Hospitality 3: Individualism Was A Mistake by PME-ART, Photo by David Jacques
by Jacob Wren
Authenticity is a feeling. There is no such thing as ‘real’ authenticity. Something is authentic when we feel it to be so.
I have been making performances for almost twenty-five years. If I think back to the beginning, I recall I started because I was searching for an experience that was considerably less mediated, less passive, less alienating than watching television, movies or listening to the radio. (Experiences that, for the most part, made me feel I was living in a world I could barely relate to.) At the time I believed, or at least hoped, that performances might be an art form that provided a more immediate experience; more live, more communal, less distancing. All of these youthful desires were also tangled up with questions of authenticity.
Twenty-five years is a long time to struggle with a single question, and my feelings about performance today are considerably more complex – a complexity that, at times, verges on bitterness. My work took place in a culture that clearly preferred the experience of watching movies to that of watching performance. This may simply be because movies have considerably more resources at their disposal, the stakes are higher, and these (plus other) factors attract a more skilled/brilliant set of artists. It might also be that the most recent art form wins. Or that movies are better. (Cinema is like a dream, and in a dream nothing can hurt you.)
However, I have also come to believe that the inherent fragility, the awkwardness, the vulnerability of a live performance is an uncomfortable space in a world filled with images. In most performances I see, the artists do everything possible to armor themselves, to protect themselves from the discomfort and judgment of the audience. This is more than understandable, and is often referred to as quality or professionalism. Nonetheless, for me, trying to make a performance perfect only makes matters worse.
In my work I have instead tried to engage with performance’s inherent weakness, to embrace the always-present fragility of doing something in front of other people who are watching you, the very quality that is, in fact, what makes something ‘live’ most different from the mediated world that surrounds us.
In his book Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, Philip Auslander historically demonstrates that the term ‘live’ was never used, in the sense we understand it today, before the invention of cinema. A performance is only ‘live’ in relation to a movie. In the theatre, rehearsal is simply an earlier form of reproduction. Making a performance exactly the same every time is a trick the movies can do so much better.
Where are the artists, working on stage and off, who are willing to take the risk of leaving things open, of allowing the performance to be as different as possible each and every time we come to it anew? Of allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the face of an experience they have no absolute way of knowing will work out for the best? (These questions are directed primarily at contemporary theatre, but it also seems to me that, more and more, performance art needs to engage in a similar struggle.)
Photo by David Jacques
Of course, like everyone, I often prefer to watch something that ‘works’, whatever that might mean to you at different points of your life and artistic understanding. However, for me, a performance can only work if there is also some possibility that it might (at least partially) fail, if it is open to this possibility, if this is one of the ontological reasons that interests it in being a performance in the first place.
I now suspect the intimacy I was originally searching for in watching and making performances is the very intimacy I had already found in reading literature. (These days, I am also very much addicted to the internet.) Yet reading was my way of avoiding people, performance a way of bringing myself closer to others.
A performance is live when it feels live. For me, this feeling has something to do with taking an artistic risk, with avoiding the safety of over-rehearsal, avoiding a safety that often expresses itself as a desire for perfection, of asking oneself what is possible in a live-space that is simply impossible in a movie theatre (or on the internet, etc.), of not being too afraid when things go wrong, of seeing that when things go wrong it is actually only the beginning.
Photo of Jacob by Brancolina
Jacob Wren is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize (1998), the HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series including Individualism Was A Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011) and Every Song I’ve Ever Written (2012). He blogs here.
He will be participating as a Team Leader in Volcano Theatre’s inFORMING CONTENT, a three-day creation lab combining an exploration of experimental approaches to theatre-making. With inspiration provided by a group of scholars giving short presentations from their various expert viewpoints, inFORMING CONTENT aims to expose young theatre-makers to forms of creation that are outside the scope of most traditional training in Canada. Click here for more information. May 3-5, 2013.
So, this makes it 3/3 – with the date of each of our first three debates being rescheduled due to issues with participants and availability.
Sorry. Thanks for playing along with us while we discover how running a community debate series works. One of the things we’re learning is that we can’t announce a debate until the participants are all confirmed. This gets a bit tricky when we are trying to have discussions about things that are A) Timely and B) Led by people who are very knowledgable on the topic.
The closest model we have for this as theatre companies is The Wrecking Ball – which announces a date three to four weeks in advance before writers, cast and directors are added to create the event. To secure expert speakers, often going outside the theatre community, this model has essentially proven to be challenging. We’re adjusting.
