Identity: a Necessary Accessory
(performed with Stacey Holman-Jones and Nancy Bandiera)
Act 1: The Bags that People Play
Group work sucks. Collaborative work interests me in that I like getting together with someone who has similar interests and developing a project between us that would have never arisen through one person. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive though.
Throughout this semester I have been developing a performance with two other members of this class. We have tried to put together a performance that not only interested all three of us, but also applied some of the theories we have discussed this semester. I am going to use the avant-garde handout from the beginning of the semester as framework from which to discuss issues, theories and problems evoked for me by this performance. Throughout this paper, I am going to insert sections of my journal notes and the performance script in an attempt to (re)present the process of developing this performance. I am interested in writing a non-traditional paper to somewhat evoke both the process and the performance.
Idea of daily rituals- winner in my book. How we get through the day and what we "normally" do; i.e. how we brush our teeth, toilet paper over or under the roll, etc. And how this "day" is played out on stage,. Go meta and discuss the process and the ideas, play with the artificiality of the concept as rendered on stage. But don't forget the evocation that happens that is "real" or whatever that means. Think of how Jeanne Dielman (a French feminist film) was so haunting.
Act 2: You Never Know
Some Characteristics of the Avant-Garde
Our performance definitely steered away from the literary text and into the chaos of the performative. The script is almost verbatim from conversations we had during our meetings over the semester. Meetings I might add, where we all felt that nothing was getting accomplished. Nonetheless we were laying the foundation for good work in spite of ourselves.
"...performance is constructed in terms of networks that may appear disorderly but that contain unique forms of internal order" (Vanden Heuvel 5)
Nancy: "And I said, it's true then. I'm here to fuck the trees. How many forests do we have left? I mean are they going to be okay?"
We opened ourselves to the potential that we may just flop big time and scripted for and about the process of the performance, a chaotic one indeed. In doing so, we broke away from asserting our authorial control almost inherent in a text, allowing ourselves to improvise around some of the scenes in two ways. One, we developed some scenes out of improvisational work during the rehearsal process and then set then into the script. Two, we had places where we left it open to ad-lib freely during the performance itself.
All: "Time for a break."
With these improvisational moments we were moving to a less linear flow and into a more indeterminate linking. The content and form of our piece was not meant to go from time to time and space to space, the blocking and lines were used to undermine the potential to feel such a comfort.
We were trying to deconstruct the potential for a coherent meaning throughout the piece, it was entitled after all, ""Random Ritual in Three Acts." We were playing with the surreality of our daily habits and rituals on several levels. We had multiple scenes in which we played ourselves for exaggeration, parodying ourselves through the ludic power of performance.
Why rituals? Semblance of order, control, comfort, safety, routine, meaning, understanding, rut. Can you have more or less identity at a given moment or in comparison to another, i.e. how's your identity doing today? Idea of disclaiming- I have nothing to do with this, or commenting on ideas/actions of others on stage and out in life.
In our playfulness we focused on the multiplicity of meaning. Several times in the performance we repeatedly asked ourselves and the audience variations on the same questions.
Drew: "Or do you lather,"
Aiming these questions at the audience was our way of acknowledging the primacy of the performance event and space over the text, allowing the spectator a place in the piece as a co-author if you will.
Drew: "So Erika, what do you keep in your bag? Not that it will tell us some deep secret about you or anything?"
Looking at our rituals was our way of looking for new languages through which we could represent ourselves. The strange things we put in our bags, the odd ways in which we handle our stress, the clothes we wear day in and day out. These actions and objects are sets of symbols that represent who we are, not only to ourselves but to others as well. We were digging into our lives instead of into art to look for the answers to our questions, or, to find better questions to our answers. The focus was on life over art, or at the least, we were trying to make art out of our lives (a scary proposition indeed). Even so, through our parodying of ourselves, we destabilized any coherent characterization of each other, eschewing plot and a theme, unless you consider randomness our theme.
All: "Let's not . . . let's . . . tomorrow . . . let's call . . . let's."
Nancy: "Okay. Now play the stress. Drew, he is pissed off. Stacy, she is ticked off bad. Okay, roll."
