Chapter 2: A Brief History of Presence.


The presentation of the subject (self) can be traced backwards through cultural history as having distinctly 'fashionable' or dominant modes or styles. Many methodologies in the form of physical techniques and written theories within the traditions of dance and theatre offer interpretation and instruction for the performer.  This chapter borrows from these methodologies to write for the conceptual live artist who finds herself in the site of performance from outside these discourses, from fine art or literary genres that do not historically practise 'body' or indeed presence. I will refer to post modern presence as a mode of presence and to look at how this way of being on stage has come to be.

The post modern shift sees the site of performance become the converging working place for new, interrogative interdisciplinary practise as fine art, theatre and dance collide. Contemporary performance draws freely on any number of disciplines and media. Rose Lee Goldberg says of (what resulted as) performance art, “indeed, no other artistic form of expression has such a boundless manifesto, since each performer makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution”. (Goldberg, 1988: 9) It remains the case in critical theory and in documentation that the manner of execution has not been referred to or developed as a tangible and worthy discourse.

 

The entry of performance into art is not indicative of artists turning towards theatre forms or conventions but rather of a resistance to the containment and fixities in 'conventional' art and theatre. Nick Kaye astutely says that “this entry would be best read not in terms of theatre, but as an address to the terms and assumptions surrounding the 'art object' itself” (Kaye, 1996: 2). Conceptual artists who are part of their own work, and indeed the general consensus of critics who view the work, defer the presence of the artist as irrelevant or insignificant. There is no critical sensibility towards how the performing artist is present and how that presence is politicising the work.

 

The artwork will be the construction of a conceptual frame within which the artist's body appears 'un constructed' in terms of the traditional live arts of theatre or dance. The performer is not pretending to be someone else, or affecting/abstracting her movements in any conscious way. The Post modern presence is a 'neutral' mode of performing. The performer within this work is 'being herself on stage' and is present as a facilitator of the text-act, or organiser of events. The artist's body is part of the artwork but the artist does not wish to signify her 'self' in the work. Her body is present 'as it is', an art object, a ready made, an every day, unspectacular body.  However, there are often misunderstandings between the idea of 'being yourself' on stage and the concept of 'being neutral'.  'Just being yourself on stage' is not easy or natural. There is as much chance of 'being yourself' badly as there is of bad acting in the theatre.

 

Modern dance is described by Sally Banes in her book Terpsichore in Sneakers as made up of “stylised movements and energy levels in legible structures to convey feelings, tones, social messages. The aspirations of modern dance were simultaneously primitivist and modernist” (Banes, 1987: I). In dance the post modern shift is almost solely recorded as happening in America towards the end of the 1950's. Its history is centralised around the Judson Church in N.Y.C. and the Judson Dancers, a collective of dancers who were responsible for creating an independent dance that turned away from the modernist institution of the existing dance world with its clear hierarchy of choreographer, dramaturge and dancer (the dancer being a manipulating tool to realise the choreographers vision). The institution of modern dance had developed into an “esoteric art form for the intelligentsia” (XVI). In the post modern dance, attention turned away from modernist abstraction and a concern with movement form within a highly codified system, to an expanded field of movement that “removed the body from the gaze and return(ed) it to its activity, the condition of always doing something” (in Allsop/Dela Hunta, 1996: 103). Claudia Jeschke calls this the 'documented' or  'documentary' body and writes that for this body the private and emotional components of all movement conventions undergo examination.

 

Any and all movements are legitimised. Documenting its own experience, the body no longer wishes to represent anything but its immediate self and presents itself as something to be dramaturgically and choreographically decoded… The interpretation of their specific selection, their meaning, their sense and their sensuality was left to the audience (103).

 

A post modern presence for these dancers is established initially to perform a critique against modernism and is conceptually against any aspiration towards perfection and mastery. The notion of authorship is debased, decentralised away from a singular vision or a choreographer's message. Dance became a dance not because of what was contained within it but because of its context. If a work is framed as a dance, then it will be read as a dance pertaining to the history of dance as understood by a reader or as defined by a venue or title. This relationship between content and context aligns dance with conceptual minimalist art in that the work negates meaning within itself and pursues an as-it-is-ness that demands from the reader a reconsideration of what dance was and is. This juncture is the negation of the presence of the performer and of what happens in the liminal space of the live event itself.

