Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Duets for three

Just a quick midnight post, on what I suppose -- given that I'm right now mid-way through my working day -- I should be thinking of as my lunch break, to record some half-thoughts and share some evidence of the project I've just been away in Cambridge doing over the past few days.

On the occasion of my poetry reading with the brilliant Tomas Weber in Cambridge last November, I was able to introduce Jonny Liron to Jeremy Hardingham, who -- if you've just joined us -- runs the Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio at the English Faculty. We crashed a seminar Jeremy was doing on King Lear, which included a couple of short performances by Jeremy, pretty much in the ballpark of his genuinely extraordinary unfolding king lear a model, which I wrote about here a while back. Jonny was understandably blown away both by the work and by Jeremy in person, and, when I rather intrusively raised the possibility, Jeremy was kind enough to invite Jonny and me down to the studio for a few days' residency, with my sights set on embarking on the next chapter of my working relationship with Jonny and also to putting both of us in a work room with Jeremy -- the first time, obviously, for Jonny, and my first time working with Jeremy as a performer since we did Twelfth Night together back in 2001 (unless you count, as one probably should, a twenty-minute set in our music duo guise as COAT at a cptDoodah! event in 2003, I can't quite remember).

Enough backstory. I'm here to report not much more than having had an amazing few days in the company of two people who stimulate and fascinate me more than I can begin to say. Watching them work together was incredibly touching, as they each felt their way towards each other's distinct languages, wanting to accommodate, embrace, augment, and also, a little, to disrupt. Given that Jonny's still just 21, and that since we did Hey Mathew last autumn he's mostly been doing Beauty & the Beast at South Hill [not quite the same ball]Park, it's incredible to me that he got in the room at all with Jeremy, who, as I've more or less said a few times in these and other pages, I think is basically the most important British theatre maker of our generation. That he was moreover able to work on such equal terms is a testament not only to Jonny's talent, commitment and intrepidity in dealing with a sheerly vertical learning curve (that's actually a learning wall, let's face it), but also to Jeremy's care, adaptability, virtuosity and grace. I felt acutely, dizzyingly privileged and grateful just to be in the room.

So as to have something to aim these explorations towards -- I'd said to Jonny in an overheated 3am manifesto email shortly before Christmas, "Let's go to Cambridge and be NOT IRRELEVANT" -- we'd said we'd show some work on Saturday night, and so we did. Recovery was basically just an extended improvisation (I'll paste below some contextualising bits from the programme copy I knocked up that morning), with all the nervous unpredictability that that entails: an unpredictability that seems curiously still to obtain after the event, when it's weirdly difficult to recall or gauge what just happened... It seemed to me all the things I thought it would be -- beautiful, harrowing, bumpy, confusing, candid, violent, affectionate -- though to be honest half my attention was on the spoken texts I was improvising out of various sources from a just-offstage holodeck. Happily though, for once, a fixed-position video recording worked out pretty well, and I'll post below some screen shots from that: the long-play image quality is poor, obviously, but I think you get some sense of what happened during the 55 minute piece. (Well, what you get in 15 frames is 0.019% of the whole story, and of course not even that, but hey, what more can I do?) Audience reception seemed quite positive on the whole -- they were I think as startled as we were, but their attentiveness was phenomenal: and it was great to talk afterwards to old pals like Neil Pattison and Anne Stillman, and to meet a really smart undergrad called Orlando Reade, who seems to be thinking all the right things in the right kind of order -- make a note of the name.

It could hardly have been a better excursion, really. There's a bit of stuff that I hoped the few days' work with Jonny might touch on that we didn't really get to work with for various reasons: but that's a negligible wrinkle -- there's no doubt that our conversation together is only just beginning, and we'll get to all those places in time, and plenty more besides. In every other way it was an extraordinarily useful, refreshing, frequently mindblowing few days, and one that, for all its intellectual demands and sometimes disturbing outcomes, also quite frequently had me all but supine with hysterical laughter.

Here you go then: what I did on my holidays, ha ha:

* * *

From the programme note:

What else can theatre do?

In RECOVERY, it sets itself against the loss of which it is itself partly composed. Which is to say that theatre thrives on, is sometimes wholly produced by, disappearances: by the ephemeral, the fleeting. But by some particular effort of attention it might also work against disappearance, and be instead a site where memory and precise invocation can conspire to reinscribe in our perception of the world what may have been lost to that perception, often perhaps through inattention.

Tonight’s performance is entirely improvised, within parameters that have gradually been determined by the participants over the past couple of days. Any description of what might be seen would therefore be presumptuous or actually absurd. Some indication of the resources out of which the piece will emerge may nonetheless help inform the task of watching and helping to hold the place in place.

A number of thematic and topical recoveries inform the work (mostly in rather oblique ways): the recovery of lost data from a corrupted disk, say, or of fragments of memory from childhood; the recovery of effects from a burning building; the recovery of a body from illness or attack, or from the distortions imposed on it by extraneous orthodoxies and systematic violence. The choice of materials is influenced in part by textual sources including the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (itself an attempt at the recovery of incident from a period of the life of Jesus about which we know nothing) and the unperformed — and therefore in one sense lost — scores of the Actionist artist Rudolf Schwarzkogler. There may or may not, as it happens, be spoken text, which may or may not also derive from these sources, and may or may not be partly or wholly generated and/or organized by computer: this will finally be decided after these notes are printed and copied. There is music, sound, noise: mostly from a portable CD player set to ‘shuffle’, playing material which the two main performers will not have heard before.

What you will see in RECOVERY is a series of duets, sometimes isolated, sometimes layered. These encounters may take place not just between the two performers, but also between a performer and another person (present in the room, or not), or between performer and material, or perfomer and room... It may be useful therefore to note that what superficially appears to be an encounter between the two performers may actually (from their perspective) be an instance where two separate duets, each involving an invisible ‘partner’, happen simply to be sharing a performance space.

