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Visual composition, mostly: Richard Foreman
As the texts of my plays became increasingly fragmented in order to echo the truth of
psychic life, I wanted the scenery to do the same. I wanted it to make reference to the
various locales suggested on the page, but without my having to make set changes every
three minutes. I wanted scenery that was in many places at once, like the mind. The
spectator should ask: Am I in a living room, or in a bizarre factory where art (this play) is
being produced? In all of my sets, I try to create a space which suggests something is being
manufactured; it could be a laboratory, a factory, a meditation chamber, or a kitchen. The
sets are not dreamy, poetic landscapes, but they become evocative because they give concrete form to the tension between diﬀerent levels of reality. How can you be in something
that seems like a factory and yet, at the same time, seems to be like your living room?
Where are you really? It should make your head spin, because it echoes your real situation
in life: you are in your living room relaxing, but at the same time your living room is a kind
of factory where, even when relaxing, you are in the process of manufacturing your life.
Moreover, the actions performed on the set should echo this same kind of tension. For
instance, the performer’s elbows might be askew, as if at work making something in a
factory, while the rest of his body is balanced in a pseudo-relaxed position, semiprone
against a pillow, which suggests the couch he rests upon in his living room.
The complexity of the scenery is a major resource that enables me to suggest the jump from
one level of meaning to another during the moment-by-moment action of the play. For
example, if an actor is at the back of the stage sitting in a chair against a suitably painted wall,
the scene may seem to be realistically domestic. But if he then runs downstage to grab a
handle at the end of a pole that rises from the ﬂoor and starts to spin it madly, since that pole
is not something you would expect to ﬁnd in a living room, it suggests that he must have left
that domestic situation. Perhaps that action, which took place in What Did He See?, suggested
a regression to childhood, but beyond that it suggests the wider notion of operating in a
world gone mad. Had there been no bizarre pole in that living room set, and the actor had
instead spun wildly around the post of a normal banister, it would not have referred to this
wider level of meaning. It was only when the actor ran to manipulate the pole that he seemed
to be entering another level of the set, one that subliminally evoked a demonic factory whose
pole was strategically placed on the axis of the world. The next thing that character did
in What Did He See? was to run to the top step of a platform and sit upon a throne, which
invoked a third locale, added to the factory and living room. From that throne he looked
down on the other characters, evoking overtones of manipulative power relationships. The
physical resources of the set made possible the speciﬁc actions that enabled me to jump from
psychological level to political level to metaphysical level, and so on.
In Penguin Touquet I used rolling boxes that functioned like booths in a restaurant. Yet
giant checked walls in the rear evoked an abstract “mental space,” and random letters glued
to the walls formed word fragments suggesting the inside of a book. The side walls were
covered with enlarged ruﬄed curtains that superimposed a child-like domestic atmosphere
on the restaurant, which related to the fact that one of the characters seemed to be a
psychoanalyst who would naturally regress patients, and by implication the play, to childhood states. At the same time, the overall design of the set suggested a factory or laboratory
V I S U A L C O M P O S I T I O N , M O S T LY
in which something was being produced – perhaps, even, the play itself, or a diﬀerent mode
For Film Is Evil, the set appeared to be a radio broadcasting studio, but, at the same time,
there was an excess of tables and desks, which made it appear not to be a real radio studio.
It looked like a schoolroom or furniture showroom invading a radio studio. Also, the decorative style suggested that the play did not take place in the present. I love old-fashioned radio,
and I ﬁnd photographs of early broadcasting studios very evocative. I wanted the set to have
the feel of that earlier era. The set also suggested an environment similar to a hotel lobby
you might have seen in Paris at the time of the First World War – which, rather than being a
workplace, like a radio studio, is a public meeting place.
The objects I build and incorporate into the set are meant to suggest, through their design,
diﬀerent ways that the performer can manipulate his body. All of the props and scenic
elements are occasions for the exteriorization of internal impulse. They are a ﬁeld within
which impulse can express itself. For instance, if a table is propped at an unnatural angle,
something about it should invite you to put your hand on it. In making the set and props,
I would like to invoke impulses which say, “Look how that couch squats invitingly on the
carpet, so why the hell not sprawl on that couch?”
Sometimes I build objects which suggest a combination of two separate objects as props
or scenic elements for my plays. For instance, in The Cure I built tables with funny padded
backs that made them appear to be half couches and half tables. It was a table upon which
to work, but it somehow suggested comfort. Personally, I have a fondness for things that
suggest you can lean on them, be supported by them. I want my plays themselves to be
things upon which I can lean my ideas. Which can gently support my obsessive manias.
