Matthew Goulish, dramaturg answers 9 questions in the run up to 9 Beginnings…
0. Which beginnings? (How are you choosing the pieces for the performance?)
We brought several criteria to the selection process.
We only looked at so-called theatrical performances, set in theatres, with an audience that enters and finds their seats, and lights that dim to start the show. For this project, we are interested in the possibilities of the theatre as a structure, and in retaining that degree of similarity between all nine selections.
When looking through the archives, we soon divided all beginnings into three loose categories. One type of beginning sets the stage, often through a direct address preamble, almost a pre-show announcement, preparing the audience as a precondition of the performance. Another type is nonverbal, somewhat ritualistic, and very much about time. It harnesses duration as an energy, and seems to gather the many rhythms of the audience into the single, directed rhythm of the performance. The third is the in medias res beginning that drops the audience into the middle of something, and forces them to ask: What universe am I in now? In that type, the audience may feel disoriented, always trying to understand, or behind or out of sync with the time of the performance.
We tried to select three beginnings of each type. We subdivided those three into one solo for each of the two primary performers, Selma and Sebastián, and one duet for them to perform together. (We changed that a little as we worked on the piece, but the pattern gave us a clear starting place.)
We selected work that gave us staging ideas, and ways to engage the two choreographed stagehands. Within those limits, we looked for variety. We avoided work that seemed too signature, that might suggest that if you do not recognize the source artist, that you are missing out on something. Then we tried to engage all four of the archives that we had access to – the National Review of Live Art Archive, the Queer Up North Archive, the Arnolfini Archive, and the Arts Council of England Live Art Program Archive. Then finally, in many cases, we gravitated toward artists whose work we admire, artists we thought would be happy to allow us to engage in their work, and whose work we wanted to share and try to keep alive. At times these choices resonated with the part of the Every house has a door mission of supporting the work of younger artists. In all the selections, we can find a space for ourselves. If we had been familiar with the work, we may have sensed that space was always there, waiting for us. If the work was new to us, we had the sense of instant connection with it.
1. How long is a beginning?
The beginning often ends clearly: at a moment when a second phase of the performance commences. One beginning is very brief, less than one minute. Another sustains itself for over seven minutes. But they all end at a point when we feel we have crossed a threshold, and there is no going back. In the space of the beginning, we as an audience are still asking what direction this performance will take. It seems there are many possibilities, almost pure potential. Then the beginning ends when a limit has been recognized for those possibilities, and the performance has narrowed irreversibly.
2. Are you looking for thematically linked performances or looking for contrasts?
How might this affect the outcome?
Unexpected echoes presented themselves to us. We did not set out to look for them. Some were concrete and practical, like a circle in the middle of the stage floor, and those echoes guided our staging. Others were textual. Nic Green’s performance features a hanging banner with the words I LOVE YOU. In the Lone Twin beginning, Gary Winters says, “Good evening, I love you.” The notion of starting with a proclamation of love has now presented itself to us. While the source performances go on to develop what that love might mean in their different contexts, in our work of pure beginning – all exposition, with no development or resolution – they become proclamations of meta-love, with no clearly defined object, as a precondition of performance, anyway our performance. We have found ourselves under the sign of love, literally. What does that mean, or say, in a philosophical sense, about starting again and again, and making oneself in relation to, or out of, another’s work?
3. You are presumably using different forms of documentation as research material
for the performance. Will this lead to different approaches, e.g. precise
re-creations, speculative versions of descriptions?
We only used video documentation, and we present all the selections in a performance mode. That is, we do not describe the work but enact it, and always with precision, but not necessarily precisely re-enacting the document as recorded. We do not, for example, reproduce everything that is on stage. When we tried to reproduce aspects of the stage image, we sometimes found it to be very difficult. One beginning, for example, used a large stuffed animal, a brown seal. After days of failed searches, we settled on a large white manatee. In some cases, when we contacted the artists, they offered us pointers on details of the work that the video did not capture. That dialogue has been immensely exciting.
