Taking the specific out of Site-specific

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Vera in the Vestry at the Jewish Museum, London

Taken on a phone camera by a member of the audience we will forgo the quality and look at what the picture tells us.I was invited to perform my Plymouth University MRes practice as research piece at the Jewish Museum after performing at the Plymouth Synagogue – the site it was inspired by and intended for. So what does one do when you take the specificity out of a site-specific performance? In this instance I was performing in a room that usually housed talks and readings, it was geared up for this activity. Part of my performance involves taking family photographs out of a suitcase and placing them on a table but as I had an AV system at my disposal I thought I would take advantage and project images behind me as I related to them. I had originally thought I would just project an image of the vestry, the room I used for my Plymouth performance, behind me and imagine I was within the room and not change anything in my text. Then as I went over my script I realised that there were things I had to explain to an audience who were not actually sitting in the vestry. Things that the Plymouth audience witnessed first hand. Therefore before the ‘performance’ started I gave a brief talk to contextualise the vestry, it’s place within the city and why I had come to make the performance there. We decided to call the performance ‘a performance talk’ which seemed to fit well within the space that is set up for that. Having decided to contextualise it I then took advantage of the fact I could project larger images behind me and continued to produce images to help the audience visualise my content. Therefore, in the end I constantly referred to my performance in the vestry and didn’t try and pretend I was there. I have to say that my performance was geared up to allow those references. I had always referred to Vera in the Vestry as ‘starting a cultural conversation’ and felt that I could just interject at times without taking anything away from the text. There was even someone in the audience who had been with me at a point I refer to in the performance so I asked her if she remembered, which also highlighted the conversational aspect. The feed back was really positive, people liked the ‘talk’ aspect and the information about the Plymouth synagogue, indeed the wider context about Plymouth and where the synagogue sits within the city. I had feared that would come across as a history lesson.

In Plymouth I welcomed the audience into the vestry as if there were coming to a coffee morning and I was the host, I offered coffee and cake and introduced people to one another if I saw fit – just like a host would if people were arriving at their home and introductions were needed.

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In the museum I hadn’t any coffee or cakes but the event space was directly next to the museum cafe which worked really well. The audience arrived and I told them to get a coffee and introduced them to whoever was waiting in the cafe. This had been the interesting part in Plymouth for me, people on arrival were always questioning whether I was in character as Vera or Ruth. They couldn’t work it out, I was greeting them as Ruth but seemed to be attired as someone else. This made me question my ‘performance’ as myself and how being a host is actually a performance in our everyday life. In the museum I was replicating this part of my performance by greeting people as they arrived and keeping up the appearance of being Ruth whilst obviously about to be someone else.

And now Vera is going to Latitude and will be performing in a caravan or tent. How will I adapt for an audience of five? Well, I will remember the campsite retreat where I did a ten minute performance and take inspiration from that. I think a 1950’s flask is in order, to give my audience some coffee and I’ll have some Kit Kats handy. Watch this space and I will tell you how it goes. Oh and keep your fingers crossed for good weather, Vera doesn’t camp very well.

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