What follows are more possible tools for performance groups. These are all from the GHP Experimental Performance Manual.
Here are some project suggestions which could build upon your work with the Vocal Sequence, the Art of Telling the Truth, Hysterical Hygenesis, and Enigma Alignment.
You are to imagine an event from your past which didn’t really happen. In other words, relate some piece of your history which is plausible given your life and situation…but not actually true; you will relate it to the audience as if it is true. Don’t go over three minutes.
Your task is to describe the experience so that the audience can get as close to the reality as possible. Stick with description; try to avoid planning an emotional display. Emotion is cheap; every streetcorner hustler is able to tell a tearful tale. Immerse yourself in the act of description and see what emotions arise. Don’t force anything. Surprise yourself and the audience.
When you describe, you are encouraged to explore all of the existential categories: time, space, body, objects, and intersubjectivity. Attend to each of them as you create your monologue and your storytelling power will develop and take you in some unexpected directions. Three of the categories have familiar names, time, space, body, and mean what you think they mean. “Objects” seems familiar but can be tricky, even thoughts can be objects or contain objects. Intersubjectivity means your experience with others, recognition, communication, relations, rivalry, love, etc.
Be aware that your performance of the monologue will also exist within these same categories. The way these two sets of fundamental categories intersect and diverge within the story and through the way the act of telling unfolds is the stuff of art. Go forth and create.
1. You and a partner will decide upon some task which the two of you could accomplish while in our meeting space in less than five minutes. It need not be a task requiring physical effort; it could be realized solely through some kind of communication, but its completion must make demands on both of you. You are to play yourself in this event. Develop the performance through improvisation in the following way: 1) decide upon the task 2) each of you think of an obstacle to the completion of the task which might be true for you, keeping it realistic (your obstacle cannot be related to the fact you are secretly married to the Prince of Norway, for instance), and do not tell your partner of this obstacle 3) rehearse trying to complete the task and introduce the obstacle in the course of improvising; let the ensuing conflict become part of the event 4) your task may or may not get completed 5) use the result of your exploration to create a script for the scene; keep it under five minutes. Perform for the group.
2. Decide which event in one of your “Art of Telling the Truth” monologues you and your partner would like to explore as a performed scene. Develop a script through conversation and improvisation, creating simple performance conventions and keeping it under five minutes; the time limit may require you to pick just part of the event or some aftermath, choose what works best, and use Aristotle as a guide: one time span, one place, one action. You may “hire” additional actors if absolutely necessary, but creating the final script is your and your partner’s responsibility. Perform for the group.
You will pick one of Blake’s Songs of Innocence or Songs of Experience and perform it for the group, in a manner not too unlike oral interpretation. Text memorized, of course. Use the elements of voice we have been exploring to make your presentation a compelling live event. Use the existential elements of time, space, body, object and intersubjectivity to give the event texture, nuance and detail.
Something new to consider when you tackle your text: Why do we make poems? Why do we make? Why do we read poems, words, make utterances, put meaningful sounds out there for those with ears to hear? Give yourself the goal of finding something in your chosen lyric which goes beyond the words, something which sparks a desire, propels an interest or want, reveals a question. Something private and unique to you. Can you put it into words, or images, or sensations? Maybe, maybe not. It may not lend itself to words, but find a way to make it familiar (familiar does not mean comfortable, unless that’s the appropriate feeling at work). And keep it a secret; you will not be expected to tell anyone what it is. Once you have hold of such a beyond, as you develop your performance, point the audience toward that same beyond–by focus, by character, by implication, by action, by energy, WITHOUT NAMING IT. Guide us down the path as you interpret your lyric, but don’t tell us where you’re leading us. Once we arrive, just help us to sit there a while and take it in.
In this ordeal someone performs a monologue created for the “Art of Telling the Truth” exercise for a group of auditory cartographers. These special listeners then craft individual performances derived from their particular listening maps.
Performers sit about a space, paper and pencil in hand, eyes closed. The monologist moves into their midst and introjects the monologue (see the Vocal Sequence description). Each of the listeners has an ear for something particular in the speech of the monologist:
One listens for any reference to what issues from or goes into the mouth.
Another listens for any reference to holding on to or casting off something valuable or repugnant.
One listens for any moment of bodily sensation, pleasant and unpleasant.
One listens for any hint of violence.
Another focuses on what eyes behold or shut out.
Another tunes into what ears take in or shut out.
Finally, one has the obligation to misprise, to misunderstand, to search for mistakes, to find homonyms and puns and create double-entendres.
When a listener hears a relevant word or phrase, only then will he or she open the eyes and write down the chosen elements. The eyes will then close and the listener resume listening. The monologist may have to perform the piece twice to satisfy the listeners.
Each listener now has a map for a performance and will take some time to follow the chain of words and phrases in various exploratory and improvisational ways until a solo performance event takes shape. This performance should follow whatever path the map suggests; it may turn out to be discursive, dramatic, musical, kinetic, abstract, or any combination of these (or something else).
Several structures off performance are now possible for an audience. Some suggestions:
Monologue alone, then each listener doing his or her piece alone.