There is no single endorsed way of orienting yourself in relation to this work. You are welcome to sit (on the floor, or on a chair if you prefer) or stand, very close or at some remove; to move around or not, to come and go. Please be aware though, and sympathetic to the fact, that your actions and behaviours may not be very different from those of which the performance is composed, and your presence is not less salient.

* * *

How else can I end this post but with reiterated thanks to Jeremy for making this possible? I've left Jonny in Cambridge, continuing the conversation, and I wish with pretty much every Quorn-like filament of my being that I was there still too: upstream at high altitude. Fellas, I love you.


Tomas Weber said...

It looks spooky beautiful Chris, looks like a whole world is there in those body shapes and the rags, in the same way Jeremy's King Lear stuff could conjure these uneasy, nervous worlds. What format is the video currently in?

TS said...

"...basically the most important British theatre maker of our generation"

Why are you tossing such a mainstream-shaped rock into upstream practice?

I don't dispute that J is making good work where he's at. So are natch many other makers. But that is not the point. There isn't a title to give away.

The most important theatre-making of our generation is being made by very many people with a connectivity and sensitivity to process and practice. It's a community. And its interconnectivity is a fundamental quality of upstream, even in the watery world.

I don't also deny that individual artists and their streams of thinking are crucial. But only one part. Please step away from this bear-trap. It leads inevitably to the notion that somehow one can pluck out 'the most important/talented/etc' from exciting work and somehow keep all the qualities that made it exciting in the first place. This is the practice of the gatekeepers of the big institutions - you know who I mean - that inexorably grinds say a McBurney out of a Complicite, a Rosenberg out of a Shunt.

And you wondered why there's a glass ceiling for devised work?

There was a category error made, I think, by BAC in the late nineties which focused on the artist rather than their work. It's *all* about the work. And by focusing on that rather than the artist, I think you actually end up supporting the artist in all the right ways.

And the absence of the artist is important for more particular reasons in the parts of the upstream I frequent these days.

So please keep telling us about the work that J and others are making, with or without yourself. Recovery looks beautiful.

But please stop tossing these rocks.

And apologies in advance for what is very likely an overdeveloped reaction.

Chris said...

very likely an overdeveloped reaction

Oh do you reckon? Fuck wow.

I mean there's a sliver of something I can work with in what you say. I wouldn't have used that phrase about Jeremy if there weren't an economy of such appellations that I thought I could use against itself here. Obviously J's work is hardly known outside its immediate context and to say something like this about him has a vastly different exchange value than if I were to say it about, I don't know, Rupert Goold say. Part of what I'm trying to do is indicate to 93 per cent of the people who come here, half of whom (I'm guessing, I don't have data to support any of this) believe themselves to be well-informed about theatre, that there are pockets of work going on that are barely visible to them through the usual nattering channels, which may be in the long run of more significance than the work they do know. Of course there are layers of speciousness in making any such statement but if this kind of rock-tossing makes some kind of splash happen in waters that are otherwise under-attended then that's a trade-off I feel pretty relaxed about.

Your model of community is kind of appealing in a "turn off your mind relax and float downstream" way but it has nothing to do with my experience of making work because it has no room inside it for dialectics. If the individual artist or the specific company is erased altogether in favour of a free play of authorless work we lose our access to a whole range of tools for discrimination and distinction in the prosecution of a larger argument for theatre or for society. Yes, of course, it matters hugely that the individual artist does not, cannot, work in isolation, and that the ensemble is not reshaped by market engines into the kind of superstar-plus-backing-singers shape you describe: but, to take your example, does it not matter really quite a lot to Complicite's work that Simon McBurney is now and has long been its only constant? Is engaging with the particularity of McBurney's practice, its idiolect, its signatures, and the wider context in which McBurney himself chooses to situate that practice, really generative only of fake information for use only to starfuckers in assessing what Complicite do? Or is that kind of assessment also invalid? Why should an engagement with the individual be inimical to an understanding of devising? Is Robert Lepage merely the chief executive of something called Ex Machina? (Actually he's probably not even that, but you know what I mean.)

One of the very most important things about Jeremy's work, in my evaluation of it -- or do we not dare essay specific evaluations either? -- is how individually distinct it is, how it looks (finally) like nothing else that's going on. In a culture where things increasingly resemble each other through a kind of gruelling creep of ill-thought-out mergers and acquisitions, I really value the placement into the field of work that carries the stamp of a particular artist, that feels not-the-same, that is perhaps not even participating, or seeking to, in the great communal burble of interconnected whateverness -- which is anyway utterly fucking owned by a very small number of venues, producers and players who are variably disingenuous about their authorship of it. I'm saying it is not merely a blob of vacuous prizegiving protoplasm to say that Jeremy's work is currently unique. (You haven't seen it, of course; it's up to you whether or not you take my word for it.)

The trajectory of development of the artist across the span of her work, or the company across theirs, is a crucial driver in the continuing emergence of form and extension of reach. Can we really not do that any more? How else do we have a conversation with audiences that isn't circular and composed of smalltalk? By a retreat into fictionalising them too, apparently.

What's worst is the information that you're seeking to preclude in identifying the authors of theatre work as (possibly) distinct simply re-enters further down the chain in the most tortourously mangled re-encodings which are frequently more banal and more violent than the coercions you're seeking to eliminate.

There isn't a title to give away, no, but strong statements on behalf of strong work and -- even more importantly -- strong patterns of work are the kinds of white lies we can use to pulverise the larger mendacities. That's all.

