I am moving forward with my last performance, which was a site specific piece for the vestry of a synagogue, and contemplating performing it in another venue, in order to decide whether it works in a site other than the one it was made for. I have already taken it to the Jewish Museum in London where I pretty much gave the performance as a presentation complete with power point in order to allow the audience to visualize the space. I have yet to perform it as my original draft, which was as a coffee morning complete with coffee and cakes. Performing in a kosher building came with rules I had to honor and I was not allowed to take homemade cakes into the building, therefore I had to have a plan B. I will have to be very particular about what space I use and then I will need to decide how I am going to talk about the performance. When I performed it in the vestry it was certainly site-specific but looking at the different mutations of this genre it starts to get quite complicated. In Mapping the Terrain Fiona Wilkie asked ‘What do performance makers mean by site? how specific is site-specific?’ In her questionnaire to various theatre companies she concluded that ‘the only generalisation that can be drawn from the attempts within the questionnaire to define site-specific performance is that it is concerned with issues of place and the real spaces of performance’ (New Theatre Quarterly, 70:148). Most companies would recognise that by performing site-specific work you can reach audiences who, for one reason or another, do not engage with theatrical performances within a theatre building. My reason for performing in the vestry was to not only transmit some local social history through performance, but to start a cultural conversation with the owners of the site, the people who came to see it and myself. Now, I want to see if I can keep that conversation going.
Site specific – site sensitive – site determined – site orientated – site referenced – site conscious – site responsive – site related – site inspired – site generic.
The above are all terms that have been used within the genre of sited work. For my performance in the Jewish Museum I decided on site generic, but was I right? Site generic is a term that means a performance that can be taken to a series of like sites but the Jewish Museum did not have a vestry so why did I use it? I deliberated for a long time. When I first visited the vestry I was surprised at the term vestry as I associated it with a Christian church, plus other Jews I spoke to said they did not have a vestry at their synagogue. So I researched and noted that other spaces, functioning as the vestry at the Plymouth synagogue did, were indeed called other names – community hall being one of them. I then looked at what the room was used for and, although each synagogue will have its varied uses, there will be a nucleus of similar events that are common to all. Meetings, coffee after the services, social events etc, so if you take each building and find the space that encompasses these things then we have a like space, do we not? In the museum the event space I was performing in was used for many things, readings, meetings, social events and, it was directly alongside the cafe so coffee was readily available. Some might say this is tenuous and if I take this piece to another space it will be interesting to witness the outcome and, maybe, I will have to use another description. Of course the one thing that related the vestry and the museum was their cultural connection, so I could have used the term, site-related. Now, in the future I may be using a non Jewish space so, even though I will be able to perform my piece as I originally intended to, I will not be in a space that has that cultural relationship. So what does that mean? Site-inspired or site-determined? or maybe a new term altogether.
Wilkie, Fiona (2002) ‘Mapping the Terrain: a Survey of Site-Specific Performance in Britain’ New Theatre Quarterly. 70, p140-60.