All of the listeners performing simultaneously, intuiting a kind of musical coordination among themselves; then monologue alone.
Monologue with all performers, a grand orchestration.
All listeners, then monologue and listeners, then monologist playing to the listeners and adjusting their work to make it more specific in coordination with his or her words.
Think of other sequences or fragmentations.
Three (or four, nothing’s ever perfect) of you will decide upon a task which could never under any circumstance be accomplished in no amount of time, certainly not in our meeting space. Create a reservoir which contains the following: images from magazines and newspapers and other published sources which you find interesting or banal or repugnant or silly, and snatches of text clipped from published sources which you find interesting or banal or repugnant or silly, and small items which evoke sensations of color, and items not associated with seeing at all but which affect our other senses. Each of you, away from your partners, will close your eyes and draw out a few items from the reservoir. Let these items help you create a fantastical identity for yourself with an appropriate name. Don’t reveal your identity; reflect it, rather, as you improvise completing the task with the characters your partners have created in the same way. Have your reservoir at hand as you improvise because your first words must be pulled from the reservoir (you may sort through, this time, to find something which strikes you), your next line may come from your imagination, and you must alternate thereafter through the improvisation, found words then imagined words (or actions, keep possibilities open). Use a collage format to help you script the scene. The collage (which may include written or painted or drawn or inscribed elements as well as specimens from the reservoir, keep possibilities open) should try to represent your performance piece in some way and serve as a developing script as you work. It should also be an artwork in and of itself. Suitable for framing. Keep the resulting performance to five minutes. Props and costumes and music are choices to be made. What we are playing with here involves a truer definition of Surrealism than the one offered by the networks.
Find a word in the Oxford English Dictionary which has a number of meanings, the printed definitions and entymologies and usages taking up a sizable amount of column space. You will create a performance derived from the word and definitions and origins in the following way:
As a group begin reading through the entry, sharing the task in various ways. Do a number of readings uninterrupted by comments.
Read through with everyone having permission to interrupt the reading with whatever comes to mind. Let the performer who interrupts “show” the group a number of implications and examples of whatever he or she wishes to share. Give others the opportunity to respond debate or elaborate. Continue reading through. Do this a number of times.
Each person in the group tell something he or she has imagined about someone else in the group while working on the dictionary material, take risks but maintain respect and goodwill. Others can respond as appropriate.
Begin working through the entry again. Try to find words or images which have developed special meanings among you through your associations and shared intimacies. See if you can distill your communications down to certain resonant words, gestures and images. All of the group must give understanding and show recognition of each suggestion.
Let the word and its entry inspire a scenario. Now that the group has a “secret history” surrounding their adventures with the word, use aspects of the history to flesh out the performance. Use your private words and images. Do not try to tell the audience what it means in the course of the performance. Try to employ some of the expressive techniques you have been exploring in class. It should have truth and value for the group alone but be clearly articulated as a performance. You want to reach the audience with your truth but not try to explain anything. Give the work a title; it need not have any connection to the original word. The performance need not be “about” the word; it might wind up deriving from other aspects of your reading adventure.
The piece should last no more than ten minutes. Costumes and other elements are choices to make. Etch the work clearly and present your mysteries and private visions in clear relief. Think about the distinctiveness of hieroglyphics or the boldness of gesture in modern art. It can be a drama, an epic account, a musical event, or something else. What is important is to connect with your private history as a little group immersed in a common world of meaning.
You will not be the same when you return to the land of the living. You will have new knowledge and abilities. You will possess new powers. You will no longer be able to rest content with the opportunities and expectations performers your age generally encounter. Your methods and minds will be moving beyond the producer’s or ad executive’s recommendation to suck in your cheeks, put your hand to your chin, and kind of whisper your line to show how “sensitive and sexy” your character is. You will tend to look with distrust upon media. Media mediates (look it up and explore the implications). You will encounter small, media-ogre egos trying to control and “finesse” the “project.” You will encounter “directors” with “ideas” and “pros” with advice on fool-proof audition pieces (though maybe some really are…you prove you are a fool in doing them).
The problem, of course, is you will now see how the power of your art has been diluted and diffused in the name of progress and profit. You are being disconnected from the source. But now you know what the source feels like, so you will be less inclined too let go of it.
Once you have the Vocal Sequence somewhat under your belts, do this exercise. It is an exercise in understanding your position, your power, and the importance of courage. If you are continuing to feel a need to apologize for your presence and your voice (and why is this so?–since you will get unconditional respect from your peers and teachers, you must be struggling with something else), this exercise should move you a long way toward conquering doubts.
Stand at one end of a space and begin the vocal sequence. Begin with eyes closed. When you eventually open your eyes, you will see performers standing shoulder to shoulder in a line facing you about thirty feet away. Continue your sequence making eye contact with the performers. The leader of the line will clap and the line will move one step toward you. Continue the sequence. Someone in the line will shout out a question about what you are doing. You will immediately start to respond to the question in any way you see fit through the sequence, stopping and exploring where you will. The leader will clap and the line will take two steps. Another question will be posed based on what you are vocalizing at that moment. You will respond through the sequence. Clap and the line takes three steps. Another question. You respond.