At times I have considered working without sets and props, in an empty theatrical space
without the burden of an elaborate physical production. But then I realize that such a naked
space does not allow the text to ricochet between levels of meaning, which is my obsession.
I am interested in showing how the spiritual, psychological, material, political, social, and
magical interpenetrate and are present to human experience all at once.
Aronson, A. (2005). “Richard Foreman as scenographer” in Looking into the Abyss: essays on scenography.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, pp. 161–70.
Foreman, R. (2005). Richard Foreman. New York: PAJ Publications.
Marranca, B., ed. (1977). The Theatre of Images. New York: Drama Book Specialists.
R. Foreman (1992). Unbalancing Acts: foundations for a theatre. New York: Theatre Communications Group, pp. 54–5, 62–5.
DEFINING AND RECONSTRUCTING
Adrian Curtin points out the visual bias in readings of scenography and extends the term to
include the broader sensory field. He examines “sound design” and its relationship to the
“soundscape,” which includes all the sonic elements experienced during a performance. He
argues that the cultural and social construction of aural experience poses problems for the
theatre scholar. It is impossible to recover theatre “soundscapes” from the past or to fully
comprehend the way they would have been received by audiences at different historical
moments. He suggests however that you can “reconstruct” a theatre soundscape by careful
analysis and he lays out his methodology for the reconstruction of the sound design for Artaud’s
production of Les Cenci in Paris in 1935.
Scenography is crucially informed by the sensorium, of which sound is a constituent part.
Although “sound design” as a term and a profession is of relatively recent origin, sound itself
has always been a part of theatre, of course, both as techne or craft (i.e. integrated into
productions by way of stage eﬀects, incidental music, vocalisation, and theatre architecture)
and as event (e.g. sounds generated by audiences, and by the site of the performance,
broadly construed). The term soundscape (another recent coinage) is used as in the latter
instance to refer to an acoustic environment that is inclusive of all perceived sonic elements
(note the yoking together of the visual and the aural that the etymology of the word
implies).1 Although sound design and soundscape are sometimes used interchangeably or
are compounded in theatrical discourse (e.g. “soundscape design”), the terms may be
usefully distinguished. Sound design is the province of a sound designer (or whoever is
responsible for the designed sonic elements of a production, which may or may not include
music); it belongs to the order of the scenographical (that which is crafted, intended,
“written”). A theatre soundscape, on the other hand, is the province of no one in particular,
but is the product of multiple factors: it is the sound design plus (or “heard through”) the
performance environment plus (or “heard through”) socio-cultural, historical and material
conditions. It belongs to the order of theatrical reception, scenic reading and the event.
A soundscape cannot be designed, strictly speaking, it can only be experienced. Although
a sound design can certainly inﬂuence a given ﬁguration of a soundscape, it cannot
wholly account for it because a soundscape is a phenomenological reality as well as a social
D E F I N I N G A N D R E C O N S T R U C T I N G T H E AT R E S O U N D
construction; it is therefore open to multiple, potentially contradictory readings. As Emily
Like a landscape, a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way
of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make
sense of that world. The physical aspects of a soundscape consist not only of the
sounds themselves, the waves of acoustical energy permeating the atmosphere in
which people live, but also the material objects that create, and sometimes destroy,
these sounds. A soundscape’s cultural aspects include scientiﬁc and aesthetic
ways of listening, a listener’s relationship to their environment, and the social
circumstances that dictate who gets to hear what. A soundscape, like a landscape,
ultimately has more to do with civilization than with nature, and as such, it is
constantly under construction and always undergoing change.2
An audience composes a theatre soundscape in concert with a production crew, actors
and musicians (if used); this act of composition is beholden to the contexts and dynamics
of a particular performance event. Consequently, a theatre soundscape is generally
unpredictable and somewhat randomised; it is a site in which meaning is contested and
negotiated, unlike the relatively more stable, unitary sound design, which is usually prepared in advance by a single individual and integrated into an organisational framework
(i.e. the total scenographical conception).