 

Through a decade of what were posed as experiments in dance a recognisable mode of performing emerged, one that was “reductive, factual, objective, down to earth” (Banes, 1987: XX). This way of being on stage was supported by a stripping away of elements such as music, special lighting, costumes, props etc., anything lyrical or that set up a certain scene or mood was removed. Performers wore 'everyday' clothing. These dances were returning to movement and structural devices.

 

Repetition, mathematical systems, geometric forms, the pursuit of pure, often simple movement structures to be performed without expression or any imposed illusionary effect (XX).

 

Post modern aesthetics are firmly inscribed and more or less obligatory in the construction of contemporary live art work. Since this shift, a mode of performing has been deconstructed but not reaffirmed. Self-expression has become frowned upon because it falls into a rejected expressionism that relates to modernism and to naturalism.

 

When Yvonne Rainer was interviewed about the activities of the Judson dancers, she was asked the question 'why are they so intent on being themselves?' Rainer illustrates the parallels of the interests of these dancers with the rest of the arts by asking us to consider two factors.

1) The artifice of performance has been re-evaluated in that action, or what one does is more interesting and important than the exhibition of character and attitude, and that action can best be focused on through the submerging of the personality; so ideally one is not even oneself, one is a neutral 'doer'.

2) The display of technical virtuosity and the display of the dancers body no longer make any sense. Dancers have been driven to search for an alternative context that allows for a more matter of fact, more concrete, more banal quality of physical being in performance, a context wherein people are engaged in actions and movements making a less spectacular demand on the body and in which skill is hard to locate. (Huxley/Witts)

 

The artifice of post modern performance is achieved through a submersion of the self towards an idea of neutrality. The body in this context is refusing to embellish the mastery and expressive virtuosity attached to modernism and to the portrayal and illustration of the authors meaning. Aligned with a Brechtian approach post modern dance challenges the spectator to enter into a dialogue with the artwork. The text-act is prioritised and isolated, detached from any experience that the performing of this text-act might hold for the performer or the spectator. The 'how' the text-act is performed is critically neutralised, the 'everyday' body becoming constructed, normalised.

 

Rainer's neutral, repetitive 'mundane' post modern dances are comparable then to the body working on a production line. Movement is produced out of necessity and efficiency. This was a critical time for dance as an art form and extreme measures were necessary but the idea of neutrality is deeply flawed and its connotations somewhat dangerous. Neutrality defers present-ness as it controls the body's exposure to site and to site-full emotions. It is important to recognise that the bodies involved in this analytic post modern dance had been trained within, and thus heavily inscribed with, the highly codified systems of modern dance and ballet, the very systems they were now performing to challenge. Their task was to refuse, critique and erase these inscriptions.

 

I will briefly refer to a much earlier dance phenomenon, the Tiller Girls, a troupe of dancing girls who danced for John Tiller, a Manchester cotton broker, at the turn of the 20th century. He employed young working class girls from the north of England and trained them to dance together, in unison and with military accuracy. These girls were trained to “submerge their personalities in order to achieve uniform precision” (Burt, 1998: 85). The girls were infamous entertainers on the British club circuit and beyond. Siegfried Kracauer identified the Tiller Girls as presenting a “social totality for which the individual yearned because of her or his experience of the fragmentation and alienation of metropolitan existence”(85). Kracauer wrote about 'The Mass Ornament' defining it as “an instance in which the individual could lose her - or himself, blurring the distinction between self and other by becoming part of a coherent, unitary mass” (85). Initially Kracauer saw the dancing of the Tiller Girls both as a sign for the fragmentation and the slow fall of capitalism, and as a utopian vision of possible social harmony. But, by 1931 the mass ornament had transformed into “a symptom of totalitarianism and fascism” (85).

 

I wish to look at the term 'neutral doer'. In a modernist context, 'natural' movements are movements within the dance that represent movements from nature. They are constructed for an audience to see and they symbolise nature or something natural. In a post modern context 'natural' movements are so because they are performed no differently than they might be outside of a theatre setting. They are natural because they represent nothing but what they are. “It means action undistorted for theatrical effectiveness, drained of emotional overlay, literary reference, or manipulated timing. A jump, fall, run, or walk is executed without regard to grace, visual appeal, or technical skill” (Banes, 1987: 17). The obvious thing for me to note is that of course outside of the theatre we see people, individuals who move around in the world in entirely different ways. The way somebody walks, runs etc. provides the anthropologist or the psychoanalyst (in us all) with many 'stories' about that person.

