Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Thank you Darren and Heidi

This on-line discussion site was a very good first experiment of this kind for the GVPTA. Thank you Darren and Heidi for volunteering your time to generate a great cross-country dialogue for theatre artists. The site will remain up for future reference. I would like to organize something like this again, so if you have ideas for topics or people to invite, you can post them here or send them to

Susan Stevenson


Thanks to everyone who participated and to Susan at the GVTPA. Time to shut up and get to work. The blog is now is closed.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Being the audience

Welcome Vicki Stroich and Eric Rhys Miller to the discussion - check out their comments under the last post. Eric introduce's some of Ann Bogart's criteria for theatre - which are quite different than the Criteria for Beautiful Civic Engagement. Vicki responds from an audience perspective to the pieces in Calgary, and reminds me to consider the audience experience in the midst of the rhetoric.

On Friday night, I saw Forced Entertainment's Exquisite Pain. I compared responses with two friends afterwards, and we'd all had radically different experiences. One was inspired to think about how she would write the piece differently using the same source material from Sophie Calle (98 repetitions of the same story, contrasted to 98 stories of the speaker's most agonizing moment), preferring the directness and rawnes of Quizoola to this much more contained work. The other considered how the use of repetition evoked the boredom of suffering, and that while he enjoyed it, he could imagine a reviewer quoting the title of the work in a less than charitable way. I wept profusely for about a third of the performance, as I contemplated my own catalogue of most-agonizing-moments, and those of the people close to me. I thought how stupid the whole exercise was. I experienced an emotional roller coaster that contrasted completely the controlled, evenly-read stories by the two performers. I had a barely controllable urge to leap from my seat and take over the performance, tear the pages apart and generally disrupt the procedings. I wondered if that had ever happened at one of the performances. I thought about how arrogant my whole response was, and then I started to marvel at the response the work had provoked, and to wonder if anyone else was having such a volcanic reaction. All in all it wasn't a pleasant experience. It was extraordinarily painful. And I wonder where that reaction fits in our general ideas about what we want to offer our audiences.

Please keep talking amongst yourselves - as you've proabably noticed, my blogging frequency is more akin to the Slow Food movement than folks fully embedded in digital culture. I'll check in and respond as I process.... slowly.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Costumes and representation

I encourage folks to follow the comment threads to read Maiko and Neil's responses to Darren's thoughts on relational aesthetics versus the theatre presented in BioBoxes. I'd liek to pick up on the question about representation and costumes that Maiko and Darren were debating.

A costume doesn't necessarily dictate that a performer is different than themselves - whatever a performer wears is their costume, which could signify information from an imaginary or a literal reality. It signifies on stage, even if that signification is "I am myself without artifice." As Maiko argued, a Pakistani vest in Calgary could be read as a sign of validation from the previous participants in the project. What looks like a costume in one context (say a cocktail dress, fishnets and heels in a school gym) is simply the correct social attire in another (an urban cocktail bar). In Judith Butler's conception of gender as performance, we're all always in costume, choosing (consciously or subconsciously) how we wish to code our identity in the contexts we're encountering. In the artworld context, thrift store or pseudo-thriftstore garb is often juxtaposed with very design-conscious glasses and footwear. So taste, investment, individuality - these are also signs on stage. If Darren were to appear for a Q & A wearing a suit from Moore's, the piece would be different than if he's in jeans and those cool rubber-toed leather boots. The fact that a suit isn't his regular choice of clothes for the day signifies somethng to his audience about where he is situated in our culture, and that has an impact on the piece. Performance artists use costuming extensively in conceptually-based work, taking the meaning-production of surfaces into the manipulation of their skin and skeleton as signifying elements (check out Julianna Barabas' seamline, Orlan or Marina Abramovic). Assuming that what you wear isn't meaningful on stage is pretty selective analysis. In the Q & A context, representing the non-performative self really just means representing the day's choice of costume, which has something to do with our social status, taste, economic realities, the weather, and demonstration of allegiance to our social group through fashion.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Having trouble posting?

if you're having trouble leaving a comment, send to me at, and I'll put it up for you.