Distinguishing between a sound design and a soundscape is instructive not only for
theatre practitioners, but scholars, too. The distinction may enable a sound designer (or
composer) to appreciate the ways in which environmental factors (including architectural
acoustics) inﬂuence the reception of a given sound design; the cultural and phenomenological components of sound and hearing; and the variability and historicity of sonic elements. As a general principle, sounds mean diﬀerent things to diﬀerent listeners in particular
places at particular points in history. Just as any given audience member will interpret a
production in a relatively unique manner, so, too, will he or she comprehend and engage
with a theatre soundscape relatively uniquely. Although there appear to be some commonalities in certain sonic patterns across cultures, for example infant-directed speech (so-called
“motherese” or “parentese”), sounds, as a rule, do not have universal meanings or predetermined results; this is also true of music (hence the instability of distinctions between sound,
music and noise).
Since sound, in general discourse, is often assumed to be “natural,” commonplace, subsidiary, or simply functional, its aﬀective, semantic and ideological structuring is often
overlooked (literally).3 Correspondingly, there is much to learn (and much that is yet to be
discovered) from the ways in which theatre sound has been fashioned and received. Theatre
scholars who seek to understand past productions and to theorise their artistic, social and
(potentially) philosophical signiﬁcance must, however, address the cultural and historical
speciﬁcity of sound designs and soundscapes. The question is, how does one analyse a theatre
soundscape, especially a “historical” soundscape, that is, a soundscape that predates the
researcher? What remains of a historical theatre soundscape (or a sound design, for that
A D R I A N C U RT I N
matter)? What constitutes evidence when examining theatre sound, and how is this evidence
“heard” and understood? How does one reconstruct a theatre soundscape?
Reconstructing a theatre sound design is arguably less problematic than reconstructing a
theatre soundscape, particularly if the production in question had a featured sound design
and a sound designer. In this case, the scholar may be able to access a video recording of the
production, or an audio recording of the sound design, or may even be able to interview
the sound designer and/or the director or read relevant published statements. Even so, a
video recording of a production, although it provides much useful information, can only
ever oﬀer a limited, mediated account of the full complex of a theatre soundscape. Similarly, an audio recording of a sound design does not tell the researcher how that sound
design may have been received in performance, or how it operated vis-à-vis other elements
in the mise-en-scène or the performance environment. A musical score is no less partial, and
shares the same provisional relationship to performance as a dramatic text. Theatre sound
(like lighting) is a fugitive element in this regard, and evades deﬁnitive capture. Arguably, it
is not possible to fully “recover” a theatre soundscape as to do so presupposes an original
unity and totality that is ever only phantom. This is true of scenography in general. As an
accumulation of spatial signs, scenographical objects are in perpetual ﬂux and become
meaningful relative to one another and to individual perception. Sound in performance
accentuates this condition on account of its ambiguous ontological status. After all, sound
does not have clear “object status” in the manner of a set or costume; no single item exists
that might fully account for it.
Although a theatre soundscape may not be recoverable, per se, it can still be
reconstructed, with varying degrees of success. One must, of course, accept the fallibility
and unavoidable contrivance of this venture. Historical reconstruction cannot aim at
absolute success or total authenticity, whatever that might mean (especially in relation to
soundscapes, which are always ﬂuctuating and contingent ﬁelds of meaning), but the
endeavour is instructive and worthwhile, nonetheless. The scholar who wishes to investigate
acoustic elements of past productions may attend to (a) the type and variety of sounds
made, (b) the method of sonic production, (c) the artistic rationale for the sounds
employed, (d) the function(s) of sonic elements in the mise-en-scène, (e) the documented
reception of particular sounds, (f) designed versus “unintentional” or situational sounds
(i.e. those that are audience- or location-generated) and (g) the potential signiﬁcance (social,
cultural and artistic) of the soundscape as a whole. Since theatre sound is not conceptually
uniform, but is constituted in various ways and by various means by multiple participants
in the theatre event, the researcher must attempt to reconstruct it (to “piece it together”)
and to trace its eﬀects across a range of artefacts, none of which can truly encapsulate
Take, for example, Antonin Artaud’s production of Les Cenci, which was staged at the
Théâtre des Folies-Wagram in Paris in 1935, with set and costume design by the PolishFrench artist Balthus. This production is of historical importance not only because it was
a major (if preliminary) eﬀort on the part of Artaud to realise his proposed “theatre of
cruelty” in practical terms, but also because of its innovative sound design (conceived avant
la lettre). Artaud, a believer in the sensorial potential of scenography, wished to place the
D E F I N I N G A N D R E C O N S T R U C T I N G T H E AT R E S O U N D
audience in the centre of a “network of sound vibrations” that would make audible, and
sensible, the “incarnation of great forces, . . . beings roaring, . . . passing like great storms
in which a sort of majestic fate vibrates.”4 To this end, Artaud enlisted the aid of Roger
Désormière, who, in collaboration with Artaud, composed a sound design (billed as “music”)
that used prerecorded cues (a mixture of short pieces of music, vocalisations and sound
eﬀects) to underscore the action, depict scenic eﬀects, denote abstraction and engage the
audience in aesthetic cruelty (here, sound design functions as an analogue of a philosophical
idea and a medium for its execution).