This too is overreacting to your overreaction, partly because I'm writing too quickly. Happy to have a more nuanced conversation about this from tomorrow!


p.s. And anyway if we don't believe in prizegiving, where were you last night I wonder? ;)

Chris said...

Urk. I’ve borrowed a laptop on the train so as to be able to partly retract and partly clarify some of the preceding rant, which was fuelled more by needing to stop writing it than it was by needing to write it in the first place.

Important above all to say that in my characterisation of the community as (implicitly) mindless I am eliding a bunch of things in what inadvertently ends up being an insulting way. I know of course that there is a lot of deep thought running through the conversations that essentially constitute that community. But your privileging of groupthink and hivemind here tends (I think) to create zones of dialect that can often be exclusive of exactly the work that needs to be reckoned with. It’s not downstream but upstream where certain artists get sidelined or excluded for not being able to speak the group language. One of the ways the group thinks is through absorption, or effectively co-option in this context.

Of course I’m talking about this “community” as if I weren’t also part of it. But it’s the same as “audience” isn’t it?, there’s a community of theatre-makers about which I feel unsure and slightly estranged, but there’s also the people I talk to every day about what we’re all doing. Essentially there’s a question about what constitutes that community and the answering of that question at some point has to reckon with individuals because the contour lines are otherwise meaningless.

I’m not clarifying much and I’m anyway using up battery that isn’t mine, so I’ll stop – I just didn’t want my careless implication of mindlessness to stand unchecked.

TS said...

Yes, all taken. I think I fell into another bear-trap in my first comment. I don't want to deny the importance of identifying the individual artist and their practice and what is uniquely them.

This interconnectivity is connecting nodes of individual artistry and uniqueness - can't help but thinking of pebbles in the watery metaphor - it's not about eroding those away into a wash.

Also don't think I was overextending the absent artist as desired practice. Just highlighting that has qualities that are NOT about fictionalising the audience - not that that is a retreat, be careful here, nor necessarily banal or violent, jeez - but activating them in particular ways. That are not necessarily unique to that kind of work before you leap on that too.

If you'd omitted the hyperbole of the superlative and left J as 'a really important theatre maker' there'd be no issue and it would perfectly achieve the purpose you express. But you use the superlative and it creates a range of perplexed responses from any number of important makers who know you, who swim in the unattended waters and didn't know they came second in a competition. And I'm not just speaking about myself here.

[And it's a shame but you understand why it's difficult for me to engage first-hand with J's current practice.]

I REALLY don't want to preclude identifying authors and ownership. More on that anon in a very practical arena. But just to make that a starting-point in a more nuanced conversation and appreciation of a much bigger picture.

I'm sure we both (largely) agree.


Where I was last night was in a ceremony for an award from the Arts Foundation that gives a bursary to enable a breathing-space for an artist from particular disciplines. I was nominated for theatre directing. I didn't choose to apply. I was accompanied by a lot of the people with whom I've made the work for which I got the nomination. What was made palpably clear was that all of us shortlisted were there for our distinctive voices, deserved money for breathing-space like yes many artists not in that room, but they could only give the money to one (who was well-deserving, I hasten to add). But that didn't make her 'the most important', nor did anyone in that room think or say so. Not even Annie Lennox ;) And I got plenty pleasure from the simple recognition of being able to be present in that room along with everyone else.

Not that I want to get into any holier/cattier than thou stuff.

TS said...

Ah, cross-commenting. My last comment written in response to your first comment. Now you know how long it takes me. ;)

Hear what you're saying. But you mistake me and my interests. I'm not privileging groupthink/hivemind (any case those are not the same thing). I want to be part of an ongoing conversation between interested individual voices, not trying to enforce everyone speaking or acting in consensus unison, but also enjoying any moments when we happen to find ourselves doing that. Just like what happens in any conversation of mutually interested minds.

Probably this boils down to my pedantic leap onto your use of a superlative.

simon kane said...

Ohhhh don't backtrack guys, this is brilliant! Seriously!
Personally speaking I'd have to agree that for those who do know the history of Jeremy's work Chris' accolade is a no-brainer. Man, he started so much. All praise is currency whether or not it comes with a bursary, no? If we're very luck it's also a kick up the bum.
Thanks very much for an incredibly stimulating stream you two. Sorry it took so much out of you but it was worth it this end.

Chris said...

What up T, what up Simon, here we are now. It being tomorrow and some calm having rearisen here. Foolish of me, deeply, to try and say some complex things in such a hurry when at least most of me knew I shouldn't be trying to translate kneejerk anger into usable analysis.

I'll pick up on some specifics in a pic'n'mixy (RIP) sort of way and then try and broaden out again.

I think even in my haste I don't actually say that work in which the author is not spectacularly legible as a fixed point (which I like as a concept and think could deliver much as a practice, and sometimes has) is necessarily and always that work which fictionalises the audience. So that's not a point I'd like you to think I was trying to make. What I do think, certainly, is that a lot of the current strategic approaches to alleviating the problems of power-relationship that seem to (& perhaps actually do) inhere in theatre often do no more than either reconfigure those imbalances or mask them. Treating the audience as co-authors is gesturally beautiful but not in itself necessarily or ineluctably a solution, because the terms and conditions of an audience's ambit as authors are determined, if at all, either in complex and unpredictable ways that have much to do with the residues of other authorial acts, or through coercive and (systematically) violent constraints. I don't think I mean more violent than conventional theatre though I often detect the use of simulated or quasi-redistributive technologies kind of similar to, for example, the policy of allowing people to buy their own 'council houses', which can be wrapped up in all kinds of progressive-looking skins but simply reinscribe familiar structural injustices in a blurrier way.

