Manuel Abril

Performance Studies Issues and Methods

11 September 2000

What is Performance?

“...Real people shouldn’t be on television.”

Garry Shandling just said that on The Emmy Award Show in reference to the popular “reality TV” program, Survivor.

Richard Shechner, “They are each rehearsed or practiced or require training. In performance, these rehearsed behaviors are heightened, marked, and framed: different than everyday behavior. Most often these not-everyday-behaviors are not fully owned by the person doing them.”

Are we looking at the expression of identities or performances when we see the contestants / “castaways” on the island in a world that isn’t a stage? If both is an answer then the notion of liminality must be key to the navigation of this distinction.

This is a performance.

A cell phone is an accessory to a performance which itself can be an accessory to identity. Thier use projects a connectedness, a social being but also deflects immediate contact within the physical environment - a present remoteness.

Performance saves identity from itself and for itself by framing it within the parameters of what can be ‘practiced’ about behavior in the aspiration to project (in social interaction) a self that “works”. That approximates the desired ‘impression’ it leaves on an ‘audience’. This is beyond or rather aside from the performativity of identity or gender?

Approaching efficiency.

Does it require training to be a sustained self? The implication is of competence and consistency. These are not every-day moments but are consumed by them where the temporal erodes at the edges of the frame that mark the place where the above conditions are present. Identity demands a respite where these moments are rehearsed and reflected upon. Just like performance hides and gives form to the amorphous, the rough edges, the inconsistencies of identities.

So this is a rehearsal and “Survivor” is the show. The Survivors Exhibit - the Attempts at the “unperformable” that cuts out the middle man (professional actors) and passes the saving on to you (and CBS) in the form a controlled and survielled environment where the characters act as spectacular versions of themselves while still maintaining their ‘realness’. -their innocence - authenticity. We like performance - the way it tampers with authenticity. And also, the amateur virtuosity of Survivors that can achieve a transparency, like they aren’t even acting. But the environment , the conditions of the arena say perform.

Approaching incompetence.

Karaoke is another example that can illustrate the close proximity performance keeps with words like ‘amateur’, ‘authentic’, ‘practice’ and ‘real life’.

These words and others mark the edges of performance but performance wants to not mark the edges of them. Karachi interjects the distinctions of ‘amateur’, ‘practice’ and ‘real life’ even while the script is asserted with a bouncing punctuation that says performance.