 

As with the Tiller Girls one can choose to look at how post modern dance functions to speak about the development of a body culture. Within the domain of body culture and dance, the mass ornament produced by groups like the Tiller Girls exemplifies through its abstractness and precision the rationalising process of the capitalist system. Kracauer saw that in some forms of body culture human beings expressed a yearning for or belief in a mythical organic past. Kracauer felt that this was irrational because it depended on awe, or a fear of nature. The mass ornament, for Kracauer, had the potential to increase our capacity for reason and logic. The parallel with the post modern dancers for this writing is the submerging of the personality of the dancers. Their interest was to examine the function of dance as other than one of expression of a mythical organic past. However, the submerging of personalities normalises and rationalises a body culture built on a fear of the irrational.

 

The first point that Rainer makes describes the attempt of the Judson dancers to de-construct their selves, to submerge their personalities in order to consider and present the body as an object of study and experimentation. I refer to Rick Allsop in his seminar 'Rethinking Physical Culture'.

 

This move leans towards an open field poetics that rejects the closures of modernism and suggests that the processes of art are not divorced from the processes of nature and our relationship to it (Allsop, 1994).

 

The post modern dancers, with different aims from Tiller, found a similar solution, a submerging or neutralising of personality, of organic or idiosyncratic (felt) difference. John Tiller wanted unity that paralleled his aspiration for a social harmony. The post modern dancers wanted to escape and dismantle a modernist 'harmony' and did so via a similar mode of presentation to which Tiller had aspired. Dorothy Vernon in her book Tiller's Girls tells a story of Josephine Baker, who started working on the American vaudeville circuit at the age of thirteen. The Tiller girls, often a similar age would appear on the same circuit with Baker. About the Tiller girls Vernon notes,

 

They were filled with admiration for her highly individual personality; they had been trained to sink their personalities into the line and were happy to do so. Although they were in the same show and of the same age, they were worlds apart as women and performers (Burt,1988: 96).

 

The post modern dancers submerged their personalities because they were trained within a highly codified system of expression which they desired to strip away in order to look again at 'what was what', with dance and with the body dancing. There was an attempt to return to the body as-it-is. These days, ideas of a 'neutral' self have become somewhat confused with 'just being oneself' on stage and this confusion is at the expense of self-expression. I would say Josephine Baker was 'being herself' on stage by expressing herself fully without fear of the irrational 'natural'. The Tiller girls, in contrast were manifesting agoraphobia, a fear of the new spaces of modernity. What functions as an aesthetic and fashionable mode of presence, particularly in more scholarly live art practices leans more towards a 'neutral' self, more as a body that does not express, than a body 'just being one's self'. To be neutral and to be one's self are two distinguishable modes of performing that are subtly and fundamentally different.

 

Many discourses about acting assume that they are expressing the truth, but most narratives foreground neither the process of constructing this “truth” nor the voice or specific position from which this (version of) “truth” is being constructed. To do so would reveal the fact that this “truth” is a particular version authored by a particular person for a particular audience in a particular place and time, and is thereby open to question and revision (Zarrilli, 1995: 8).

 

 

 If the performer is not practised at 'being herself' on stage she will unwittingly display character without trying to become or make believe that she is a character through an unconscious physical anxiety.  Expressing the truth implies that the performer must believe in what she is doing and be intent on making that truth believable for an audience. In this sense the performer's ambition is to focus her attention on closing the gap between herself and the text-act. She submerges self into text-act and 'fuses' (becomes one) with it. If the text-act is a fictional character then she becomes this fictional character, her movements are the character's movements; her sweat is the character's sweat. This fusion of self and text-act in acting begins to describe naturalism or a naturalistic style. Acting training is most indelibly connected to the body communicating a truth. To consider the acting body in a traditional western theatre context a believable presence is one that convinces the spectator that the character is behaving as she would in 'ordinary life' within the given circumstances of the scene, or the fiction. Reading the performer who is 'being herself' through the language of theatre we could say she is working within a naturalistic acting style. She is 'playing herself' and attempts to act just as she would do in ordinary life. For the performer, where does the notion of ordinary life meet the real time and extra-ordinary state of affairs that she is actually in? When does she let-in, or negotiate the present tense of her performance act?

