Students: Chapter 7. Performance Processes
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Performance processes are dynamic ways of generating, playing, evaluating, repeating, and remembering. Performance processes can be theorized as an orderly sequence of training, workshops, rehearsals, warm-up, performing, performance contexts, cooldown, critical response, archives, and memories. Not all the parts are present in every performance. Noting what is emphasized or omitted can be a powerful analytic tool in understanding specific performances.
If performance processes can be understood as a ten-part sequence, they also can be understood as a complex relationship among four types of “players” – sourcers, producers, performers, and partakers. Sourcers write, research, or in other ways make or find the actions to be performed. Producers guide the shaping of the actions into something suitable for a performance. Performers enact the actions. Partakers receive and/or interact with the actions.
- Rehearse a scene from a performance in everyday life such as getting ready for a date, a supper party, or going to a doctor. Open your rehearsals to your classmates. After the rehearsals, discuss the differences between what goes on in rehearsals and what happens in a finished performance.
- Using only “aftermath information” – newspaper accounts, scholarly articles, reviews, opinions of people who have attended the event, photos, videotapes, etc. – reconstruct and perform a scene. Can such a reconstructed scene be an accurate rendition of the original? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Create your own warm-up exercise. Teach it to the rest of the class.
- In rehearsing a scene apply two different variations of the performance quadrilogue. Perform both versions for the whole class. Discuss which worked best.
- Irish seisiuns are a unique type of performance that combines proto-performance, performance, and aftermath. You can watch clips of seisiuns at http://sessionobsession.org/videos/. Better yet, try to find an Irish seisiun in your area and attend. Write a "thick description" of the event concentrating on the following questions: Was there a frame marking the beginning and end of the performance? If not, explain why you think such a frame might be absent. Who was watching and who was performing? Did that boundary remain fixed or was it fluid?
- Research a public performance that “failed” its audience, such as Ron Athey’s Four Scenes from a Harsh Life (1994). In what sense did the performance fail? Or, if you thought it succeeded, explain why.
- Keep a journal of the performance process of a performance you are in. How well does your experience of the performance process you document conform to the performance process outlined in Chapter 7? How would you critique or modify the discussion of the performance process in Chapter 7?
- Research the aftermath of an art or political or sports performance. Do you think that you can reconstruct the experience of a performance from its archive? If not, what does the archive have to offer?
- Take a look at the virtual performance environments of the Builders Association
- Learn more about Immersive Virtual Reality
- Learn more about the work of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards
- Watch/listen to John Cage talk about silence
- Kathakali Training
- Pay a virtual visit to the cave-theatre of Lascaux, France
- Visit Odin Teatret’s website (where ISTA is based)
- Link to Odin Teatret and ISTA’s YouTube channel
- Find out more about Rasaboxes training
- At theatre director Richard Foreman’s website, you can browse through text, photo, and video of proto-performance, rehearsal, and aftermath
- Watch theatre director Robert Lepage run a workshop with MIT students
- Experience the aftermath of the Titanic
- Study the life and work of Vsevolod Meyerhold
- Visit The Wooster Group’s website to watch “dailies” – clips of rehearsal, archival footage, and more.
- Experience the Cave of Forgotten Dreams
- More on the Lady-Boys of Bangkok: Lian Amaris’s solo show Swimming to Spalding
Sample Discussion Questions
- Recall a performance in which you were a director or performer. Explain what you did in terms of proto-performance, performance, and aftermath. If you have enough information, discuss the performance process in terms of training, workshop, rehearsal, warm-up, public performance, context, cooldown, critical response, archiving, and memories.
- How might expanding the idea of the performance process to include the whole sequence discussed in this chapter enhance your understanding of social and political events? Discuss the whole performance sequence is in relation to a political campaign, a courtroom trial, an advertising campaign, and a medical procedure. Note where you have enough information and where what happened is cloaked in secrecy.
- What kinds of training have you had? What kinds of workshops have you taken part in? Using your own experiences as your evidence, discuss the difference between training and workshop. How is the training for very different kinds of performances -- a martial art, a play, the "bedside manner" of a physician, and a car salesperson making a pitch -- similar or dissimilar?
- How are internet performances different from face-to-face performances? What are the differences/similarities between online avatars and theatrical roles? Between spectators in a theatre and spectators online?
- Which version of the performance quadrilogue do you think is the most effective? Why?
