« Time, Memory and the Body | Main | The Body of Evidence »

September 17, 2004

Living in Performance: Mining the Mind of the Actor and the Body of the Archive

My answer to the PerforWHAT/ that Taylor starts with, has consistently been to elaborate on Performance Studies with the addendum � �live� performance. Liveness is the touchstone against which I measure and explain the subjects suited to be studied in this otherwise seemingly amorphous department. Yet casual introductions and dinnertable conversation (fortunately for the listner!) never allow one to go into the complexities that form the fabric of studying such present phenomena. Document, memory and archive then are the results of grappling with the issue of the (in)translatability of forms of liveness to other media. While Phelan suggests disappearence and absence to be the key to a Performance theory that must by definition be self-effacing, I add that this awareness of its own imperfectibility is intrinsic to any translative gesture.

Translation theory today, struggling with the the impassability of the chasms between colonial and vernacular legacies in post-colonial countries, has come to the conclusion that translation must always declare its own leverage, mediation and limitation. And for Performance Studies, while the objecthood might be non-linguistic, the struggle with subjecthood is much the same.

What distinguishes document, memory and archive are perhaps the degrees to which each make or establish truth claims. Subjective memory as extolled by Barba in Reason�s �Archive or Memory?� is not a disclaimer that either the document or the archive would make. The a/effect of the archive lies in a formidable accretion if one considers it to consist of many documents, each of which stakes a claim on veracity. That the document, and its metonimic archive, is in fact subjective, inexact, prone to slippage and suceptible to time is well argued by Taylor and Reason. But as scholars is it enough to explain away our entanglements in this field of absence as always a ride down the slippery slope of personal memory? Our scholarly enterprise does seem to undertake an exercise greater that the re-enactment (rehearsal in the original sense of re-hearing or re-seeing) of the memory of a personal performance. It is an endevour wedded to transmitting traces.

Detritus of traces then is perhaps an adequate rejoinder to all Performance theory. Or put another way an engagement with the repertoire. The observance of a repertiore it seems to me, would equate to participation in a scenario. And it is this that I propose as the methodology for my own personal project in Performance Studies. As a scholar, and past actor, I will always be an active part of the field in which political theatre operates. I am fortunate to be able to have to impressive theatre repertory companies as my object of study. In both though the tool of enquiry would be the persistence of memory. Since each of the groups have over a thirty year history that has been guided by the same helms(wo)men, the question that needs to be asked of them is what role does personal memory play in present productions? Put another way, to what extent are the older atists performers in these groups engaged in recreating their impressions, directions and stagings of past shows, and simeltaneously imparting the same to the multitudes of newer actors that both troupes have inevitabley faced? That is to probe the extent to which a �new� play is really a novelty and to what extent does it draw from the group�s own archive of scripts, songs, tunes, costumes, props, talents � that is to say the detritues of past productions that are left behind in a dusty production office.

[I have to add that the approach I outline above is not the same as Ippollito�s �variable media approach� because the goal is not so much to reproduce the performed behaviour of the art object but is about the behaviour itself, for to create art for its political efficacy, the trace lies in the efficacy. In this sense i find the method proposed by Ippollito to perhaps be more useful to other artists than scholars (it would be impossible to judge its feasibility on paper without actual practice) for the attempt seems to be to retain an artwork in the best shape possible by employing the most flexible metod possible, rather than actually simeltaneously creating multiple entry points to the piece.]

Posted by at September 17, 2004 5:48 PM