Tag Archives: Phil Smith

dramaturgical strategies for solo performance

So as a solo performer I have to create a strategy for my solo work. My supervisor, Professor Roberta Mock, went ahead and created a solo performance when her collaborator pulled out. Her performance of Down/town was, as Matthew Reisz said in the Times Higher Education,  ‘a cabaret act followed by a more formal lecture’ that ‘demonstrated’ her research work. You can read Reisz’s article here. Mock believes that you are in a very vulnerable place making a piece of solo work essentially on your own. There is always a danger that it could be too inward looking, too personal, too self-indulgent, or simply inexplicable. Mock went ahead with the show as a solo piece using the applied dramaturgy of the disciplines she already knew, that of directing and sceneography. By using the disciplines she felt at home in first, Mock was able to ‘fill in’ the gaps from years of group devising with students, years of watching and observing. She then asked a fellow artist/lecturer, and someone she could trust, to watch the show four days before the performance to give her a second opinion.

I saw a show called The Lad Lit Project about a month ago performed by Alexander Kelly, the co-artistic director of Third Angel. Third Angel would normally work around two co-directors, one being “a foil”  to the other, when not actually in the piece. In this instance the second director was unavailable so Alex asked Deirdre Heddon to be involved in the development of the piece. Being geographically miles apart they started an email conversation and having no previous knowledge of the genre of lad lit Heddon was able to ask authentically objective questions. The email conversation also enabled Kelly to be reflective on his acting out of Heddon’s provocations, in order to articulate clearly back to her. Although the word ‘dramaturgy’ didn’t get mentioned until the end of the five-month process, the provocations that Heddon asked and that Kelly had to address they realized had become a dramaturgical enquiry, therefore giving their combined essay on their correspondence, a title, Distance Dramaturgy. (Heddon & Kelly, 2010). Each show that Kelly makes has a different strategy but he accepts that he needs an-‘other’, or a ‘foil’, as he prefers to say, for dramaturgical imput.

Phil Smith calls his ‘foil’ an ‘outside eye’ – Smith makes performance walks and for his 2004 Crab Walks he used actor Anjali Jay as his dramaturgical aide. Because Jay had accompanied Smith on some of the walks he was going to use ‘she was able to identify what was key in their affect, and cut away unnecessary “setting up” and glosses’ that were evident in Smith’s first draft. What came into play here was the fact that Jay herself was a performer, so she was able to use her actor’s dramaturgy and, in doing so, she enabled Smith himself to perform the text, she ‘made it performer friendly, and audience friendly’.

It seems to me from these examples that the addition of a second set of eyes that can watch the performance at a point before the intended audience, but with enough time to make adjustments, is a priority. Whatever we call that person, an outside eye, a foil, a collaborator, this one intervention can stop the solo performer creator from becoming, in  Mock’s words, ‘too inward looking, too personal, too self-indulgent’.

Smith has also worked without a second set of eyes but he claims he has taken on board a lot of what his outside eyes gave him and is quite fierce with himself. Smith works site-specifically, where the site itself can suggest what should come next. The site itself becomes the collaborator and part of an extended dramaturgy and, as Smith points out, ‘you should respect the site’s layers and textures as the first script’.

All quotes from personal or email conversations.

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First Steps Towards a Site-Specific Performance 1

Well my project proposal is in and in a months time I will know whether it has been excepted and I will be able to share my journey with you on this blog. Yesterday was my final day at university before Christmas and I have been given homework alongside my own reading to do. On the same day, I received through the post Site Specific Performance by Mike Pearson, and performing site specific theatre edited by Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins. I think it’s safe to say, that if you are only reading this post, you can guess what the subject of my proposal may be from the titles of my new reading books. My homework entails taking one of my aims and devising an exercise that will help me achieve it, then showing it back on January 10th.

With my aims in mind I am going to look at Phil Smith’s first steps towards site-specific performance, I know there’s a similar exercise in the Mike Pearson book so I will be explaining the outcome in a new year post having applied both ideas.

Starting Out

Working in a non-theatre site is very different from working in a theatre. From the start it is best to assume everything will be unfamiliar. You are taking a journey that begins in the dark. “Site-specificity” means getting your inspiration from and working in and for your site. Sharp perception counts for more than past experience. Long before you get to “script”, “plot” or “character”, your site should be touched, stroked, collected from, mapped, played in, observed, framed, listened to and analysed. Maybe inhabit it for a while?

You can use the destinationless “drift” of the situationists: follow your instincts, feel out the atmospheres of places, choose your site according to its psychological (or “psychogeographical”) effect on you. This way you are more likely to find genuinely hidden places, rather than ones widely known as “unknown”.

There is a rough theatricality about places that are usually unvisited – basements, rooftops, tunnels. Just looking and discovering may provide you with material for performance.

Found a site that attracts you? Then fingertip search it like a crime-scene, diagnose it like a sick body, wander in it as if it were a dream. Speculate on how it came to be like it is. Write its creation myth. Once the site begins to respond in its own terms, adopt those terms as your own.

Smith, Phil (2010) ‘Endnotes’ in The Hidden City Festival Handbook. Ed. Roberta Mock. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press