In order to reconstruct the soundscape of this production, I analyse the following elements: an extant audio recording of Désormière’s music and sound cues; Artaud’s production
notebook (which includes the script); personal correspondence; newspaper reviews; Artaud’s
published writings on theatre; the architectural acoustics of the Théâtre des Folies-Wagram;
the immediate acoustic environs of the theatre and the general soundscape(s) of Paris
c. 1935; and, broader still, the production’s relation to what Emily Thompson calls “the
soundscape of modernity.”5 A critical reconstruction of a theatre soundscape must attempt
to account for a particular matrix of sounds, but also – and this is imperative – the manifold
ways in which these sounds become meaningful for those in attendance: in other words,
how they are heard, interpreted, felt and understood (or not, as the case may be). Therefore, I situate my interpretation of my evidence (which is altogether partial and mediated:
the dramatic text no more so than a newspaper review or indeed the audio recording)
within the socio-cultural, historical and artistic contexts of avant-garde theatre in Paris in
1935 (its acoustic “horizon of expectations,” after Hans Robert Jauss’ theory of aesthetic
reception).6 The historian should not assume that his or her understanding or interpretation
of various sounds will accord with that of historical listeners; sounds are not trans-historical,
and cultures of listening continually change.
A reconstruction of a theatre soundscape invariably involves piecemeal accumulation of
information (the factual accuracy of which is sometimes questionable), correlation of clues
and cues, and guesswork. As the artefacts under survey are often biased in various ways,
may be incomplete and/or fragmentary, and ultimately can ever only be indicators of a
historical phenomenon that is not completely knowable, one’s methodology must acknowledge and account for these procedural and interpretive challenges. Historiographical
“listening” requires that sounds – or traces of sounds – are understood to function within
multiple semantic frames, which may require recontextualisation on the part of the historian (i.e. attempting to listen “historically” and not just according to present-day auditory
regimes, or at least making allowance for potential discrepancies). Whilst drawing on a
variety of sources, one may ﬁnd value in reading artefacts multiply, attending to all of their
assorted meanings, errors, complications and elisions (“deaf spots”). In so doing, one may
approximate both the variegated nature of a theatre soundscape (which is never as stable as a
production may intend) and the multifarious dynamics of a theatrical sensorium, in which
sensory input is often crossed and contradictory.
In conclusion, scenographical scholarship and practice may beneﬁt from retiring ocularcentric paradigms that fail to account for the ways in which other sensory elements, such as
sound, operate in performance, and are subsequently archived, historicised and understood.
A D R I A N C U RT I N
How might further attention to the sensory components of scenography complement – or
even reconﬁgure – the art of theatrical design and the contours of theatre research?
1 The term soundscape was popularised in the 1970s by R. Murray Schafer in such works as The Music
of the Environment (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1973) and The Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf,
2 Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: architectural acoustics and the culture of listening in
America, 1900–1933. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. pp. 1–2.
3 See Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
4 Antonin Artaud, “What the tragedy The Cenci at the Folies-Wagram will be about,” in The Cenci,
trans. Simon Watson-Taylor (London: Calder, 1969), p. 8.
5 This case study forms part of my dissertation project, which is entitled “Soundscapes of the
European theatrical avant-garde, 1980–1935.”
6 See Hans Robert Jauss, Towards an Aesthetics of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
Banes, S. and Lepecki A. (2007). The Senses in Performance. London: Routledge.
Blesser, B. (2007). Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? Experiencing aural architecture. Cambridge, MA:
Brown, R. (2009). Sound: a reader in theatre practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marowitz, C. ( 2002). “Artaud’s Les Cenci: an account by Roger Blin, Artaud’s letters, and
critical reviews” in R. Schneider and G. Cody, eds, Re:direction: a theoretical and practical guide.
London: Routledge, pp. 128–39.