I can see how if any part of my contentious statement is retrograde then it's the superlative. What I find uncomfortable about this though is that, for the first time ever, I find myself feeling as though I'm wanting to rebel against an instance of, forgive me in advance for this, political correctness. No, no, there must be a better way of saying this than that. But here's how I see it. I do genuinely believe that the statement about Jeremy is true. Sure, I'm aware that it participates in an artificial economy largely characterised by the circulations of unlovely marketing flatus. But taking into account the profound influence that J. has had on several key upstream artists in this generation, for whom he remains a beacon and a yardstick (a difficult double to pull off); and adding to that the influence he has had over the past few years on, especially, young practitioners emerging from Cambridge -- which, for better or worse, continues to disgorge theatre-makers of all stripes who make an arguably disproportionate impact on the wider theatre culture: those two inducing and enabling tendencies in Jeremy's practice, taken alongside his own staggeringly sui generis productions, are not simply 'important' or whatever. Or they could be, one could state that, fine. But I do not see, I do not know, that any one artist of our generation has exhibited that same level of influence and significance. To say "the most" is not, in my assessment, an untruth. It may be that I should have added "so far" or something, because we all continue to work and talk, but then it really does become some kind of Wacky Races bullshit.

Anyway all I'm saying is, if I hurt any feelings by naming one person and not any of the two dozen others whose work and company I revere and admire and whose influence I think has been important, I very slightly regret that, but very much more hope that anyone thus disgruntled would resolve to indicate to me through the works they next make why I was so wrong.

I myself have received so far only your perplexed response, T, no others, so I don't and can't know who else you're talking about. If anyone else I've perplexed wants to talk to me about it I'm right here and genuinely happy to talk with them about their perplexity, and for that matter to apologise to them if I turn out to have caused genuine harm by using the word "most" in what I take to be an accurate but tactless way.

I do of course understand why it's difficult for you to engage with J's work -- others reading this may not; can we just say that it's personal? And that a cloud of similar personal turbulences are at least partly responsible for J's work not being as visible and therefore as critically recognised as (in my opinion) it should have been. This is yet another reason why -- although I accept your protestations that you weren't arguing against this -- the individual and the specific continue to impact so suasively on the shape of the artistic culture we have. I was reminded yesterday, thinking about this, of a parallel shift in the complexion of the experimental poetry scene a few years ago. For personal and professional reasons the poet Andrea Brady moved from Cambridge to London, and thus from one important centre of poetic activity to another -- these two centres having been viewed by some observers as representing entirely irreconcilable differences of approach, aesthetics, ideology etc. So, one poet moves house, switches jobs, and suddenly it feels like the map has to be redrawn, the whole story has to be re-narrated. The upstream theatre "community" is, happily, considerably larger, and yet there is still something of this level of resolution about it. If you, T, were to emigrate to Australia tomorrow -- and take G with you, say -- what it would mean to be an upstream theatre maker working in London would be palpably different for those of us left behind. The shape of what we can think of doing is described to such a great extent by who we actually are from day to day -- who's so in debt that they need to spend a year away from theatre doing a dayjob; who loses three months here, three months there to depressive illness; who lands themselves a job where suddenly they can have some curatorial influence; who's in love with whom such that their work changes to reflect whatever chemical changes are happening in their body... (These four people, obviously, I mention because I've been all of them at different times, and I'm aware of how each of these has shaped -- not always visibly or tangibly -- the reach and perception of my work right now.) I'm convinced that we remain as individual people with particular relationships and living in particular circumstances more salient, in the culture, than can ever be some aggregate or overview read out of the climate shifts that we somehow half-chaotically engender.

I wasn't meaning to be cheap in drawing the reference to your Arts Foundation nomination, btw. I don't think it follows that because the elevatory singling-out of practitioners for particular kinds of distinction causes you some discomfort you should knock back the chance to be awarded money that could be really impactful on your practice. But surely it follows that you can see how the illumination, in one moment in time, of one artist in the field can be productive not just for that artist but for all those around who are gifted the awareness of a practice they may be unfamiliar with and which someone (at least -- someone whose credentials can also of course be disputed) considers to be exemplary. If it's ever useful for Jeremy or for anyone working on his behalf (in which group I would include anyone hoping to adhere to similar standards and principles) that I said what I said, that's great. You disagree that I am right or productive in saying it, you say your bit, fine, this is more light not less. Asking me not to say the thing in the first place: that's shadow-casting, that's occlusion, and I ain't down with it.

But thanks for talking xx

TS said...

Well, I am really neither disputing the influence nor significance of J's work despite it largely being second or third-hand (or even no hands) for indeed good reason. That you and Simon and many many others whom I love and respect and admire say it has been and continues to be important is actually enough for me. And even the little I saw (through programming it) confirmed that sui generis brilliance.

But, straight up - the superlative. Absolutely you can use it if you choose it. Because that's your belief, you can't be wrong then, without any further qualification. But I have to say that it does bother me. Sure any praise is illumination is currency and will be deserved and gladly received. But the superlative is a light that casts others into shadow. I guess perhaps especially when it's you using it... because you're one of the few who shines spotlights that mainstreamers follow into these unattended waters. And you always sound like you know what you're talking about.

You yourself praised me for ROAR in a Guardian article a few years ago, words I cherished not least because they were the only ones that any mainstreamer (sic) has ever printed about what I did there. ROAR had its own importance and its own rewards not least back into my own work, rewards way beyond those words, yet the words still mattered; and yet you rightly didn't say it was the superlative, and I'd have denied that implication. ROAR was no more or less important than any other important piece of inducing and enabling practice, artistic or curatorial. It's everyone singing together in open space, all yes with our distinctive voices necessarily and beautifully so echoing who we are but with equal value in our common place and connectivity. Or it's not.