Stay tuned for more info on what we plan for this debate in the future. We ‘re really excited by the enthusiasm for the first two sold out debates, and committed to rigorous discourse led by compelling speakers on a host of topics in the future.
Sunny needs to talk about what’s happening, but he has to do it where no one will find him. Because Sunny, aka rihannaboi95, made some videos and while yeah, they’re getting lots of hits, some people at school found them too and now the eggshell world he so carefully treads is threatening to collapse beneath him.
Cloistered within the bedroom of his friend Keira, a Shopper’s makeup queen, Sunny records a video for his loyal viewers, invoking his YouTube namesake when he needs her most.
Dealing candidly with bullying, queer identity, and the pain of self-invention, Jordan Tannahill’srihannaboi95 invites viewers to watch a live performance from the privacy of their own computers. Directed by Zack Russell and featuring Owais Lightwala as Sunny, rihannaboi95 will be dispatched nightly from a Toronto bedroom at 8pm from April 23rd – April 28th 2013.
Justin Trudeau’s leadership acceptance speech this weekend.
by Michael Wheeler
Members of two the largest national opposition parties came together to make major decisions over the weekend.
In Montreal, the Official Opposition New Democrats continued to move towards the political centre at their policy convention, moderating the pursuit of “socialism” in the party’s constitution. In Ottawa, the third place centrist Liberals, running first in some polls, elected a leader with immediate celebrity status and political pedigree in Justin Trudeau.
Members of both parties are now returning to their homes across the country, fired up by the energy of working, campaigning and partying with likeminded organizers and activists.
For New Democrats, who have been working to solidify the gains of the past election as a credible Government in Waiting, they head home believing they are better placed than ever before to form the first ever Social Democrat-led Canadian government.
For Liberals, there will be a sense that their time in the wilderness is coming to an end: Suitably shamed for the Sponsorship Scandal, many feel powered by Trudeau-mania 2.0 they will soon reclaim government as the ‘Natural Governing Party of Canada’.
Where is it in our politics? More than anywhere else, it is in the protest movements within these parties working to make them less-partisan, more cooperation-driven entities.
Nathan Cullen went from NDP Leadership outside long-shot to extremely capable Official Opposition House Leader based largely on the energy of those that advocated cooperating with other parties to defeat Harper and reform Parliament. By the end of the leadership campaign, Cullen had signed up more new NDP members and received more votes from the floor than any other candidate, including eventual winner Thomas Mulcair.
The only candidate with enough resources to mount a sustained and legitimate campaign against the Liberal Establishment JT Juggernaut was Joyce Murray. With support from environmental groups and LeadNow, and powered by much of the same grassroots activist energy that fed the Cullen campaign, Murray also proposed cooperation with the opposition to defeat Harper and reform Parliament.
Thomas Mulcair’s speech at the NDP Policy Convention this weekend.
These events having come to pass, and non-cooperative leaders having taken the reigns of these political machines, conventional wisdom is that these issues have been dealt with now. Each political party has a right to believe in its own manifest destiny and each has chosen to exercise that right.
Notwithstanding the Keystone pipeline, Senate reform and foreign investment, the policies and positions Trudeau and Mulcair represent will be hugely overlapping. These leaders will not ask their members, staff and volunteers to exclusively put their energy and hopes into defeating the Conservative Government. They will be putting significant energy into fighting tooth-and nail-ground wars between NDP and Liberal candidates with never-before-this-similar platforms.
The paradox of this use of political energies is vividly apparent in my riding of Parkdale-High Park in Toronto. How many activist hours, paid and volunteer on both sides of the fence, have already cumulatively been used determining whether Peggy Nash or Gerard Kennedy will represent the riding? Zero sum math about this question is not all that useful in any case, as it can’t account for how many more citizens would be inspired to participate in more meaningful, less alienating, electoral proposition.
Meanwhile, with each election, the size of Stephen Harper’s Government grows.
There is more than enough committed, creative, energy in this country to transform it politically. It is bursting at the seams in fact – looking for a chance to be a part of a seismic change that will sweep Canada when we find our collective will to elect a government that makes laws informed by rational evidence and human decency.
As long as this energy remains split between Liberals and New Democrats (and Greens, but they’re not the problem here), and as long as this energy remains focused on each other instead of Harper, we are likely to have Conservative Canadian Governments.
