In February of this year I took part in Arika12, a festival of experimental art, music, film and discussion that was divided into three distinct episodes. Episode 2: A Special Form Of Darkness was held at the Tramway in Glasgow and it was over the three nights of this arm of the festival that I performed along side a new collaborator, Iain Campbell F-W. Although we’d never formally met Iain and I discovered we were coming to the same questions about performance, the nature of the self as represented in performance, and the relationship between spectator and artist during the performance event. That’s just to start. Many of the conceptual and intellectual ideas operating not only on Iain’s practice but underpinning Episode 2 are foremost in my own practice as well. These are questions of the constructedness of identity, the possibility/impossibility of “authenticity,” the problem of authorship, the relationship between popular culture and the self….the list goes on.
In the end we devised a scripted performance using volunteer performers who were unknown to us and “cold” to the project. The exact same script was used each time, but the performance varied in small but important ways as the performers brought “themselves” to the piece and changed the look and shape of the boundaries we set out as “operators” – manipulators, framing the scene, re-framing, commenting, and interrupting the experience for the audience, the players, and each other. Only Your Pre Formance Is Cultwas a provocation designed to explore the problem of criticality in the post-subjective experience of our human experience.
Over two months Iain and I squeezed time out of our busy schedules to meet, often early in the morning, to wade through the difficult intellectual elements operating in the piece. Once we set to work on the practical elements things got a lot stickier – but far more exciting. Devising a performance that would engage the audience and that would express the ideas and questions from which we’d started was a monumental task. Intellectual exercises on stage are not always interesting and if we wanted to make a provocation we couldn’t be subtle and introspective. This took a great deal of team work, denying each other the satisfaction of thinking we’d settled on a solution, and not allowing ourselves to be precious about any one idea. This is so hard. But as with any process once I’m honest with myself about why something needs to be cut or changed I feel instantly confident in the choice. There’s a lot of liberation in being this fierce.
That was something I really admired about Iain. He wasn’t happy to just go with an idea. Even when I thought the project was headed one direction it was pulled over for a looksee. Every suggestion – his and mine – was scrutinized. But always in a genuine desire to ensure the piece was engaging our concept and ideas honestly and to make sure that we weren’t being cheeky shits, intellectual nob heads, nor letting the audience off too easy. This process allowed me to understand where my “theatre maker” head was strong and when, in the context of this experimental arts festival, it was misplaced. When I was making too many stylistic choices that would eliminate the audience’s role as thinkers Iain would abstract my contribution, not making things cryptic, but just not as straight forward (often less theatrical.) Simple, simple, simple. The recipe for success in this project because it was so heavy with ideas that we needed to make the form specific, clean, simple – so as to allow the complexity of its foundations to read.
My concerns about “good and bad” went right out the window because the process was so satisfying and this was true right through the weekend. We made changes, just small tweaks, imperceptible to anyone but us, possibly! Altering the language by a word or phrasing, making tweaks in how we timed certain moments, what we said to the performers before they started, etc. But because we’d put in the hard yards thinking together as a collaborative team I knew that we’d both have the project’s best interest at heart and would nary make an obtuse divergence. This made the suggestion of any change feel natural and right and so the piece evolved in the truest sense.
In the end Iain wanted to change the last moment of the final show. We’d always imagined the piece would real clearest to anyone who saw all 5 pieces, because they would culminate in the final installment. We thought the sixth would be a performance by Iain. Instead, we quickly changed the last moment of the fifth performance and Iain took to the stage, surprising this “ideal” audience member who’d seen all the interventions. And if that ideal person had been watching and waiting for Iain’s big performance (which was hinted at in the script) they’d have their expectations surpassed…it was a performance to remember.
On top of everything else I had a great time taking part in the festival. It’s a real professional outfit there. I had a dressing room with my name on the door and everything. And a green room with snacks. And food. And a technician. It made me feel like a grown up artist. Of course, this paragraph undoes all that but I was excited! I also met some extremely interesting people, including Dawn Kasper, whose impressive “Become What You Are” has inspired me to rethink my performance practice, including the use of sound output devices on stage, the layering of noise and energy projects (from props, to set pieces, to the frantic work of her own body), and an understated almost accidental humour. I hope to find myself in the company of Arika very soon.
I won’t go into greater detail about the project here – just wanted to offer these happy reflections on a process that was only a few months ago but feels like ages ago! – because I have created a project page that tells you everything you need to know and has images of the various interventions.
The images are from Alex Woodward, who generously sent his brilliant images to me. I think you’ll agree he’s very talented and I’m indebted that he’s let me use them so freely here.