Anyhow. I'm in danger of digging a mountain from what shouldn't even be a molehill between us. Say what you like about whoever you like, use the superlative (go on, I dare you). But be down with the fact that at least me - I can't actually speak for anyone else and let's face it, I'm the only blundering egotistical dope in this room - is always going to feel just a tad uneasy in that moment.

Thanks for the conversation. I need to take you up on the merits of fictionalisation soon, just to warn you so you can book a holiday afterwards.

And big back'atcha Simon. Must talk to you about a comic sooner or later.


Chris said...

Thanks for that, T, & I hear you, & a less bumptious host would shut up now, but let me have one last thwack of the cherry...

I think the reason I feel justified in the occasional, judicious, thought-through application of an odd superlative here and there is precisely because I don't believe in the "open space" that you have us all congregated in. Or, rather, I 'believe in' it in the same way that I believe in good manners or I believe in writing with a fountain pen. I believe that what you're talking about is a conceptual space, one that's vibrant with aspiration, one that perhaps could exist if we all pulled a Gandhi and were able to be the change we want to see. But it's not an open space in its actual day-by-day functionality, it has border guards and CCTV and for all the singing and suchlike I'm afraid I do think that there are some upstream splashers who, advertently or not, have a malign influence on the interactions that take place (t)here. So I'm very happy to be one equal voice among many, and for everyone who wants to be so to be so, but it's only in relation to threats from outside that congregation that I feel able to sing "We All Stand Together" with any gusto. Bluntly, I think some ideas are wrong. I think some people have a lot of wrong ideas. In an entirely open equal-access space there would be world enough and time for every idea to find its place and for us together to constitute the congregation of a church that's always exactly as broad as "we" are, whoever says they want to be counted as "we". But that's not where and who we are.

Is 'important' really one term in a binary pair? No degrees of importance? ROAR is as important as every other thing that's important, no more no less, and then some other things are not important? Or are all things important? How is making the judgement call "important"/"not important" different than "more important"/"less important"? I'd have thought that the former is more casting of umbrage, not less.

And the other thing I question is the value of 'connectivity' -- I mean not as a means but as an end. Or, OK, that's not quite what you're saying. But that connectivity is a marker of "us". Yet, as I keep saying, my own connectivity feels (a) contingent, (b) partial, (c) often uncomfortable, (d) sometimes coerced, (e) sometimes assumed, (f) occasionally self-defeating, as well as (g) inspiring and supportive quite a lot of the time. You write about connectivity in a way that makes me think of onlineness, virtual spaces, the sublime unreal. When I think about how it actually works in practice, again, it's about who exactly I'm in a room with, and how many people that makes, and why we think we're there, how drunk everyone is... All the nonvirtual bumpiness of real interaction. I'm going to break one of my cardinal rules here and worry about somebody else on their behalf: the actual refusenik, the person whose vision for theatre is so intense that they just can't connect to the cloud. In a way I fucking hate (though I'm glad of it too) how D&D presents itself as a haven for refuseniks. What would an Artaud do in that room? What do we do with the people who have nothing to say at a BAC-hosted meeting about the future of the Forest Fringe because it seems to them entirely irrelevant, so completely bafflingly infuriatingly irrelevant that all they could possibly do there is throw up over themselves? I'm not that person, in relation to that question, but you know as well as I do that approximately twenty-four times a year I feel like him. Not about the Forest Fringe. But about stuff like that -- where a good member of the "we" who sing in open space would be there, wherever-it-is, with bells on, while I want to bomb it. I want to scrape the connectivity off me with a hot metal spatula. Perhaps what I'm saying is, what do we do with those who hate us? Who want to destroy us? Sometimes I am them. What am I supposed to do with your frog chorus then?

This is overheated on purpose and I don't want to disrupt today's relative tranquility. This conversation has left me feeling like Dud at the end of that Derek & Clive sketch -- "I do not want to say all of the things that I have just fucking said." But I do think there's a question of where you draw -- where one draws, I mean -- the line in terms of scrutiny and fidelity for the sake of harmonious relations with your peers. I think you and I perhaps draw it in slightly different places, I think for all its solitary disgustingness I quite like to be or I quite need to be a lone wolf sometimes and to yell at the traffic. Your hug is big enough and expert enough to accommodate many more people, which is something I've always loved and envied about you. But I think that discrepancy lands us occasionally here, where I want you to recognize that the differences between us (all), and the pressures on us -- most of which have more to do with liminoid late capitalism than with aesthetics or theory or our potential for social connectivity, together conspire to make your "common place" a space in which certain perceptions have to be suspended in order for others to thrive. Or, OK, I'm sure you do recognize that, and all we're doing is saying how we feel about that trade-off.

Hmm. Interesting. Thanks again old pal. xx

TS said...

Ah, we're like two terriers pulling at that last word.

But I'm thinking about D&D as an open space. There are ideas there expressed by people. And there's a 'rule' that if you're not engaged by the people/ideas then you get up and move away. They're wrong for you. Others are more right. But you never have to say that, the space removes the necessity to voice judgement to excuse yourself, you just manoeuvre where you want to be. Even if it's outside the room, smoking a rollie in sight of Artaud. Who is probably dancing beautiful ungainly by himself in the park. You can romanticise him if you like.

And *that* with bells on is the beauty of the open space. Everyone finds their place and we are still all connected whether we like it not. And even the wrong ones deserve their place there, if only so we can find where we want to be, standing in a congregation in another part of the room far away from them, or underneath the duvet trying to find the hot spatula.

Judgement is always present. It's just better unvoiced.

Of course this is a conceptual space, of course the real bumpiness is beautiful and crucial and present. But me, every bump reminds of the ideal so that too is always simultaneously present.

Apart from the border guards. They are going to have to go.