This is a problem of our own creation and it is within our power to solve.
The attack ads on Justin Trudeau are done.
I imagine they practically wrote themselves.
Ohh yes. They’re brutal. They’re going to ruin him.
Yeah, I’m worried about that too. We need him. If the ads are too successful and he gets into trouble, we’ll have to pull them.
*From Proud by Michael Healey, who has already expressed his reservations about political cooperation in this space.
If we must share power to end a terrible government in a time of great need – can we not set aside our own personal baggage and do what needs to be done here? How long will the clear democratic will of the country that consistently votes 60% + for centre-left parties be thwarted by the drive of these two competing parallel political brands to replace one another?
There are significant obstacles to overcome here, not the least of which are decades of mistrust, hubris, power and core values. It is a real test for both parties, which asks them to be committed to Canada first, and their own interests second. It is a proposition that could not be asked of a private citizen or corporation, but it is entirely appropriate to ask of a political party:
Do the right thing. Not because it will help you. Not because it will create vindication for anyone. Not because you and your party will always be remembered. Do it because it is your job as political parties to harness, encourage and express the political energy of the country. This energy has expressed itself clearly in multiple forms and political contexts.
Set aside incremental differences and both use both hands to throw the bums out.
It’s that simple. It can be done. After all, political parties are made up of people, run by people, and an unprecedented act of cooperation and political transformation is the energy inspiring people in Canada today.
What do Ingrid Bergman, Italian statues and Occupy Wall Street zombie walks have in common? They all problematize the relationship between ‘performance’ and the ‘live’ according to performance theorist Rebecca Schneider, Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University.
Academic conversations about the performing arts can seem dry at best, and completely detached from any practical relevance at the worst of times (particularly in a Canadian context where critical recognition of the arts isn’t easy to come by). Enter the Performance Studies (Canada) Project, a SSHRC-funded research project headed by York University Professor Laura Levin to chart the development of performance studies in Canada. As part of the project’s 2013 speaker series, Schneider was at Massey College last week delivering a talk entitled “Acting in Ruins: the Interval and the Loop.”
Performance theorists have long been interested in questions of what constitutes a ‘live’ performance. As Schneider pointed out, “live performance” is a little like saying “feline cat”—it’s redundant. Whereas, “recorded performance” is an oxymoron. Performance has always been predicated on the now. But in an era of re-enactments and re-performances, “live art” has become increasingly interested in rendering live what was once dead and in the past. It is the interim space between performance and reenactment (the interval as she calls it), and the loop between them that Schneider’s most interested in.
Ingrid Bergman considers Italian statues. Which one is more ‘live’: Bergman or the statues?
“Acting in Ruins” could justifiably be divided into two parts; the first, a call to question our strict division between what is live/not live and animate/non-animate in performance; and the second, an analysis of these binaries in relation to the neoliberal economy. To make the first point she showed a clip of Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy in which Bergman is wandering through a statue-filled museum in Naples, making wonderfully dramatic gasps every time she gazed into their painted eyes. The question, of course, was “who was live?” We’d never hesitate to say, “Bergman gave a great performance,” but was her recorded image any more live than that of the statues? Furthermore, as Schneider notes, theatre has always had a close relationship to statuary—from the Greek and Roman statues of players surrounding classical stages to Tino Sehgal’s recent performance at the Guggenheim embodying images from visual art and turning himself into “living sculpture.”
The academic discourse on ‘liveness’ has gone through various iterations—from thinking of performance as resistant to material documentation (completely ephemeral), to thinking of documentation as reiterative (as re-performing the performance in another context or medium). Schneider now wants us to think about performance as remaining, as an event that inevitably leaves traces affecting each subsequent performance as well as the previous document on which it was based. In her most recent book, “Performing Remains: art and war in times of theatrical reenactment,” she explains this using the example of Hamlet’s play-within-a-play. Hamlet worries about speaking the words “set down” in a manner of which he can approve. He realizes, in his concern for speaking the words “trippingly on the tongue” (Hamlet, 3.2) that the transition from text to performance creates instability. Schneider makes clear that it’s not just performance that is shifty and mobile, but that any text or document is subject to alteration in the “volatile” temporal space between an ‘original’ and its re-performance.
This scene from Portlandia illustrates a contemporary example of a digital loop.