Magic and modes of representation

Thanks, James for contextualizing the Bio Boxes. The conjunction between Theatre Replacement's interview-based project and Mammalian's Q&A is interesting. In a previous post, we were talking about the creative coming into the design of the audience experience, more than or instead of into a virtuosic performance. So the whole design of the interviews, of the boxes themselves, and the parallel with the video is already taking the experience away from the well-made play we are all so bored of.

There's a book called From acting to Performance, by Philip Auslander, that investigates the political nature of presence, and how it is invoked or refused in different modes of performance. It's the non-contextualized charismatic performance that feeds into hook, line and sinker acceptance of the ideology being promoted by the performer. Interaction with the audience is one of the primary modes for disrupting the accepted norms of representation, and I think it's this level of interaction that's toughest when we're creating something that includes metaphorical language, poetical flights of fancy, or sustained development of a physical image. The contract with audience member is, don't interrupt me, I've got something you should listen to. Signing on for that contract is a bit different if there's a potential for the audience to have more agency (they can move where they want to, they get a turn, they help create the content or the circumstances). And I think it's that modelling of agency that begins to bring political change in a real way into our theatrical games.

I think perhaps the audience is able to read more layers of pretend than we are trained to represent. Audience members like to play roles too (reality TV trains them to be confessional, but also that they're creating a sound bite).

Is Darren's question abut poetry and metaphor? Or the contract that asks the audience to follow rules that limit their agency more than the piece requires?

James Responds

(he sent this to me personally)

Your dumb ass blog won't let me comment

so i'll give to you - i just tried to get t it on
again - if it isnt there by tomorrow would get it up?

It is spelled Jamie. But for you we will stick to

To answer your question I would blame my loserdom on
being white, middleclass and an actor the three areas
of self hatred that have fueled your entire career.
The actor thing still fueling much of your criticism.

And in response I would like to pose some new forums
for discussion.
To what extent has the shape of Darren’s ass degraded
since he’s turned forty?
Should he now be forced out of those jeans and into a
looser fitting chino?

but staying on some kind of topic...
Why so unwilling to suspend your disbelief? Those
little pink ears in White Mice were oh so satisfying.
If they weren’t pink and you were not waving a tail
around a fake block of cheese a lot more people would
have been leaving in droves screaming soapbox - as my
older brother did.
By the way he keeps a file on your ass.

We gave six fantastic artists the opportunity to
interview people and then create pieces based on those
interviews. Maiko and i once discussed the actors
exactly mimicking the interviewees, that notion
dissolved quickly. This show was about people spinning
on their meetings and discussions with real people.
The show is about the languages they share and hearing
those languages in close quarters. Its about getting
close for a little storytelling (you are a godfather
to better get used to pretending – that little
guy/girl won’t be able to cut your hair (s) for a few
years). It is about the real projected on the wall in
conflict or in conjunction (depending on your
perspective) to what the artists made in the boxes.
The interviewees were displayed on the video (we
apologize for the sound but our hands were tied
technically). The tech in Vancouver will be better
and allow for a more integrated fact with fiction. I
encourage people to sit and watch the video. Although
most are too keen to get inside the make believe boxes
to take the time.

Granted, the best shows are going to be the ones the
actors do for the original subject – I won’t get to
see them sadly but I look forward to the report. It
would be nice to see how the performances change from
stranger to subject. Perhaps a hidden camera.
That may be where the real conflict lies. How the
actor acts when faced with the person they have been
representing to audiences.

We could have skipped the actors and asked the 6
interviewees to put their heads in the boxes allowing
them to field questions, or sit in chairs with a video
behind them but that is a mammalian show. That's what
you do you big social scientist “gaylord” – (and go
get something beyond a BFA already)
We still like to trust creative instinct and have a
little fun with the material – and fun can be

And we have discussed the lab coats. I just ironed