If you italic suspended then I am going to have to go after it. No perceptions have to be so. And certainly suspending disbelief never has to be so. Someone in play rather performs belief that something is so when they equally perceive and believe it not to be. That duality is playful. I'd go as far as agreeing with G and S that it is theatrical. If you let me off, you can use another superlative.

I am going to declare an embargo on anyone, even or especially you, citing virtual/online when I'm in the room unless we are actually talking about those. Those are not the same as conceptual/ideal spaces. They are functionally equivalent to real spaces and they have their own bumpinesses, even those that are weirdly shaped, fogged up and feel like they've had all the air sucked out of them.

Chris said...

Well, look, I loved D&D this year as much as anybody and was really excited by the operations of those open space parameters. But culture isn't an open space. There isn't a room to stand conspicuously outside of, ostentatiously smoking and declaring oneself aloof. I'm the last person to romanticize Artaud, poor bastard: but D&D tolerates and absorbs that outsiderly presence in exactly the same way that capitalist liberal democracies tolerate and in fact require a certain level of dissent. It neutralizes otherness in order to maintain a fiction of distinction without difference. D&D is a game-space and it has the same difficulty in its continuity with post-game life as a lot of game spaces seem to (all those, certainly, that aren't content simply to be recreational). This discussion about the (apparently limitless) elasticity of your cultural "open space", untainted by inequality and the possibility of failure, is becoming very like the exchange between the protesting atheist and the beaming evangelical who says "Well that's all right because God forgives you for your blasphemies."

We are still connected whether we like it or not

Anyone else find that the scariest fucking statement of the day? I'd like to hear it as an expression of quasi-ecological interdependence but it sounds more like the Mob to me...

The border guards are not the product of my paranoid imagination, by the way. They are venue managers and programmers and critics and commentators and marketeers and publicists and all the stakeholders who have their various vested interests in preserving a very moderately turbulent consensus within which the only validated dissent is (whatever passes for) innovation: and just because you drink with them doesn't mean they have my (or our) best interests at heart. "Whoever turns up is the right people" is a brilliant way of running a conference but a lousy way of ensuring a genuinely live culture.

O this is no good. I absolutely disagree with every premise of both your postscripts. THERE ARE NO REAL SPACES. There are places, and there are readings of those places, and like all readings they are ideologically loaded in ways which play gets invoked to evade confronting. Forgive my shouty capitals up there but I really think this is the most pernicious falsehood we're currently working with, socially as much as artistically. Virtual places are functionally equivalent to real places only to the extent of the depth of their simulated correspondence, and structurally equivalent in so far as any place may be tactically ironized. That may be enough to get a lot of stuff done in the pursuit of commercial outcomes but in terms of theatre I fear it's incredibly weak tea.

New readers please note that I really am green and furry and I literally do live in a trash can.

Over and out for tonight, Mr T. Love aye. xx

TS said...

We'd better agree to disagree then.

I think you're horribly and dreadfully misconstruing the 'game' of D&D and the processes of intention behind it to confound it with *those* kinds of dissent-tolerating structures. And you missed the change it can often engender in the aftermath, perhaps because that is sometimes precisely a change in connectivity and community.

Although grant you, I am perhaps too mindful of the process work Phelim conducted before starting D&D which was fearless in its gentle pursuit of friction into something genuinely transformatory. And I therefore might be missing its dilution.

Neither quasi-ecological nor mafioso. Just be gentle for once, please, and allow me a little leeway just as I am now allowing you the odd superlative ;)

I agree in the existence of border guards. I'd rather tunnel past them if we possibly can. And part of my initial argument which I let slide is that the economy of superlatives is one of their weapons, so...

But hang on to the capitals and hand me back a few. I might carelessly elide space and place, sorry. But otherwise I am not dealing pernicious falsehood. I am not evoking play to evade confrontation, damn you for ACTUALLY making me angry here. I am saying it only as I happen to see it, not with a programmed irony or a kneejerk conjure of ideology that unwittingly dismisses others, but because in the *actual play with people* that I do, this duality of performing belief is a more useful and creative place to start. And respectful to the real rather than any suspended or presupposed presence of an audience in the room.

The virtual/real correspondence I can generally let slide. There are occasional commonalities of quality and structure in the midst of huge absences of quality, as the end of my intentionally silly postscript was meant to suggest. Often any bumpiness comes from the physical interface itself and the liminal transitions in and out of virtual places from real places.

But similarly I find in practice it's an incredibly useful and creative thought-experiment to imagine the real place that is functionally equivalent to a virtual place. It answered for me the question posed in the Hey Mathew Q&A about how that blog was crucially different from Dennis Cooper's despite your professed aim for correspondence.

[Yes yes I am probably horribly misremembering or misrepresenting, apologies if so]

If you will continue to stick the Mr Virtual badge onto me - despite my protestations that I'd rather you didn't - then please at least be courteous and curious towards that.

And now I am going to have some of my allegedly weak tea.

TS said...

OK, in danger of missing the love, aye. There have been points in this debate - if that's what it's been - that have made me genuinely livid. But the common ground and engagement is what's important and I hope our differences haven't spilt too much milk.

Back to the tea.


Chris said...

Yes, quite. Danger Will Robinson! Fresh from a good night's sleep I fire up the old 'puter and find myself straight back in spluttering brigadier mode after three minutes. This speaks volumes of woe for me and my headspace and my apparent inability to bring to bear in this arena the gentleness that I prescribe for everyone else. Though in the faintest of gestures towards my own defence, as well as by way of vague response to some of the commitments you've been limning here, I'd say that gentleness and nongentleness, and violence and nonviolence, are not always where they seem to be from the surface behaviours of language and personal interaction.

