Spaces of Appearance: Writings on Contemporary Theatre and Performance
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This thesis, a collection of previously published materials, reflects a plural and evolving engagement with theatre and performance over the past fifteen years or so: as researcher, writer, editor, teacher, practitioner, spectator. These have rarely been discreet categories for me, but rather different modalities of exploration and enquiry, interrelated spaces encouraging dynamic connectivities, flows and further questions. Section 1 offers critical accounts of the practices of four contemporary theatre directors: Jerzy Grotowski, Robert Wilson, Peter Brook and Ariane Mnouchkine. Section 2 draws on elements of contemporary philosophy and critical thinking to explore the mutable parameters of performance. lt proposes performative mappings of certain unpredictable, energetic events 'in proximity of performance', to borrow Matthew Goulish's phrase: contact, fire, animals, alterity, place. Section 3 contains examples of documentation of performance practices, including a thick description of a mise en scene of a major international theatre production, reflections on process, training and dramaturgy, a performance text with a framing dramaturgical statement, and personal perspectives on particular collaborations. The external Appendix comprises a recently published collection of edited and translated materials concerning five core collaborative projects realised by Ariane Mnouchkine and the Theatre du Soleil at their base in the Cartoucherie de Vincennes, Paris. The core concerns of this thesis include attempts to think through: • the working regimes, poetics and pedagogies of certain directors, usually in collaborative devising contexts within which the creative agency of performers is privileged; • the processes and micro-politics of collaboration, devising, and dramaturgical composition; the dramaturgical implications of trainings, narrative structures, spaces, mise en scene, and of images as multi-layered, dynamic 'fields'; • the predicament and agency of spectators in diverse performance contexts, and the ways in which spectatorial roles are posited or constructed by dramaturgies; • the imbrication of embodiment, movement and perception in performance, and the plurality of modes of perception; • the critical and political functions of theatre and theatre criticism as cultural/social practice and 'art of memory' (de Certeau), of dramaturgies as critical historiographies, and of theatre cultures (and identities) as plural, dynamic, and contested; • performance as concentrated space for inter-subjectivity and the flaring into appearance of the 'face-to-face' (Levinas); the possibility of ethical, 'response-able' encounter and exchange with another; identity as relational and in-process, alterity as productive event, the inter-personal as political; • the poetics and politics of what seems an unthinkable surplus (and constitutive 'outside') to the cognitive reach of many conventional frames and maps in theatre criticism and historiography; an exploration of acts of writing as performative propositions and provocations ('critical fictions') to think the event of meanings at/of the limits of knowledge and subjectivity. This partial listing of recurrent and evolving concerns within the thesis traces a trajectory in my evolution as a writer and thinker, a gradual displacement from the relatively 'solid ground' of theatre studies and theatre history towards more fluid and tentative articulations of the shifting 'lie of the land' in contemporary performance and philosophy. This trajectory reflects a growing fascination with present process, conditions, practices, perceptions 'in the middle', and ways of writing (about) performance as interactive and ephemeral event.
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