 

Conceptual live artwork presents itself as performative. It works then, from the conceptual or theoretical premise that 'truth' is optional. In this case, the performer must work to expose the processes of truth as they are constructed in place, in time and to a particular gathered crowd. This is a real time state of affairs. The performer who is not acting, who is being herself on stage, is being her self as she exists also; in a place, in time. The performer does not want the audience to 'believe' that she is any body other than her self; but this body has a past, and imagines a future. How does this body stay present in the here-and-now without beginning to speak (in the physical sense) about its past and its future? Does she attempt to control her 'ordinary' subtexts that are perpetually writing on and off her? The present body of the performer tells many truths and indeed then many lies.

 

Russian Theatrician Constantin Stanislavski believed that the actors presence provided the subtext, the 'in between the lines' of the written text. He said,

 

It is superfluous to say that a word taken separately and devoid of inner content is nothing but an external name. The text of a part if it is made up of no more than that will be a series of empty sounds… Without subtext the words have no excuse for being presented on stage. When they are spoken the words come from the author, the subtext from the actor. If this were not so the public would not make the effort of coming to the theatre, they would sit at home and read the printed play (in Huxley/Witts,1996: 361).

 

For Stanislavski the space between the author and the text is 'filled in' by the performer, by her presence. The fundamental difference between his acting style and this politic of presence of which I write, is that the naturalistic actor works behind a 'fourth wall'. This theatrical term refers to a virtual wall that separates the audience's space/time, from that of the play, or the events that are taking place on stage. The site of the event is split in two.

 

In terms of a performer exposing herself to a real time state of affairs, we need to ignore for the moment the fourth wall problem and consider real time for the performer.  Stanislavski developed a rigorous methodology for the actor in training. Phillip Auslander writes that for Stanislavski

 

there is no question but that the presence of the actor's self as the basis of performance is for him the source of truth in acting: he defines good acting as acting based on the performer's own experience and emotions (in Zarrilli, 1995: 60).

 

A famous story from the Stanislavski School of Method acting tells us about 'the pin in the curtain' exercise. Torstov, the teacher in this scenario gives a fictional frame to his students.

 

Here is the gist of it: Your mother has lost her job and her income; she has nothing to sell to pay for your tuition in dramatic school. In consequence you will be obliged to leave tomorrow. But a friend has come to your rescue. She has no cash to lend you, so she has brought you a brooch set in valuable stones. Her generous act has moved and excited you. Can you accept such a sacrifice? You cannot make up your mind. You try to refuse. Your friend sticks the pin into a curtain and walks out. You follow her into the corridor, where there is a long scene of persuasion, refusal, tears, gratitude. In the end you accept, your friend leaves, and you come back into the room to get the brooch. But - where is it? A search ensues (Stanislavski, 1980: 36).

 

I have quoted Torstov's introduction to the exercise to illustrate the fictional frame he has 'set up'. Here lies no instruction for the student as to how they will look for the pin in the curtain. I wish to compare this framing with any fictional or conceptual frame that a body has set-up around itself and purposefully blur here, the possible interpretations of fiction and concept. The writing above is not a sub-text that the spectator necessarily knows, and as-it-is functions as information, let us say as in a program note. The action that we see and that we are focusing on here is that of some body 'looking for a pin in a curtain'.

 

Torstov tells his students that he will stick the pin in a fold of the curtain and that their task is to find it. I use the word task to align this exercise with work that might describe itself as task based (the body engaged in the activity of just doing something).

 

Maria dashed on to the stage as if she had been chased. She ran to the edge of the footlights and then back again, holding her head with both hands, and writhing with terror. Then she came forward again, and then again went away, this time in the opposite direction. Rushing out toward the front she seized the folds of the curtain and shook them desperately, finally burying her head in them... she turned quickly and dashed off the stage, alternately holding her head or beating her breast, apparently to represent the general tragedy of the situation (39).

