The Psychoanalytic Performer: an invitation to the unknowing

What follows is what I hope will be seen as a charming introduction, taken from the GHP Experimental Performance Manual.

What does a performer do?

Last year we asserted the performer was a Shaman.

This year we will see the performer as a Scientist.

Neither comparison is true…

What are you? An actor, an artist, a performer? A Student? A Shaman? A Scientist?

Not one of these is true…

“They’re all true.” Perhaps that’s true. But as a formulation a bit too tried and true. We’ll see…

“Your name here.” What are you?

Your name here. That’s true. Your head probably turns when you hear it. Hear what? “It” in the previous sentence refers to…

Your name? Performer? “Adolescent?” Artist? Friend? Scientist? Are any of these true?

What do you do as a performer? What do you do as “Your name here?” Besides turn your head when called…

Performance Artist. That’s a phrase which makes your teacher comfortable.

Last year: “The Performance Artist is like a Shaman…”

This year: “The Performance Artist is like a Scientist…”

Your teacher wants to keep both terms in play because he can’t let go of the first to embrace the second exclusively.

It’s fashionable in such a situation to inscribe the slash: /

The slash is not a cut in this case but rather a…conjoining? Interesting. “Both/and…”

Your teacher pauses at the choice of the word “embrace” in a recent sentence.

Your teacher wonders about the choice of the word “comfortable” in a recent sentence.

You ask questions.

Your teacher is characterizing you as someone who asks questions. Is that true?

Your teacher asks questions because not only is he preoccupied with questions–with questions of performance, particularly, at present, and with the performing of questions–but also because he is a student of psychoanalysis.

You might as well know that at the outset. Doesn’t mean he’s interested in whether or not you are sane. He’s trying to find out what psychoanalysis can say about the art of performance.

Psychoanalysis is the study of how we ask and answer questions, among other things.

It also studies how people get from one thing…

To the next.

Note the “curious” way in which this introduction is composed: words, assertions, identities, questions…

And a pause between one thing and the next.

The pauses are included for your use. No extra charge.

What happens between one thing…

And the next?

What happens when you are asked a question?

What happens when you read a word?

And when that word is brought into a relationship with another word?

Where are you?

Who’s reading?

Speak the word.

And the next…

Who’s speaking?

Whose speaking?

There will be more puns. Puns pretend to play while purporting to point.

Who’s there nay answer me stand and unfold yourself…A bit of Shakespeare. From the first scene of Hamlet. Shakespeare is surely an example of a writer’s words on a page producing many questions in the reader. What’s the matter my lord between who what do you read my lord…more Shakespeare.

What about my language? “My” being given special emphasis in the uttering. “What about my language–Shakespeare doesn’t speak to me…”

Word words words…

Consider the word “uttering.” Strange word. Makes your teacher think “uddering.” Milking…Something performers know about.

Your teacher wants to reassure you about this not being a Shakespeare seminar but also wants to avoid absolutes. On this occasion.

No one is ever speaking to you.


Bold assertion, that. True? Surely not true. But…Are there ways in which it might be true?

Another assertion: The actor cannot take speaking at face value.

When you speak in a performance you try to summon something very particular and powerful, don’t you? Memorable, even? How? And what makes you so memorable and powerful and meaningful?

Full of meaning…Uttering…Milking…

James Cagney: “Just look the other fellow in the eye and tell the truth.”

We want to agree because we revere James Cagney, but…

“look”(“the eye”) +“tell”(ears to hear?)(mouths of babes?)+”other”=”the truth”

Complex equation, that. What are we agreeing to do?

From now on to the end what you will be reading is a Laboratory Manual for the Experimenting Performance Artist. In it you will find some fundamental structures to use as a foundation for creating new theatre performance possibilities. The next century belongs to the geneticists, they say, so think of yourself as a scientist growing new life forms in a Petri dish. Also included in the manual are exercises created from the fundamental structures, to give you illustrations of how to move ahead. Also included are the un-exorcizable spirits of shamans from an earlier time. They haunt some of the words. They rest in some of the pauses. May they help guide you in moments when science is silent. Common factor: both scientists and shamans have found ways to negotiate with chthonic entities.

Start a conversation at the Performance Group Potlatch.

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