As actors, we were all interested in trying to stretch ourselves in new directions. We wanted to have those moments of ad-libbing, taking the risk of not knowing what each other was going to say and relying on our responses to each other to keep the piece flowing. We also wanted to have moments that had us saying lines outside the realm of our daily conversation, trying to find the potential connotations in unfamiliar territory.
Drew: "Yesterday my lover said, 'All of your shoes are much too tall and you eat way too much cheese.' What does that mean?"
Ideas of three of us doing separate scripts and meshing them together, having three different voices in three different ways, so, is that nine different voices?
We were interested in the visceral embodiment allowed by performance. It definitely was an issue of authenticity. The script was derived from discussions around and about our lives, less rational and more free associational. We were following our instincts, our guts, in terms of what to include and how to include it. Looking back with twenty/twenty vision, it seems that there was a method to our madness, as if we intentionally plugged in these theoretical issues, but the truth of the matter is that it just kind of happened.
"One works at the liminal, one plays with the liminoid" (Turner 55).
Nancy (in discussing the script)- "It's all true. It really is true."
Our exploration of our random rituals was somewhat of a search for a primitive in ourselves. We were looking for a base from which we set up our identities in a way. Now, I do not know if I would claim that we were engaging in Grotowski's "self-penetration", although through our parodying of ourselves, I do believe we were on some levels stripping away our prescribed social selves (Grotowski 45). We were making fun of ourselves and our oddball rituals that we perform day in and day out. And it was through this playfulness, this impish look as ourselves, that we allowed the space to transform, to change our habits, to learn a new trick or two if you will.
Stacy: "...Mask your weakness in strength/Remember absurdity and paradox are the ultimate underthings./Nothing satisfies so well as extravagant layering."
Stacy: "Well, I don't know if we have all the answers. Maybe you do, but just paying attention to the things you do is a start."
Idea of doing things around beds. A lot of things happen around a bed. And going from there, think about history of how beds have been used- Rauschenberg's bed, 64 beds, etc.
The performance event itself is where we were most interested in seeing what happened, from our moments of improv, to our audience participation, we were looking at the experience itself. Our exploration of various rituals was definitely a reaction to artifice and intellectuality, both of which have their own limits that seemed to add to an inauthenticity to a piece. We did not want to pontificate, we wanted to do as we do, not say as we say. So, art and life met together on the stage, what you saw were our lives, how we negotiate our days and how we then scripted it together. We were looking for the order found in the chaos of our bags, the clothing that we wear and the way we brush our teeth. The space was not transformed into some sacred place, but we were hoping to evoke the import of ritual. The ritual of our daily lives and the ritual of performance itself. We were looking to symbolically represent these rituals in our staging and lines.
Stacy: "Hit your mark. You don't have to slate."
Drew: "Hold . . . Action!"
Nancy: (Let's it rip).
And our representations of these rituals allowed us to emphasize the process of the performance medium. We dug into the rehearsal process and the audition process as well as the discussions and stresses that we had around and about the performance itself. This allowed us to disrupt the meanings in the piece.
Nancy: "But what does this all mean?"
Drew: "Exactly what does it all mean?"
And with our questions posed to our audience, we opened up the stage to the community of the space. Everyone was involved, we all carry a bag of some sort filled with some strange stuff I'm sure. We all wear clothes and stress about work, each of us in some way or another has had to deal with difficult situations in the best or worst of ways. The stage may have been proscenium in its lay out, but we opened the performance to go beyond the time and space of the performance event.
"...[The] ambivalent perticipation in the postmodern redistribution of analytical foci from the center to the periphery, delimitation to dispersal, whole to fragment, metropole to margin" (Conquergood 183).
The idea of a plague of theater, like the talk show. It's pervasive, insidious, normal, and scary as hell.
Stacy: "And what do you carry in your bags, and why?"
Nancy: "I'd really like a support group."
Drew: "We'll get you a support group Nancy."
Drew: "So, our challenge to you is to notice your rituals, check out the things you do often and regularly."
We were excited to try and actively include the audience throughout our piece. We wanted to emphasize the importance of their roll in shaping the tenor of the performance event. We were looking for ways to include them in our process and performance, we wanted them to be active, not passive in their participation. We hoped to raise their awareness of their own random rituals, whether they be similar or not to the ones we represented.