Smith, B. R. (1999). The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: attending to the o-factor. University of
Smith, M. M. (2007). Sensing the Past: seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching in history. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
Sterne, J. (2009). The Sound Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
Thompson, E. (2004). The Soundscape of Modernity: architectural acoustics and the culture of listening
in America, 1900–1933. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
ON PERFORMANCE WRITING
Tim Etchells lays out some of the ways in which the UK-based company Forced Entertainment
develop their work through improvisation. He describes how language moves from being
a dialogic and narrative tool towards acquiring the characteristics of an “event.” Text becomes a
physical component of their performances as scripts are held and studied by performers in front
of the audience. Etchells explains that the work of the company borrows from a range of sources
and constructs visual and verbal collages that disrupt the assumptions that underpin traditional
notions of narrative and visual coherence.
I once asked Ron Vawter (Wooster Group) if he ever wished they could deal with new texts
instead of (as he described it to me) going back over the tapes of the twentieth century to
see what had happened, to see what had gone wrong. He said yes, he could see a time when
that might be fun, but for the moment at least there was so much work left to do. There’s so
much stuﬀ left in the archives.
A broken text.
A discredited text.
A text to be utterly disowned by all those that perform it.
A series of texts in a language that doesn’t work.
Perhaps our ﬁrst subject was always this inadequacy of language. Its unsuitability for the
job it has to do, its failure. And in this failure – by deﬁnition language is not and cannot
express what it seeks to describe – an admission of the struggle in everyday life – to get
blunt tools to do ﬁne work, to carve out a life in, around, despite of and through what
passes for culture in the late twentieth century.
And in this love of the blunt edges and limits of language he always cared most for
illegitimate texts, ﬁnding hope and inspiration in the clichés of straight-to-video ﬁlms,
the tortuous prose of a book of instructions for chemistry experiments, a catalogue of
the contents of a museum of curious, the simple language of cartoons, comic-strips, the
disposable ease of plot summaries for a soap opera or the antiquated text of a fairy story
or some mythical tale. The words “good” and “writing” never went together that well
for us. Bad writing was always more our style. Language transﬁxed on its own inadequacy.
Language at the point of breakdown, at the edges of sense, on the edge of not coping
A writer of nonsense.
A writer of shapes that only look like letters.
A writer of ﬁlthy words.
Working on Pleasure (in summer 1997) we loved a text I downloaded from the Internet –
a huge list entitled simply “2,334 Filthy Words and Phrases” – a pedant’s catalogue of obscenities, slang words and descriptions containing some 500 alternative ways to say masturbate.
First time I printed this list I left it running on the printer and on returning to the oﬃce
some 20 minutes later found that people there had stopped work and were gathered
around the printer from which the text was still spewing. They were poring over the words
like so many scholars and obsessives. They were, in a mixture of fascination and repulsion,
reading out the lists to each other, revelling in the awfulness, the unsayableness, the
YANK THE MEAT
GET SOME HOLE
PUSH SHIT UPHILL
EAT HAIR PIE
BURP THE WORM
Language at the edges of sense, on the edge of not coping at all.
Our favourite game, working from this text in Pleasure rehearsals, was to write these words
and others like them on a blackboard on the stage – a piece of kids’ language instruction
gone wrong, or a foreign language course with a bitter little twist. The words written
calmly in capitals, the performers stood beside the blackboard, owning the text written up
there, meeting the gaze of the audience like “this is your lesson for today.”
Months afterwards we made a ﬁlm Filthy Words & Phrases (1998) of Cathy writing each of
these words, on a blackboard, in an old abandoned schoolroom. We shot in one continuous
seven-hour take and by the end of it Cathy (and crew) were blank with exhaustion and white
from the chalk dust. We premiered the ﬁlm in a Rotterdam porn cinema and could never
quite decide if the ﬁlm was an attack on the proﬂigate redundancy of language or a hymn of
sorts to its absurd inventiveness and its complete commitment to change – a marathon
naming of the parts in which language proliferates around a crisis.
A text for email.
A text to be written in blood.
A text in a made-up language.
Using gibberish in (Let the Water Run its Course) to the Sea that Made the Promise (1986) we
used to talk a lot about the sound of voices coming through walls – like the blurred and
awful sound of people arguing in the ﬂat downstairs, the sounds of voices gabbling madly in
ON PERFORMANCE WRITING
a party – language reduced to its raw shapes, where listening, you do not know the words
but you can guess what is being spoken of.