Schneider is concerned with this interim space between performances for political reasons. She asks “how we might approach intervals between performances as important sites of analysis, or, conversely, how we might think about the “loop” in many (re)current performance-based works?” She answers this by looking at the links between ‘performance’ and its increasingly prevalent connotations in a neo-liberal economy in which “high-performance” refers to high-productivity and efficiency.
If performance is taken to mean live and happening now in the current moment, it enforces a progress-driven linearity, but if we follow Schneider in troubling the relationship between past and present performances, and if we take her suggestion that a performance always leaves remains that can alter both preceding and proceeding performances, we end up with the complicated temporality that theatre is based on. Thanks to theatre’s reliance on a fictional reality, Schneider suggests we can refer to the temporality of theatre as a “live non-now”. In this way, theatre cannot be productive (in the economic sense of the word), and if something is “not productively performative than in it must be theatrical”. The point here is that theatre can be used to challenge the progress/performance driven neo-liberal economy.
Schneider brings all of this—theatre’s ability to complicate the relationship between past and present, and what is live/not live—together in the image the zombie. In a recent article in TDR entitled, “It Seems As If…I Am Dead: Zombie Capitalism and Theatrical Labor” Schneider looks at the Occupy Wall Street zombie walks, and examines how they function on multiple levels of metaphor. She says that if we agree the zombies may represent consumers then:
“more than 99% of Americans have succumbed to a zombie apocalypse. Suffering without infrastructure to support their deaths, they disastrously walk, which is to say they respect no distinction between public and private. But for OWS, the zombies are reflection machines, flexible theatres of the crowd, aimed to catch the visages of those who worship corporate wealth. The multitude of money-munching zombies marching on Wall Street, then, represent the few global hoarders themselves.”
The OWS protesters embrace the theatricality of a zombie walk with its props, costumes, makeup and all to highlight their resistance to the neo-liberal economy. By showing themselves as dead, they resist the call to act as live, productive labourers. The major question implied throughout Schneider’s talk is how theatre, more generally, can act in this same way. How can we embrace the instability between one performance and the next, the living and the dead, and use this loop to challenge ideas of necessary progress and productivity?
Kallee is a graduate student in theatre and performance studies at York University. She’s most interested in the intersection between contemporary choreography and neo-liberal politics, and has a cat named Lucy.
Co-ED Note: This post is the first in a series by Kallee Lins that seeks to bridge the intellectual divide between academic and online discourse on theatre by presenting her interpretation of research of note. Enthused to have her on board with a new approach to ideas and discussion in this space. mw
After the debate, there was a lot of continued discussion, as debaters and attendees hung out and continued conversations that could not be accommodated by the strict one minute, timed question-and-answer format that shaped the final section of the event.
We changed our voting format for #CivilDebates 2 Arts Boards:
Attendees were polled upon entering the debate as to their position on the resolution. The initial result was:
36 Yea – 10 Nay
After the debate, attendees also registered their position on the resolution as they left. The post-debate result was:
56 Yea – 9 Nay
What does this mean? First of all that some people don’t want to register an opinion if they are uncertain about a proposition. Also, there were more than 65 attendees, so some people don’t want to vote at all. Finally, it indicates that after hearing the debate and the discussion that followed afterwards, more people were swayed to vote in favour of the resolution.
Thanks to all who participated. It was a very *civil* event on what has been a contentious issue.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Be sure to pick up your poker chips on the way in. You’ll be asked to vote on your position as you enter with one chip, the 2nd chip will buy you 60 seconds of speaking time to either make a statement or ask a question, and the 3rd chip will be used as you vote on your position as you leave. Check back here later for the results of the two votes.
*NOTE: We’ve moved into a larger space right next door to the Pop-Up to make sure everyone can get in.
PWYC at the door. No RSVP required.
This evening Gideon Arthurs, Franco Boni, Brendan Healy & Jini Stolk will debate the resolution:
Be it resolved that Boards of Directors have the right and responsibility to overrule the Artistic Direction of a theatre company.
How does the debate work?
Hosted by Theatre Centre Managing Director Roxanne Duncan
Moderated by Praxis Theatre Artistic Producer Aislinn Rose
The event will be live-tweeted via @praxistheatre & @theatrecentre. The Debate Hashtag is: #CivilDebates.
Not on Twitter/Don’t want to be? Below is a livestream of the tweets and pictures using the #CivilDebates hashtag, feel free to follow along live from this post.
Click here for a backgrounder on the topic, or here for more information about the debaters. CLICK PIRATE & NINJA for more info on the series and structure.
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”