In passing I want to say that you don't misremember the Hey Mathew blog question but I think you're a little unfair. "Professed", anyway, is a little unfair. But I absolutely agree with you about the thought-experiment -- in fact that's one of the places Hey Mathew came in. That whole area is very exciting to me, despite or because of my misgivings in the territory.

But mostly, let's leave it at that, or I'm happy to leave it at that, for now, feel free (& any others) to continue...; what's been heating our undercollars is partly semantic, and partly a bunch of commitments that are kind of tribal and/or more entrenched than makes for fun conversation. As often I'm left not quite knowing whether you and I want the same things and are proceeding in different ways to go find them, or whether the bee-target is quite different for you than it is for me. As always though my infuriation wouldn't be there if it wasn't premised on the deepest respect for everything you do, despite the fact that, as I seem to have shown here a dozen times, I'm not sure I get it. Like, at all. I find the impulse beautiful and the technologies and mappings mostly incomprehensible, one way or another.

But I'm glad you're there, is all, and I hope I haven't indicated anything contrariwise in the past 48.

I'm delighted to announce that my captcha word is 'sping'. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and sping is spung. Perhaps there really is a liveable future somewhere out there. Though when I find it I shall probably kick it to death.

simon kane said...

Thanks guys. That threw up greatness.


simon kane said...

While I'm here, I just got thinking about the words "games" and "spaces". We play games a lot at the beginning of the day's work in the Dungeon. There's one called Swiss Jumping and in it

if you leave the space you're out of the game.

I'm just wondering if there's anything useful here, because what happens to you when you're out of the game? You stand with the others who are "out" and watch, and now you're an audience. There is a very definite difference in your role from those still inside and jumping, but still every incentive to stick around and watch. I like watching people play, that seems to me a crucial attraction of performance (actors). The very act of... well *that*... creates the "game space". If the audience also inhabited it, it would be much harder to watch, so wherever they are they need to inhabit another space. But Theatre means they must still be in the same place. Chris, your work seems concerned with forging a communication between these two spaces, between those who are "in" and those who are "out". Tassos, your work seems concerned with creating games in which nobody is ever "out". Those are good games too. But you're definitely not after the same thing.

simon kane said...

ERRATUM: Damn, let me immediately withdraw the word "crucial" from "crucial attraction of watching performers" above. I'm only using the game metaphor because I think it helps illustrate what you, Chris, are taking issue with and what you are making, not because I think this is the ONLY, or even best, model. So forget "Crucial".

TS said...

Very interesting comments, Simon. I'll chew and maybe spit more out later.

But for now.. there are different levels of play (and performativity) possible in some playspaces, different games people can play that interconnect if you like. And one of the challenges in designing these spaces is ensuring that there is transparent equal opportunity for anyone to play (or perform) as much or as little as they like. And if you give people agency over that (rather than forcing them in say the archetypal pantomime humiliation which is still the default model of participation for many audience and journalists) then they are more likely to do more.

So one of the good design features imho of Small Town, for instance, is that you playing a citizen in a roomful of playing audience (no planted performers) have a choice as to whether you sit and watch other people and write letters to them, or have one-on-one conversations, or take the space and address the town. All are incorporated into the game-design as different but equal modes of play. All are also supported by the story.

We also need to make the design better able to support those who don't even want to play those games but are happy to create their own, as happened a few times in the recent scratch.

So, yes, as you pithily put it, it's a game in which no one is ever out.

But there are gradations of play and performativity within that game. Not the same thing of course, one is about activity/engagement and the other is about the public gaze/spotlight. (I may be mangling terminology here).

And there is great fluidity in how the playing audience can shift itself in that space.


TS said...

As well in Small Town, everyone _is_ inhabiting the same physical playspace, there is no division between watching and playing. But there are temporary playspaces continually constructed by the activity in the room, itself facilitated by structures we've placed within.



simon kane said...

Well yes that's my point. In Small Town you CAN'T not play the game. Even if you're just watching everyone else your role is never that of an audience. It's completely different from "audience participation". Similarly in Melanie Wilson's last show, which was beautiful, I was suddenly, personally addressed as part of a narrative. Now, ach, do I respond as me, as someone very used to performing who knows the performer, or do I suddenly have to fashion a false identity of "awkward audience member" to somehow suit the identity that Melanie's narrating, or do I just shut up and watch? Regardless my role has been forced to change. This is different from "Jonah Non Grata" in which it was important to me that when the punters stood up and sang or discussed death or suggested decisions they did so *as themselves*, hence the much more archetypal, pantomimey kind of audience participation because it never compelled the audience into role-playing... This is something I picked up from Shunt: a kind of "mistaken identity" grift in which the audience are hopefully allowed to be placed within the narrative without having to be "in" it because THEY know, whatever's going on, they're not actually who we think they are. Indeed they can't be "in" because it's never really clear what's going on. Do you see the difference? And the at least equal value of NOT drawing the audience into the game?

TS said...

Absolutely I see the difference and value. And please don't think that I am arguing that the likes of this work is necessarily better. Different and equal.

But there is a distinction still to be drawn between the actions people take and the performativity, by which I really simply mean how many people in the room are watching you (so I am probably wrong in using the word that way).

Mel's indeed beautiful 'Iris Brunette' was very interesting in those moments where an audience member was cast into the story, because although everyone was watching you, the less you did the more you listened under that gaze the better your performance in those moments (which yes is arguably true of all performance..).

Jonah - well I hope you know how much I love that piece... What you did with the audience could perhaps be described as giving the room a communal action - sing this hymn! - which diminishes the responsibility of any individual to do that, which means anyone can kind of do what they like, much as in a normal congregation.

And Shunt's always been brilliant casting the audience as an audience and dropping hints as to who they might otherwise be.

