Space and performance

22 Nov

In talking with Erik Ehn this morning, I’m reminded again of the centrality of space–and the way we conceive of it–to theatre.

This is Erik, writing on the Soulographie blog: “Conversation comes up again and again around the idea of space… I have just about no understanding of Hegel and Heidegger, but I think I’m more on the side that space is more important a ground of being than time. Our experiments have a handle on duration – we’re steaming ahead there. But the political, economic and architectural spaces of theater, while also finding reform, are begging for a radical break. Our body is breaking down, our meme is weakening to the point where it can no longer include death, and without death (mortality, mourning) we ain’t live, and sure aren’t performance.”

I like this formulation, “Without death (mortality, mourning) we ain’t live.” It crystallizes why I often feel, in this country’s most expensive and impressive houses for theatre, a feeling of panicky displacement. A sense of banished, disavowed death breaths down my neck.

Paradoxically, theatre is most live when it’s haunted. A ghost light in an empty room, a gesture, a look, a shared held breath in an awful moment, that moment when decision hangs in the balance and things could be otherwise–the trapeze artist could fall; the door could slam in the wrong face; the house could be lost. Here we are then, breathing together in a room.

But what kind of room, if the big brick and mortar houses are losing their ghosts, their breathing audiences?

These rooms grow more dispersed and lighter, spun of pixel cobwebs. Some of them are chat rooms. Perhaps the “space” of theatre is one where we can witness the possibility of change–which means it plays out in time. Something in a frame of human dreaming that says, look, wait, see…something is happening here. The circus tent, the breaking-down bus, the cupcake stand, the streaming bulletin board. These aren’t random locations, but in some way frame and amplify human effort and its failures. An invitation, a doorway, something at stake that plays out in space/time. If not actual performances, these are the signs of portals into performance.

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