Idea of including audience members' bags into the piece, get them to talk about what they keep in their bags. Looking at themselves as the speaking subject as it were.
Stacy: "So, Jay what do you keep in your bag? Maybe it can help Nancy with a system. Not that we're going to find out some deep secret about you."
By disrupting the normal experience of theatre, we hoped the audience would not only respond in the live moment of the event itself, but would go home and ponder their rituals. I think it had the potential to be therapeutic for the audience as they watched and empathized with our rituals they had the opportunity to address their own. They were witnesses to the absurdities of our lives and maybe their own, thus forming a bond with each other performer and spectator, linked by the uncommon similarities, the common idiosyncrasies of our random rituals.
"The kettle is boiling" (Phelan 150).
Nancy: "These are the little things that we do with almost compulsive regularity but rarely give two seconds worth of our time to ponder them"
Disappointments in the Avant-Garde Effort
Nancy: "Stop! That's the deadly theatre. A little cruelty please."
Ironically, like most avant-garde theatre, there is no documentation of this event outside of the script, we have no video footage or anything of that manner. In this day and age, we should have known better, and we did, but under the time pressure, we as a class let it slip us by. Although I do believe we had a sense of history, our piece is steeped in the experiments of those that trod the boards before us. We were trying to build on that foundation with contemporary issues (at least in terms of the process).
Idea of how it could all fall apart because the group just never clicks. We could use that disruption during the performance, making the truth sing loud and clear and represent the process that we have been through together.
There is the difficulty of separating the text from the performance, especially since we had many ad-libbed moments by ourselves and the audience as well as the performative qualities of the script itself (the representation of the process unique to us). And yet I think we use this to our advantage, if the moment is born and gone and will never happen again then one most acknowledge the ephemerality of the medium and utilize its strengths, reveling in the moment.
Drew: "You're born naked and the rest is drag."
And while it may be impossible - one) for the artifice of theatre to supplant immediate experience, and two) to divorce meaning and interpretation from performance, I believe this is where we have made the most interesting strides in performance art. The theatre will never be "real." That said it can symbolically evoke our lives in such a way that our points of view are forever colored. And here is where interpretation and meaning come into play, there will always be audiences who walk away talking about what they thought it meant, they are a vital part of the performance dynamic. Without them, it would be the sound of one hand clapping. with them, we have to let go and revel in our and their various interpretations. It may be the illusion of ecstasy, but it takes a pretty damn good illusion to enable us to represent our lives to ourselves.
"I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
Act 3: Under the Re/Dress
Idea of wrapping up the performance by starting it all over again, the never ending process of the performances that we all go through day in, day out.
Stacy: "And see what it's like to do it differently, to make a change in your life."
Nancy: "It may be hard. It may be easy. Who knows, but change is good."
I have attempted to write a non-traditional paper to capture both the process and the performance. I used our class' avant-garde handout to frame the issues, theories and problems evoked for me by this performance. I also inserted sections of my journal notes and the performance script, (re)presenting the process of developing this performance. Throughout this semester, Stacy, Nancy and I have developed this piece. Through thick and thin, we struggled with and elated each other with our different ideas and interests. In the end, the connection that enabled it all to click, was our mutual love of the absurdity we each saw in our daily rituals. That and our desire to evoke that absurdity with and for an audience.
Stacy: "And when in doubt"
Nancy: "No white before labor day"
Drew: "Accessorize sparingly"
Stacy: "And when in doubt"
And in the end, I truly believe that we developed an ensemble piece, all three of us had voices and were interacting with each other throughout the process and the performance. Like my thoughts on the performance at times this semester, I am not sure how this paper works, but I do believe it represents the process and the performance that we went through together.
Exercise Lady: "Warm Up Number 4..."
Exercise Lady: "...The Breathing."
Conquergood, Dwight. "Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics." Communications Monographs. Vol 58, June 1991.
Grotowski, Jerzy. Towards a Poor Theatre. Denmark: Methuen, 1968.
Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: PAJPubs, 1982.
Vandon Heuvel, Michael. Performing Drama/Dramatizing Performance: Alternative Theater and the Dramatic Text. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.