 

The story goes on to tell us how Maria feels wonderful about her performance. Torstov is encouraging but then asks her to fetch him the brooch. Thinking that the exercise is over and that she must simply retrieve the brooch she begins looking for it in an entirely different way. Her relationship to looking for the brooch is 'real'. There is still a 'body feeling things' being presented to Torstov and his students on stage, but it is utterly connected to the here-and-now actuality of having to find the pin. There is no 'fiction' on her body, she is not expressing herself or trying to, in a 'naturalistic style'. She is however being  'natural' in the sense that she is engaged with a real task in real time. Torstov tells Maria that her first search was bad and that her second search was good. The story describes how Maria is stunned by this verdict and illustrates a psychological misunderstanding for Maria in terms of what she is feeling and of what some feelings look like. Everything that Maria did in her first search according to Tolstov “only interfered with a real search” (39). The idea of 'natural' in a performance where the performer is being her self seems to be that nothing 'extra' is added or occurs out of an extraneous amount of effort on behalf of the performer.

 

Stanislavski's method was developed to train the actor for the naturalistic stage. Extracted out of this context it contains a realism that lends something to the aims of a performer who is being her self on stage. The frame changes drastically. Returning to the fourth wall, this splitting in two of the live event renders the site of performance in the naturalistic stage as almost two dimensional, a flat, moving picture which the audience only observes. For Stanislavski to be reconsidered for the conceptual performer we must stretch the site of the theatre and Stanislavski's discussion of it, over the whole site, inclusive then, of the presence of the audience; the live bodies gathered within.

 

Lauren Love in her essay Resisting the 'Organic' reasserts a dominant critique of the Stanislavski method by stating that it is a “liberal humanist discourse (which) privileges white, middle class male ideology as 'natural'” (in Zarrilli, 1995: 276). This ideological rejection of expression in the performing subject reveals a misconception in feminist critical theory. Stanislavski and the naturalistic theatre worked to express fully the playwright's intentions. It was “the duty of the actor to grasp the meaning of the ruling idea for the sake of which the author wrote his play” (279). Loves privileged male is the author who presents a moving picture of his own ideology and dictates it to his audience as 'truth'. If we extract Stanislavski's theory of acting from the ideology in which it is embedded and reconsider it for an artist who has different, in fact oppositional intentions, we can shift the ideological frame and reaffirm Stanislavski's method. A rejection of ideology has brought about an almost complete rejection of an expressive self in live artwork. Psychological expression attached as it is to an ideology of naturalism is slighted in post modern critical theory and conceptual performance. The post modern performer in reaction to modernism does not psychologically construct a character. She is however a psychological presence.

 

Method acting demands of the actor an emotional and psychological focus which prevents her from conceiving a given productions layers of meaning.

 

A 'Methodite', is to transform into the character - to live her moment-to- moment reality on stage. I am not in a position of reflection during performance - I am reacting to my environment... I must do not think (279).

 

Love is insistent in her opinion that

such an obedience would indeed be a blind one. There is perhaps no sharper feminist criticism of this traditional approach to acting that (the) directive to the acting student to shut off her/his mind (280).

 

Shifting the frame is specifically concerned with shifting our perception of the site of the live event. The temporality changes fundamentally for both performer and spectator. Love is speaking specifically about acting within a theatrical apparatus that manipulates and provokes intelligible meanings to the spectator. Love communicates being fully in the present and committed to living it moment to moment as a mindless activity. I disagree. It is exactly the living out, from moment- to-moment, the condition of being in real time, physically in the actual, that begins to illuminate the feminine as site in the performance act.

 

In An Actor Prepares Torstov is quoted as saying of “delicate and deep human feelings” that they call for natural emotions at the very moment in which they appear before you in the flesh. They call for the direct co-operation of nature itself (in Stanislavski, 1980: 23).

 

Joseph Chaikin writes, “acting is a demonstration of self with or without a disguise” (in Auslander, 1977: 60). If being oneself on stage is then, a demonstration of self without disguise, then we have to say that natural emotions will occur. I would rather call them 'site-full emotions'. By this I mean emotions that happen in reaction to being exposed on stage, a performance anxiety in and of the event rather than of memories or imagination. Does a performing body wish to repress these things that 'come up', and then, in a sense, repress site, or, let site occur in between the body and the text act, and allow this occurrence to be affective? The opposite of an expressing subject is one that blocks the natural processes that are happening to and from the body as it performs. An expressive subject is dislocating herself from the feeling of what is happening to her in a real time state of affairs. She is, in a sense, creating her own fourth wall. She is focusing on 'what' happens over 'how' things are happening.

