[PERFORMANCE PRACTICE AS RESEARCH]
Confident in my abilities as a director, I am now taking time to research and develop new ways of thinking.
Having recently finished a 2-year Practice as Research degree at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, I took a deep dive into my practice.
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.
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.
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.