[PERFORMANCE PRACTICE AS RESEARCH]
Of Cannibals and Creatives: Minorating the Myth of the Author in Shakespeare's Last Play
This paper will be presented as part of the Intermediality in Theatre and Performance working group.
In Dead Centre’s Shakespeare’s Last Play (Schaubühne, 2019), The Tempest is re-imagined through the plight of the minor characters whom the audience tracks as they move on a giant projected map using GPS. Shakespeare’s voice is heard from beyond the grave, losing control of the characters who depart from the text, eventually exhuming and eating his 400-year-old corpse. This 20-minute presentation sheds light on Dead Centre’s praxis through a Deleuzian lens, in which Dead Centre can be said to ‘minorate’ the text (Murray 1997), dethroning the sovereignty of the Author. Simultaneous imaginative speculations mediatise Shakespeare’s text with voiceovers, video projections, GPS mapping, and supertitles, so that the spectator becomes a time-traveller with the power of authorship. In this non-linear dramaturgy, I argue that text is an event: it acts on its own, just as performance ‘thinks’ on its own (Cull Ó Maoilearca 2012), without seeking to present the meaning of the text as a ‘tracing’ of what came before (Deleuze & Guattari 1988). Rather, the production resists tracings in favour of creating a map for the spectator’s continuous co-authorship, whereby meaning emerges through text-events in continuous variation, re-territorialising 400 years of Shakespearean dogma. Dead Centre’s robust intermedial praxis, therefore, is a process-relational framework for the ‘becoming’ (Faber & Stephenson 2011) of classic texts.
The Text-Event as Praxis for Decentralizing Meaning in an Individually Mediatized World
The International Federation for Theatre Research invited me to hold a documented workshop at the 2022 IFTR conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, entitled Shifting Centres (In the middle of nowhere) as part of the Performance as Research working group.
As curated news feeds, info-bubbles and social spheres create an increasingly individualized mediascape encountered through text, a question arises about the relationship of text and meaning. Classic text analysis teaches a process of unearthing the author’s intended meaning so that it can be conveyed in performance. But process-relational philosophy teaches that the author’s original meaning no longer exists: it cannot persist unchanged in a world of continuous variation (Deleuze and Guattari 1988). By applying concepts of ‘becoming’ (Robinson 2009) and ‘immanence’ (Cull Ó Maoillearca 2012) to text, this workshop explores whether PAR functions as a decentralizing mode of innovation in relation to established norms. Participants will be prompted through several encounters with well-known texts. These encounters are designed to engage associative thinking, assembling and reassembling meaning in continuous co-authorship, with the aim of gathering qualitative feedback on further applications of how text-event thinking may be applied in other contexts throughout the Academy.
Cut Blanche: Censorship Then and Now
New Orleans, USA Tennessee Williams Scholars Conference
In September 2021, I presented a practice as research performance-lecture called Cut Blanche at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. Using rare censored footage from the 1951 release of the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, Cut Blanche addressed censorship then, and compared it to censorship now, using an audience survey to edit a scene from the 1948 stage play. I was invited to speak about the process of creating this presentation, and our findings, at the Scholar's Conference at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival on March 25, 2022.
The event focused on three key scenes from the play, one of which was filmed live, then censored during the presentation using data from surveying the live audience about what they thought was appropriate.
This provided a forum to ask questions about "decency" that still resonate today. Can an author’s original intention survive the demands of the marketplace and its competing moralities? How do content warnings intersect with authorship? In a hyperconnected world, where is the line between editing and censorship, and when – if ever – is censorship acceptable or necessary?
An Ecology of Safety: The 66 Year Parade of Tennessee Williams
The International Federation for Theatre Research invited me to speak at the 2020 IFTR conference in Galway, Ireland, entitled Theatre Ecologies: Environment, Sustainability and Politics as part of the working group Queer Futures (now rescheduled as an online conference in July 2021).
In the autumn of 1940, Tennessee Williams wrote a play with an overtly gay protagonist, but it took 66 years for that play to be performed. The sand dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, form the setting of the autobiographical play, but it can be argued that the town itself forms an ecology of safety that finally made it possible to present The Parade, or, Approaching the End of a Summer. From the vantage point of play’s director, this paper describes two ecologies: one of melancholy (Mortimer-Sandilands, 2010), expressed by Tennessee Williams in The Parade, and one of freedom, observed in the unique artistic, historical, natural, and sexual landscapes of Provincetown (Kaplan, 2006). Though it was hidden from view for decades, the landscape that inspired The Parade also gave it its premiere; and that ecology is worthy of notice as one receptive to – and protective of – queer performance, now and into the future.
Freeing Text from the Tyranny of Meaning: Analysis Revised as Event
I was invited to present a paper as part of the Theatre and Performance Research Association's 2020 Post-Graduate Symposium entitled Revisions: Confonting the Past, Reimagining the Future.
Prevailing methods of text analysis teach directors of classic Western plays to unearth the author’s intended meaning so that it can be conveyed in performance. But process-relational philosophy teaches that the author’s original meaning no longer exists: it cannot persist unchanged in a world of continuous variation (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Even if it did exist, why is a 400-year- old author’s meaning important in a networked world where ‘we are all cyborgs’ (Case 2010)? Philosopher Gilles Deleuze proclaimed, ‘There are no things, there are only events, all is event’. (Faber and Stephenson 2011: 11). If text, then, is an event rather than a thing, how should a theatre director approach text?
By applying the process-relational concepts of ‘becoming’ (Robinson 2009) and ‘immanence’ (Cull Ó Maoillearca 2012) to text, this paper argues that text acts in constant co-authorship, where meaning is no longer constrained by the fiction of the author’s original intent, but rather expanded in multiplicity, formed in an ‘assemblage’ (Colebrook 2002) of events. If a director can conceive of text from the first encounter with a play as a dynamic event in process rather than a container for meaning, a non-linear, rhizomatic praxis emerges, essential for an ever-more networked world.
Incongruity and the Tragicomic Gestus in the plays of Tennessee Williams
I was invited to speak at Berthold Brecht: Contraditions as a Method hosted by the Theatre Faculty at the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) in Prague and The Stanislavsky Research Centre (The S Word).
The incongruous subverts our perceived expectations and makes us take notice. And though theorists since the 1690’s have placed incongruity within the philosophy of comedy, Tennessee Williams uses violated expectations as fuel for both comic and tragic, sometimes simultaneously. Moments of ‘transgressive energy’ (Lehmann 2016) are found in many of Williams’ late plays such as The Gnädiges Fräulein, The Mutilated, or Kirche, Küche, Kinder, in which incongruously grotesque physicalities or absurd events perform multiple distancing functions all at once. I trace how Williams, exploring form in his later work, fused slapstick and tragedy with the use of incongruity to frame the audience’s understanding of the social and political. If gestus reveals socio-political contradictions (Barnett 2015), several recent productions show how Williams’ tragicomic work can be seen as a lasting legacy of Brecht’s techniques.