 

As the performer enters space her many truths, and subject(s) enter with her. Torstov writes, “it is important to know what you are feeling on the stage and this is because otherwise one will represent feelings, and this is mechanical acting” (60). For the performer in naturalistic theatre there is no effecting contact from the space on the other side of the fourth wall. The naturalistic actor knows what she is feeling on stage. It is her own feelings and emotions that will provide the subtext to the text and her belief is in the idea that she is a complete presence, complicit with herself. The naturalistic actor does not let in the whole site of theatre and therefore her emotional connection to the text act is not in real time but in suspended, fictional time. If her awareness of what she is feeling on stage is inclusive of the gathered crowd, of the whole site of the theatre, of the real time, she will necessarily be in this time: In the here-and-now. She will, in dint of this shift of consciousness, allow herself to become inscribed with optional truths, her subject(s) 'open' then, to revision. Stanislavski's method prepares the performer who is going to enter the stage; it does not need to prepare or dictate the stage.

 

The German theatrician Bertolt Brecht was critically opposed to naturalistic theatre. Brecht recognised the need for a temporal shift in the construction and the performance of his plays. He developed a dialectic theatre that would denounce the didacticism of naturalism and succeed in creating a theatre that offered a simultaneous reading and commentary of events. The audience read a double writing of a play, which caused them to remain critical of the 'facts' and actions taking place before them. Brecht presented the play (text-act) as a 'set up'. He simultaneously presented a commentary upon that set up. He stimulated a dialectic debate between two views. The spectator was constructed to think within and about the collision of these views. Brecht hated theatre that anaesthetised the audience, and cajoled them into believing that what they witnessed in the theatre was 'truth'. He wanted his plays to be performed in the here and now. He used devices which would constantly remind his audience that what they were seeing was 'a play' and not real life. He developed aesthetic devices that opened up the site of the theatrical event.

 

No implications, secrets, ambiguities, half-lights, but: facts, brilliant illumination, light into every corner, absence of feeling, no laughing with a catch in the throat. The theatre as craft rather than art: avoidance of private affairs - these should make a secondary appearance, emerge as self-evident (in Willet, 1977: 147).

 

What Brecht was essentially opposed to within the naturalistic theatre was the fourth wall and a subsequent pacification of an audience that was only ever invited to view the action from the other side of this wall. Brecht's methods refused didacticism or an authorship that manipulated in order to construct an audience through emotional recognition. Brecht revolutionised theatre and is an integral part of the aesthetic canon of contemporary performance. In Brechtian theatre actors remain on stage at all times often playing more than one character and doubling up as stagehands. Scenery would be scant and basic, representative rather than imitating the real thing. Only basic theatrical lighting was used. This describes very well the look of Experimental theatre in the decades that have followed.

 

For Brecht, “theatre consists of the production of living illustrations of historical or imagined occurrences between people” (in Zarrilli, 1995: 230). It is not truth that lies at the heart of his theatrical productions but fable. The original text of the play and its interpretational re-composition were both presented as fablic due to their proximity and thus relation to one another. In other words there is a frame; the story, the historical or imagined occurrences between people. Then there is what we could call a meta-frame; the living illustration. This meta-frame is the event, the moment of translation. Brecht's concept of Verfremdung is held herein. John Rouse, in his essay 'Brecht and the contradictory actor' (230) translates the word not into 'alienation' or 'distancing', which are popular interpretations, but instead chooses the word “defamiliarisation” and states that for Brecht “a spectator will not think about anything happening on stage if cliché conventions or a mistaken naturalism make what is happening appear too familiar” (234).

 

Brecht is important to a discussion of presence and real time because of the way he constructs the site of theatre as a living site. The 'truth' or the autonomy of a text is not supported by the event in which it takes place. Rather 'a' truth is presented, and indeed illustrated as being open for revision in the live event. Brecht's Verfremdung shifts the temporality of the stage to one that exists here and now in difference to how it existed in the past and how it will exist in the future.

 

Brecht did not produce a methodology of acting for the stage in physical and psychological exercises but was thorough in his critical positioning of the actor towards the text. He made the revolutionary step of positioning the actors in the same place as the audience. The actor is both performing the play and visibly observing her own performing. Brecht's Verfremdung sets up for the performer a plural, two separate and simultaneous roles. One is the character in the play; the other is different to and critical of the character in the play. One presents a 'truth' as true to the playwright's intentions and the other disrupts and so comments on this 'truth'. Truth then, becomes optional for the audience. Again, as with his audience, Brecht's actors are themselves jolted out of any possibility of empathising or emotively falling into the character they are playing (they must play more than one character, change scenery between scenes, sing a song etc).  This is the state of the double-bodied performer. A performer wishing to engage with the real time state of site needs to be in at least two minds: One concentrating on completing a score of pre-determined actions, the other in the room, aware of the here-and-now.