4. How concerned are you about making an authentic re-creation and whose version of authenticity are you going by?
Some of the artists observe the convention of referring to themselves by name. Our question then becomes: do our performers refer to themselves by their own names, or do they use the artist’s names? Which would be authentic? If the video document records a clear accident, do we recreate the accident, even though it presumably never repeated itself on an alternate night? Which would be more authentic, adhering to the video or pursuing the artist’s intention? Is it a question of authenticity or of authority? Each moment seems to demand its own set of rules, or constraints, with no uniform measure, and disciplined adherence to those constraints gives the performance its authority.
Maybe it’s more like this: when we climbed into the teleportation booth, we did not know that one of these artists was also in there with us. So when we teleported to the destination, we found that our supercomputer had merged us with that artist at the DNA level. Now finding out what that means is our process of rediscovering who we are (hopefully not a horror movie remake).
5. Do performances add up or do they multiply?
While the sequence is linear, the echoes are multidirectional. Each silence also has a double life, since for us a consequent silence is also an anterior silence, a silence-after also a silence-before. This makes for a strange transparency. One could say our performance, even more than usual, protests against the irreversibility of time.
6. How will you multiply or reduce yourselves depending on the numbers of performers in each piece?
In one case, we turned a trio into a duet, which means we need to repeat the sequence six times to exhaust all the permutations.
7. If you are choosing performances with different audience/viewer/participant formats, how are you going to address that? Will everyone have to move around? Will the movement reorient to reflect this?
For this project, we are more interested in the nuance of shifting relations even when the audience never leave their seats. Part of our task has been to clarify those different audience-performer relationships, and those different rhythms, from one beginning to the next. This has sometimes meant amplifying the differences. The continuity of the same set of performers hopefully lends our piece its coherence and sense of journey. We want our piece to add up to a complete experience by the end, without sacrificing the complexity of a work that keeps restarting.
8. Where do 9 beginnings end?
I mentioned the three types of beginnings: the expository preamble, the ritual threshold, and the disorientation effect. At first we arranged our three acts in that order. But as we watched the archival material on video in sequence, it became clear that order needed to reverse. This allows the performance to land by ending with the hyper-beginnings. A statement of what is to come, even though it never arrives, closes the piece with a clear imaginary image, and becomes its own fulfilment.
9. Why 9?
Numbers indicate structure, which means pattern. Gregory Bateson differentiated between, for example, five as a quantity and five as a pattern. We can say the same for nine. Structure offers limits within which we can find creative possibility. Clarity of structure can allow an audience to feel more at ease, especially if the performance takes unexpected turns. As long as the container is legible, the performance is legible – the echoes become more pronounced, as in music.
Nine is the largest possible single digit number, and it fractions symmetrically into three parts, each of those three parts also made of three parts, because it is a cube. We thought of our use of nine as a three-act play of sorts, or a sonata in three movements. Then we were able to find three cases of each of the three types of beginnings, and sequence them accordingly. If you add one more, you reach ten, and that brings a different degree of closure, since the tenth increment echoes back to the first. One of the inspirations for this project’s shape was Italo Calvino’s novel If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, for which Calvino wrote a series of first chapters of imaginary novels. I remembered his number as nine, but in fact he wrote ten chapters. After some consideration, we decided to change our performance in one way. I am guessing, from the numbering system of these questions, that you already know that. But you will still have to see our show to see what we did.
Interview by Sedated by a Brick
9 Beginnings is a performance from Every House Has a Door developed in response to an invitation from Performing Documents. Every House Has A Door will restage the beginnings of 9 historical performances by 9 different artists or companies found in the Arnolfini archive or University of Bristol’s Live Art Archives, and re-imagine them as a new composition.
Fri 14 Sep 2012, 7.30pm. £10/£8 Concs (15 Sep performance is free with ‘Remake’ Symposium Ticket).