Performance Perspectives

We were asked to choose a chapter from Performance Perspectives: a critical introduction, (2011) edited by Jonathan Pitches and Sita Popat, then undertake the solo activity at the end of the chosen chapter and write a 400 word summary of your activity.

My chosen chapter was ‘Space’ which concentrated on practitioner/academics working with architecture and theatre space and the interpretation of that space. I chose this chapter for two reasons, one because it chimes with my chosen subject of site specific theatre and the other because I have personal connections with the chapter case study House by Wilson+Wilson 1998.

Solo Activity, reflection on ‘What is Scenography’ – including “are there moments from performances that you have experienced that you remember specifically for their scenographic impact”.

Less of a practical activity and more a reflection on the chapter and with questions to actively follow, I was initially disappointed, with my performer hat on, that there was not a practical aspect, but indeed reflecting on the ‘activity’ I concluded that unpicking text and answering questions precisely and in my own words, was a good task for me at this given moment. Scenography has evolved over time as a term where performers interact with the space rather than in front of it (i.e. a painted set or backdrop) creating a relationship with the place and the complete world of the performance. For performance makers and scenographers it means there is a fluid and elemental relationship in the creation of the performance. An audience will experience this kind of performance in a completely different way, with a better understanding of the ‘world’ of the piece and, I believe, engage with it in a far more emotional way.

In the late 1980’s I saw a production of Lorca’s Yerma in Spanish, the stage was a vast trampoline, a tarpaulin stretched tight, suspended by cables that could be pulled taut to convey the landscape of the hot baked barren Spanish earth, stage technicians became part of the cast as they hauled the set up and down. I had never seen anything like it, the set worked so well to convey not only the landscape but also the emotional and tragic experiences of the characters, it needed no explanation as it worked seamlessly with the actors and the text. The set became a huge aspect of the experience and indeed a player in it’s own right with the technicians taking a bow alongside the actors in the curtain call as if to acknowledge the scenographical nature if the play.

A decade later in House (Wilson+Wilson 1998)  a site specific performance where the audience was taken through two small terraced houses awaiting renovation by Kirklees council. The objects and the very fabric of the properties inspired the creative team; their research into the history of the houses became their creative content. The installations, as you were led around the rooms, seemed as if they had been there for many years and we had just happened upon them – a moment suspended in time. The collaboration with research, text, sound, design and performers created a complete sensory experience in the world of that house.

As the well-made play and the proscenium arch become out dated, audiences are demanding greater spatial expectations, this can be seen currently in the work of Shunt, dreamthinkspeak, Punchdrunk and Wildworks, to name but a few mainstream companies.

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