving

Just now posted a new story to Barbara Campbell for tonights 1001 Nights Cast. Written on the move between Brussels and Graz, with a connection through Stuttgart. Pleased with the results, but not with the travel-sickness/nausea produced by trying to write in the van that picked us up from the airport. Ughhh. Barbara’s live webcast performance of the story will be at around 7pm, thereafter it will be added to the archive at 1001.

 

Cut Reality

19 September 2007
Eros VI

In the Barbican’s Panic Attack! Art in the Punk Years show earlier this year M. and I saw this beautiful collage using postcards, made by John Stezaker. It’s hard to find the right words for what it does to the space. Opens it, doubles and triples it, folds it on itself, makes one see it again. Makes visible some hidden aspect, makes it unreal, shows how unreal it already was in the first place. Makes it a sign for something, shows how it was already a sign for something. Makes geometry from it, shows the geometry that was already there. I love the patchwork sky, in different shade, cut and recut. The pointing shadows. The policeman. The lovers. The bisected pigeons. The crowd. The repetition of the vanishing point. The repeated spiral of the steps, the fountain base, the circle of the Cola sign. The words GOLD and COLA. The plane picture. The general sense of arrested whirlpool, a vortex. Red. Yellows. Blues. The colours from another time, colours which at the time of the works making were most likely already from another time.

Only just now Googling Stezaker I realised that I already knew his work via Vlatka, who’d  pointed out these collages he made of faces. See also here.
I find it strange how potent these are. For some reason I think I should be immune to them, but instead of that I’m gripped.

Around & About

17 September 2007
100 People

My video show One Hundred and Three People at Sketch in London opened this last weekend and runs until 6 November. Image above is from the new work 100 People.

Meanwhile Hugo has work in a show at Hansard Gallery in Southampton. Live Art on Camera shows the work of photographers who’ve documented seminal performance art events from the 1950s to the present in Europe, the United States and Japan, including (amongst others) Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Dona Ann McAdams,  Stuart Brisley and Leslie Haslam, Hollis Frampton, Ana Mendieta, Peter Moore, Ohtsuji Kiyoji, Adrian Piper, Tony Ray-Jones and Carolee Schneeman. As part of Hugo’s contribution you’ll find two images from Forced Entertainment’s And On The Thousandth Night…. The ongoing photography project he and I are doing together – Empty Stages – is also on view there at Hansard via DVD.

Tony White has a great new story at Barbarba Campbell’s epic 1001 Nights Cast called Do you hear that? I’m doing another contribution to it myself this Friday 21st. Added to the usual writing-to-a-prompt-and-against-a-time-limit restrictions on this occasion comes the fact that I’m going to be at airports/on planes and trains en route between Brussels and Graz for most of the allotted writing-time. We’ll see how that works.

Forced Entertainment‘s First Night is at Kaai Theatre in Brussels for one night only this Wednesday, 19th  at 20.30 as part of Kaai’s 30th Birthday celebrations.  That Night Follows Day is back on the road again – in Graz from 21-23rd September, kicking off the Steirischer Herbst festival. Full tour list at the Victoria site linked above.

True Again

Mike Harrison wrote a nice response to my piece last week about Julie Tolentino in which he floats the idea that my writing somehow remakes the performance itself. I’m pretty fascinated with this because it chimes with how I’ve been thinking about one strand of my writing on/around performance. I’m interested in the way that in writing one can set things down – the what happened, the structure, the time-frame, the relations made and developed in a performance – unfolding an annotated schematic of these things on the page in such a way that the working/dramaturgy of the event becomes not just clear but (via a kind of unpacking) somehow manifest again.

The above may be connected, somehow, to the fact that I’ve often made a kind of equivalence between the dramaturgy/unfolding of a live event in respect of the audience and the way in which writing works on a reader over time (word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page). I’m tempted to see each as a kind of process of unfolding, and I’ve always thought (at least since Certain Fragments) of any writing that uses the word ‘I’ as a kind ‘staging oneself for the page’. In each case its the control and flow of information, the strategic deploying of signs and space that makes the work what it is; a machinery that makes a certain kind of encounter possible, and which structures it in a particular way.

 

Fragments

16 September 2007

It is raining here in the past.

I hope the weather there in the future is better.

Reading Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, which Vlatka kindly Amazoned in my direction. Getting frightned now (by the book, not by the gifts).

Vlatka described a guy outside her apartment building, waiting and taking a call on his cell, while his dog scratched round at the edge of an empty lot. When she walked past she heard this:

"What I'm saying to you is that you need a protagonist for this story. There needs to be someone that these things are actually going to happen TO."

Discussing this with Adrian and Hugo we're gripped by the thought of what the story this phone-guy is referring to might be like in its present, criticised form – an arrangement of things (incidents, scenes, events?) that somehow aren't happening to anyone at all? This could be a good book.

Round Hugo's in Shoreditch the overheard fare is a bit more gold-type chains, blurred tattoos and white knuckle. Bloke on the steps of the pub in a gleeful narration to his mates: "'Look, I says' to him, 'I'm sorry you CUNT…'"

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