 

Stanislavski's method physically prepared his actors to be in real-time but then defined or dictated and constructed a fictional time around them via the story of the play. This space and time is exclusive of the whole site, separated from it by a fourth wall. The performers site is in a fictional time. Stanislavski discusses the expressive subject. I wish to push the site of the contemporary live art event towards a reconsideration of expression for the sake of revealing the transformative powers of 'site'. I speak about Brecht to introduce a state of plurality into the performing subject(s).

 

Bert O. States in his essay The Actor's Presence examines three phenomenal modes of performing and I refer to the Self Expressive mode here. In brief the self- expressive mode can be described as “our awareness of the artist in the actor” (in Zarrilli, 1995: 26). States refers to the classic and 'well known' characters from Shakespeare's plays and how audiences travel to see certain actors 'do' Richard II (for example). In this case theatre is an event charged with the competition between actor and character.  States says that “the extent that one (goes) to the theatre to see (certain actors)… one would be 'listening' in the self-expressive mode”(25). In these situations when the text-act is well known to an audience, the audience is often there to see the great actor contend with this task. In other words the performer is saying 'see what I can do', she is encouraged and allowed to show off her skills. The audience might observe this event as it would a sporting event. The performer breaks new records in her ability to innovate classical texts. The re-interpretation of known works has provided vehicles for self expression in what States cynically calls the Star System; Hamlet by Sarah Bernhardt, for example, provides an opportunity for Bernhardt to flex her acting muscle in an acrobatic display of dexterous, flawless skill. This ego led event, this desire for awe inspired mastery has led to post modern artist's reaction against self-expression.

 

Self-expression has been suspended from contemporary live artwork. The body on stage is often a 'representation' of 'the' self more than it is a presentation of 'my' self. However, I suggest that much contemporary live art constructs an audience in this self-expressive mode. It is not to demonstrate how masterfully she can recite the classics, but she is asking the audience to consider “this body, my body, and all it can do in the new world order of the 21st century” (Keidan, 2002: 2). The contemporary live artist often invites the audience to view her self without disguise. This does not mean that she is without guise.

 

Self-expression conjures up images of showing off, of self-centredness. I wish to reconsider self-expression. By considering the double-bodied state of the performer, and thus having to reconsider self as at least two, one 'part' being in collusion with the real time state of affairs - then self expression is no longer necessarily an expression of one's autonomy and interiority. Neither is it an expression or an imposition of one's private thoughts and feelings upon others. Self-expression, when the self is no longer the self as a singular subject, is expressing site and the social. The collective event is liminalised. Victor Turners words are astute in describing its value.

 

Men and women forget the elementary rules of conduct. They attend to the wants of nature in the same places, which is taboo under ordinary circumstances. The law is no longer in force... All the things of the flesh... are being brought to the fore of social attention, the pleasurable to be indulged in, and the politically and legally unjust to be given a long hard look (in Benamou /Carmello, 1977: 38).

 

This expression of self, within the liminal event is a presence, submission of self into the temporary collective coalition of a particular gathered crowd. Public liminality has often been regarded as dangerous by whatever powers that be that represent and preside over established structures.  Turner says that,

 

Public liminality can never be tranquilly regarded as a safety valve, mere catharsis, 'letting off steam', rather it is communities weighing structure, sometimes finding it wanting, and proposing in however extravagant a form new paradigms and models which invert or subvert the old. (39)


Post modern neutrality attempted a disengagement of self from act, a purposeful ambivalence towards mastery. Something too awesome might anaesthetise the audience in the same way as a 'believable' character might. Throughout this thesis I make an appeal for a new renaissance. It is time to re-evaluate expression. For this reason I will critique a mode of being on stage for its political correctness and its impersonality, its neutrality. This self is edited and defensive against an inevitable spillage that might be mistaken for self-expression and so be in danger of advocating a rejected theatrical style, such as naturalism.

Nothing is safe or sure. I don’t know what to believe. Is it time to turn back?

my feelings, my flesh?

 

Make a Free Website with Yola.