In Hidden J (1994) Cathy and Robin speak a version of this gibberish too – only here it
has become most deﬁnitely foreign – not a fucked-up English, but a shattering of languages
from broken Europe – Serb, Russian, Polish swinging to Italian in places. Cathy invisible in
the house centre-stage and curtains drawn, speaking down the telephone – and incomprehensible – railing and whispering, yelling and urging, demanding, accusing. And outside
the house all we see are the other performers waiting, some of them messing around,
Richard peering, upstaging, but in the end all of them heads down, listening. It’s not just
the audience that listen to the text. Cathy railing and whispering, yelling and urging,
And for these moments the two cultures of the piece – drunk git English and
war-zone Mainland – sit in their most appalling relationship – the one can neither
see, help or understand the other at all. It’s the opposite of those British Telecom ads
where Bob Hoskins implores one that “it’s good to talk”; in this case it is no fucking good
A list of streets:
Market Street. San Francisco’s Oxford Street of lunacy and the wheelchair homeless –
drunk and drugged crazies on every street corner; those that aren’t lying in comatose
sleep in doorways, or propped against the sides of buildings are the ones too fast for
sleep – the ones each dancing to some inaudible tune – jigging, walking, twisting,
turning (one woman beating the side of a trash can with glee in some unﬁnished, neverending symphony of noise) – and all of them muttering in some individual yet strangely
collective voice – whispers, threats, assumptions, delusions – random samplings from
the last days of the mechanical age . . .
. . . that was, pretty well, the kind of theatre or performance text I had in mind.
Or at least not the spectacle of “new playwrights” at a 1997 conference in London’s
Royal Court Theatre whose biggest (almost only) topic of conversation seemed to be long
long pontiﬁcations on the understanding of a comma. How directors and actors can’t
understand a comma these days. The terrible shame of it.
Hard for me to understand, having never much cared for punctuation.
I mean I’d rather say:
here are 26 letters:
now write a text for performance.
Never cared much for playwrights. And in any case in some recent shows the text was
generated in good part by performer improvisation – in reaction to written stimulus or
without it. In this way a two-paragraph fragment becomes a ten-minute monologue – a
growing, generative process of improvisation, negotiation, discussion, more writing and
eventual ﬁxing. A kind of speaking that becomes writing.
Working in this way – around the rhythms of text that’s at least half made-up on the spot
he was interested in precisely those textures – of thought, repetition, self-correction, hesitation, and so on – in which speech excels and which writing can only begin to approximate.
Working with video-tape and transcripts of improvisations they were concerned to capture
some of that sense, in speech, of how a voice ﬁnds itself, of how language stumbles, corrects
and then ﬂies – explorations of the struggle and process of language itself. A concern with
language not as text then, but as event.
A series of spells:
To Bewitch a Service Station at Midnight.
To Exorcise a Bad Spirit from a Housing Estate.
To Escape from Prison or Some Terrible Place.
To Bring Some Ecstasy Kid from a Coma.
To Combat Insincerity in a Soap Opera.
To Summon the Power of Angels.
In 200% & Bloody Thirsty (1987/8) the characters try on the voices of angels as if by
speaking like them they might have power to raise the dead. Borrowing language for your
own purposes, for its power and authority, for its style. Language is always a suit of
someone else’s clothes you try on – the ﬁt is not good but there’s power in it.
Football fans on a train some months ago boasting about their drunken exploits at a
previous game: “We proceeded to the White Hart pub and we were there observed to drink
several pints of lager.” The whole conversation taking place in the style of an arresting
oﬃcer’s report. Stealing other people’s language to bolster your own power.
In performance we use the struggle to feel right in the text, and the distance between
the performer and her text is always visible. In recent shows this gap is all the more visible
because the text features as paper or script – a physical object which can be picked
up, handled, subjected to scrutiny, curiosity, indiﬀerence, contempt. In the work you can
see the performers eyeing up the text, wondering about it, knowing that whatever it is
it isn’t them.
Or, if the ﬁt is good between performer and text, it is a good ﬁt that has to be struggled
for and a ﬁt that makes surprising use of the original material – the scenes of clichéd TV cop
shit and emotion-drama in Club of No Regrets (1993/4) are smashed to pieces in Terry’s ﬁnal
exertions as the “character” Helen X – she jumbling the phrases, cuts from one scene to
another, regardless of one sense whilst making another. It is like getting blood out of a
stone but in the end she does get the material to mean for her, even if it is almost destroyed
in the process.
The characters/performers always moving from outside language to a relationship in
which they seem to own it.
Back on market.
One wrecked woman goes past me, her eyes wide, her arms folded tight across herself