JoAnne Akalaitis (1937– )
American theatre director and a founding member in 1970 of the Mabou Mines experimental performance collective. From 1991 to 1993, Akalaitis was the artistic director of The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre. Currently she is Professor of Theatre at Bard College. Her productions include Samuel Beckett’s Cascando (1975) and Endgame (1984), Mabou Mines’ Dead End Kids (1980), Jean Genet’s The Screens (1989), Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck (1992–93), the Iphigenia Cycle (1997), Philip Glass’ opera, In the Penal Colony (2000), and Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party (2003).
George Balanchine (1904–83)
Russian-born American choreographer and dancer. After ﬂeeing the Soviet Union in 1924, Balanchine worked widely in Europe – including with Brecht and Kurt Weil. He was brought to the USA in 1934 by arts patron Lincoln Kirstein (1907–96) to form the School of American Ballet. In 1946, Balanchine and Kirstein founded the New York City Ballet which Balanchine led until his death. His works with the NYC Ballet include The Firebird (1949), The Nutcracker (1954), Agon (1957), Bugaku (1963), Vienna Waltzes (1977), and Mozartiana (new version 1981). Over his lifetime, Balanchine choreographed 425 works including many set to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Balanchine also worked extensively in Hollywood and on Broadway.
Pina Bausch (1940–2009)
German choreographer whose dances cross the boundaries separating theatre from dance. Since 1973, Bausch served as artistic director of the Wuppertal Dance Theatre where she composed works ranging from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1975) and Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins of the Bourgeoisie (1976) to Café Muller (1978), Nelken (1982), Two Cigarettes in the Dark (1985), Aqua (2001), and Rough Cut (2005).
Lord Byron – George Gordon Noel Byron (1788–1824)
English romantic poet who died of a fever while fighting for the Greeks in their war of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Byron’s most notable works include Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812–18) and Don Juan (1819–24). Cain, his only drama, was published in 1821.
Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81)
Spanish playwright and priest known for his highly romantic treatment of faith and loyalty to the Spanish crown. Author of many plays including The Constant Prince (1629) and Life is a Dream (1635).
Colley Cibber (1671–1757)
English playwright, actor, and Poet Laureate of Britain whose version of Shakespeare’s Richard III held sway on stage until 1871. From 1710 to 1733, Cibber was one of three actor-managers of London’s Drury Lane Theatre. His An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber (1740) is an excellent account of the eighteenth-century British theatre.
Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966)
English scene designer, director, and actor who staunchly opposed realism. Arguing for the authority of the director, Craig proposed doing away with actors, replacing them with large marionettes. Craig edited the inﬂuential journal, The Mask from 1908–29. Among his books are On the Art of the Theatre (1911, rev. edn, 1956) and The Theatre Advancing (1919).
Merce Cunningham (1919–2009)
American dancer and choreographer who was a soloist in the Martha Graham company 1939–45 before forming his own troupe in 1953. Cunningham collaborated with John Cage from 1944 onward. Cunningham has choreographed extensively to electronic music and has often used mixed media in his works. Among Cunningham’s many pieces are Totem Ancestor (1942), In the Name of the Holocaust (1943), Suite for Five in Space and Time (1956), How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965), Video Triangle (1976), Roaratorio (1983), Ocean (1994), and Views on Stage (2004).
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Italian “Renaissance man” – sculptor, painter, drawer, engineer, and scientist. Among his best-known works, The Last Supper (1495–97) and Mona Lisa (1503–06).
Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948)
Russian film director and inventor of montage editing. A former student of Meyerhold, Eisenstein secretly preserved some of Meyerhold’s writings throughout the Stalinist period. Eisenstein’s films include The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Aleksandr Nevskii (1938).
Richard Foreman (1937– )
American playwright, theatre director, and theorist. Foreman has written more than 50 plays – most of which he has directed. His plays include Sophia=Wisdom (1972), Rhoda in Potatoland (1975), Penguin Torquet (1981), Now That Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty (2001), and The Gods Are Pounding My Head (2005). His books include Plays and Manifestos (1976), Unbalancing Acts (1992), and Paradise Hotel (2001).
Susan Foster (1949– )
American dancer, choreographer, and scholar. Author of Reading Dance (1986), Choreographing History (1995), Corporalities (1996), Decomposition: Post Disciplinary Performance (with Sue-Ellen Case and Philip Brett, 2000), and Dances That Describe Themselves (2002).
Rudolph Giuliani (1944– )
American politician, Mayor of New York City, 1993–2001. A tough-minded public prosecutor before being elected mayor, a major objective of the Giuliani administration was to make New York a “clean and safe city.” Many felt that under Giuliani the police disregarded the rights of especially the poor and the homeless. Giuliani’s calm and courageous actions during and after the attacks of 9/11 won him widespread admiration both within New York and globally.
Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009)
American architect who, with his wife, dancer Anna Halprin and fellow architect Jim Burns (1926–94), developed a set of workshop processes known as the RSVP Cycles. Among his many projects, is the F. D. R. Memorial in Washington, D. C. His books include Cities (1963), Notebooks 1959–71 (1972), Taking Part: A Workshop Approach to Collective Creativity (with Jim Burns, 1974), and Sea Ranch (with Donelyn Lyndon, James Alinder, and Donald Canty, 2004).
Alfred Jarry (1873–1907)
French “pataphysicist,” a term he coined. Jarry was a forerunner of the theatre of the absurd and other avant-garde movements. Best known for his “Ubu plays” – grotesque dark comedies about the petty and foolish King Ubu. The most famous of these is Ubu Roi (King Ubu, 1896).
Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940)
Russian director and actor. Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Meyerhold was an actor in Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre and later an independent director. Meyerhold was an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution, attempting to apply its principles to theatre (“October in the Theatre”). He developed “biomechanics,” a system of kinetic acting using highly stylized, expressive movements that Meyerhold felt perfectly suited the new proletarian age. During the 1930s, Meyerhold increasingly was regarded by Stalinists as an enemy of the state. In 1940, he was arrested and murdered in a Moscow prison by Stalin’s police; his wife was murdered in their home. Meyerhold’s key writings have been translated into English as Meyerhold on Theatre (1969).
Heiner Müller (1929–95)
German playwright and director. From 1992 until his death, Müller was artistic director of the Berlin Ensemble – the theatre founded by Brecht in 1949. Many of Müller’s writings have not yet been translated into English, but among those that are: Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage (1984), Shakespeare Factory (2 vols., 1985–89), Explosion of a Memory (1989), and A Heiner Müller Reader (2001).
Jack Smith (1932–89)
Pioneering American performance artist and filmmaker. Smith performed in his loft often to an audience of ten or fewer. He intentionally blurred the boundary between art and life. His films Flaming Creatures (1961) and Normal Love (1963) featured transvestites, androgynes, and drag queens.
Peter Stein (1937– )
German theatre director whose artistic leadership of Berlin’s Schaubuhne 1970–85 helped invigorate European theatre. Stein’s productions include Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1971), Wagner’s Das Rheingold (1976), Chekhov’s Three Sisters (1984), and Goethe’s Faust (2000).
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
radically innovative Russian-born composer whose work helped shape modernism. Leaving Russia before the First World War, Stravinsky lived first in Europe and then moved to USA in 1939. Among his many compositions are Capricio (1929), Symphony in C (1940), Canticum Sacrum (1955), and Requiem Canticles (1966). Stravinsky also composed ballets and stage works including The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), The Rite of Spring (1913), The Soldier’s Tale (1918), The Rake’s Progress (1951), and Oedipus Rex (1927).
Nahum Tate (1652–1715)
Irish-born playwright who later became the Poet Laureate of Britain. Tate adapted a number of Elizabethan plays, including King Lear. In Tate’s 1681 version, which ruled the English stage until the mid-nineteenth century, Cordelia survives, marries Edgar, and becomes queen of the realm.
David Tudor (1926–96)
American pianist and composer who from the 1950s frequently collaborated with John Cage and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham. As time went on, Tudor stopped performing as a pianist and devoted himself entirely to composing electronic music both independently and as musical director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Among his compositions: Rainforest I (1968), Toneburst (1974), Webwork (1987), Neural Network Plus (1992), and Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994).
Tom Waits (1949– )
American singer, composer, and actor whose music is edgy and political, something like Bertolt Brecht meets Bob Dylan. Waits collaborated with Robert Wilson on Black Rider (1990), Alice (1992), and Woyzeck (2002). Among his many albums: Closing Time (1973), Heartattack and Vine (1980), Night on Earth (1992), Mule Variations (1999), Blood Money (2002), and Real Gone (2004).
Robert Wilson (1941– )
American opera and theatre director and visual artist known for his spectacular large-scale performance pieces, including Einstein on the Beach (1976), the CIVIL warS (1984), The Black Rider (1990), Strindberg’s Dream Play (1998), Buchner’s Woyzeck (2002), Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (2005), and the Sulawesian-Indonesian epic, I La Galligo (2005).
Zeami Motokiyo (1363–1443)
Japanese actor and playwright, the foremost figure in the history of noh theatre. His plays still form the core of the noh repertory; and his ideas on acting remain extremely inﬂuential. His treatises on acting, which at one time were secret, have now been published – see On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami (1984).