Small Town isn't really role-play though. Most people don't play a character in their citizen, although the opportunity is there, very few take that. It's about a series of actions of your citizen that most people choose to play very much as themselves. You have a badge - not a mask - which defines you by your citizen's occupation rather than name or history. There may have been more of the latter when you played it first time round but now pretty much the only history you get is what you have chosen to give already. And you see people stepping in and out of role and the game as they wish. It's not that you can't choose to disengage and sit and watch if you like. It's that is supported so you don't feel uncomfortable in doing so.


yes, really my captcha is mings.

simon kane said...

Hello again T. Just to unfudge: " What you did with the audience could perhaps be described as giving the room a communal action - sing this hymn! - which diminishes the responsibility of any individual to do that". No. That's not the case. Actually the hymn singing was the exception. Pretty much everything else I asked of the audience required them to individually volunteer a response. Come up and pick a card. Where do you go when you die? What page should I turn to and why? What is this X? Since you brought it up, apart from that hymn, each individual audience member was still very much responsible for pretty much every sound they made. It was all stuff that would give them away but, like I said, hopefully they were allowed to volunteer the information as themselves. Sorry, I just didn't want to let that slip past. (I didn't take it as a criticism, just a pretty crucial misrepresentation of a show I'm very glad you loved.)


simon kane said...

Actually, okay, if this is a conversation you're still interested in pursuing then - since this seems to be the place to do it - I am going to have to get a bit "red ink" on your sloppy ass, Tass:
You write "Absolutely I see the difference".
But come on do you? Because seriously nothing you wrote previously indicated that.
You wrote "there are different levels of play (and performativity) possible in some playspaces". Right. Are there? Great! What are they then? Describe to me just two, that's all I ask, two specifically different levels of play, or else I can't help but read your comments as a kind of "yes yes yes, different but equal, yes yes" and all this talk of "gradations"... what is that if not an "intelligent design"-style end of inquiry? And, as Chris pointed out, your assertion that everything important is equally as important as other important stuff doesn't bode particularly well for a detailed analysis of this.
Okay let me disagree with you and see where we go (or if this post is unconscionably obnoxious, let's not.) I DON'T think there is "great fluidity" in how people join in. I think there is conflict. There... Now, you have the definite advantage here, I'm disagreeing with you about a statement regarding a show I DIDN'T EVEN SEE. Wot a nob. All I have to back up my assertion is a snowball fight I had last night (that I've written about in response to Chris' following post). That's rubbish evidence! BUT you, TS, still have to prove the presence of this fluidity to me. Or at least describe it. You can't just continue agreeing. If you can't describe it, or if that's not actually what you meant, fine, it certainly doesn't invalidate your actual practice AT ALL, and at least we learn something. Which in the end is why I show my face here, to learn something.
Most importantly though... I'm absolutely fine with theatre being a practical and not theoretical space, far more fine probably than most, so please please do not take this attack on your theory to be an attack on your work, which we're lucky to have, and without which there would have been no Jonah Non Grata so thank you again (The sixth best solo show that Chris had seen a year ago, let us not forget... to bring these strand full circle. )


TS said...

There's an equal responsibility for proof, he said, wiping the red ink from his face, and I think it's important to go wider than the evidence of our own thinking about our own practice or play.

So here's my stab.

In a playground there are many kids. They are all 'at play'. But there are many actions that make up the set of playful actions performed, and different kids over time will do different combinations of those. Sometimes a kid will stop and watch other kids playing before starting to play again themself. There will be different bubbles of 'temperature' in different parts of the playground; where it's 'hotter' then there will be more intense and/or focused and/or extreme play. There are different levels of connectivity, a kid can play by themself or with many others; if you watch from above then you can see patterns of connectivity break and loop and join. Sometimes they will play for and with the attention of differing numbers of other kids. Sometimes over the course of the hour kids will leave the playground perhaps to return, perhaps not.

OK, you get the idea. And all of these different variables lead to a different and dynamic pattern of possible levels of play.

Or maybe the problem is just with the shorthand term 'levels'. In which case, tell me the term that works better for you.

I don't mean to confound fluidity with a total absence of friction. Often there are barriers and obstacles to anyone moving from one level to another, external or internal, and I'd definitely listen to the notion that the presence of those in some way relates to the meaningfulness of the play.

simon kane said...

Many thanks. I suppose what I'm trying to get at, where I think I disagree, is not that people can't be involved in play to a greater or lesser extent/level (which I still think it would be interesting to one day categorize, or maybe it would be stupid) but that - and maybe you're not suggesting this but this is how I read it - one of these levels of play is total non-involvement... the suggestion that there's a sort of scale of zero participation which can move up a notch to one-out-of-ten participation all the way up to total participation - this is my oversimplification and it's not the simplification I'm querying. I just think in this game if there is the option of participation then one's state is completely different to the state you find yourself in if participation isn't an option, if you have to watch, and that you will never be able to experience this latter state by simply not participating in the game of your own free will. And it is only in this that I think you're wrong to agree with me, because every time you describe your work it does sound like you think being "out" IS an option. For me "out" is not the same as "zero participation"... I have no proof, I could be wrong, and so I don't really know where to go from here, but I hope I've described it alright. "Levels" is a fine word... although it suggests to me a kind of Sonic the Hedgehog-like instantly identifiable difference between levels, but that is PURELY MY PROBLEM... I guess I just hoped since your experience of this is so much wider and more careful it would be worth asking if you could identify those differences (not however at the rick of manufacturing them).
And seriously, T, this has been possibly the most fruitful correspondence I've ever entered into. One of. So thanks for keeping this up.


simon kane said...

P.S. Hang on of course I have no proof. I have no equal responsibility any more than the atheist has to prove there's no god. It's impossible to prove something doesn't exist. No I'm afraid the burden of proof is with you, babe.