The line will continue to approach. The process continues. Once the line is nose to nose with you, it will subsequently begin to encircle you. You continue making contact, responding, and performing the sequence, becoming absorbed and creating where appropriate in the process. Ultimately, when all are packed in as close as possible, the leader of the line will pick up your vocal impulse, whatever it may be at that moment, and vocally follow you. Others will join in until you are one compact sounding mass.
The line members are not just sadistically trying to make you crumble. Their questions are to be specific, based exclusively on the words they hear you speaking. They may even purposefully misunderstand you: you might say “if able” and someone might respond “what fable?” In fact, ultimately, they are trying to hear everything you say differently from how you mean it or your text means it. This kind of questioning is a skill which can prove useful in group creation of performance pieces, actually.
Set aside your present working ideas about staging and consider staging as a way to represent a thought, any thought. Any statement, observation, question, or formulation can be staged. To stage something is to translate it from its customary form into a staged presentation, to move from what is customary to the unaccustomed. To stage something is to look at it and think about it in a new way.
The thought experiment is a staging of sorts. Descartes imagined a trickster god manipulating his sensations and then wondered what was left: cogito ergo sum. Einstein tried to see the world while sitting on a particle (or wave) of light. Schroedinger imagined a cat in a box that was neither alive nor dead. Thinkers sometimes stage their thoughts in an effort to illustrate as well as to illuminate.
Talk to your acquaintances in other disciplines (science, social studies, language, etc.) and collect from them some formulations, thoughts, maxims, principles and questions near and dear to their hearts, the stuff their disciplines get excited over. Find a way to stage one or two of them.
A suggested method: How many entities are present? What is the spatial arrangement of these entities? Is the space abstract or can it be made more concrete? What qualifies as action (action as verb informed, not necessarily movement related, remember your Stanislavsky)? Is time implied? Is change implied? Can entities be grouped? Are there any entities which cannot be brought into certain groups? Should the staging be dramatic (souls in situations; people in predicaments) or something other…? What outcome is implied?
Wider implications: If you are in a group working with appearances and actions and expressions which are to wind up in some kind of compelling performance, are there ways to think within the group which involve performance from the get go? How might you show an observation or show a question? In other words, how do you keep things from deteriorating into talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk……………………….?
Think of ways to organize vocal events which use some of what you have been exploring with the vocal sequence. Create a musical score which somehow arranges events through time. Use any text. Use found phrases. Use sounds, textures, expulsions. Find creative ways to organize your ideas into notation which other performers can interpreter and follow, with or without a conductor. You decide. Do you long to conduct?
If you have access to other sound or tone sources and want to incorporate them, do so. Include musical elements such as sung lines, etc. Your piece could be scrupulously marked out with every element planned and timed, or you could explore more aleatory structures which depend on a certain flexibility and randomness of effects and juxtapositions, chance encounters might predominate.
The score could turn into a background soundtrack for something else or be the foregrounded event itself. It could become music for choreography or the impulse for images. Think about juxtaposing it with excerpts from something else you have already created.
Here’s a little exercise to get everyone focused in a way to work on such a score once you’ve conceived it. Choose a few sentences of a text. Break it down so each performer is responsible for one word in each sentence. The performers should then try to speak so that it creates the illusion of one person uttering the sentences. It requires timing, attention and practice. If you get good, try it with syllables. If everyone gets acclimated to working with this much detail, they can do anything.
One extreme exploration in a score might involve giving each person an initial set of guidelines without any instructions about time or duration and then letting the event unfold like free jazz with no further interference. The result could seem like a group Vocal Sequence exploration with a certain polyphonic quality, or it could evolve into a group improvisation which fuses vocalizing, physicality and unexpected psychological stakes.
We must not neglect the shaman’s role as healer. (Nor the researcher’s in producing treatments and medications.)
Imagine a soul which is broken, scattered, injured, lost. Or imagine the absence of a soul, only incoherent fragments. Create a performance intended to work as a healing intervention.
Your patient might be a person, a group, a country, a world, an idea. To bring healing you either need to restore something or create something new. Your performance needs to go beyond just representing the current state of affairs; it is an active intervention to bring about change.
Is your broken soul in the audience or elsewhere? Or is there a performer who represents what is broken or lost and who is participating directly in the performance?
Let’s use the creation of identity as an example. You have only fragments; perhaps some kind of life is implied, some past, something vaguely human. What is needed? You need a consistent image, something which stays the same each time the mirror is consulted. Perhaps you need a metaphor for consistency, for unity. You need a history, a past which tells a story, an account of how and why something came into life and how it survived till now, whether it really had a life worth living or not. You need communication. Love? Hate? Intimacy? You need questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” and “What is wanted of me?” You need things to happen and be forgotten, leaving only traces and tantalizing leftovers. You need dreams and fantasies and desires. What if creating a self out of a mess is just a matter of introducing one new fold in the fabric, one special knotting of the web?
You as researcher or shaman have to craft an act which will accomplish these things. And lest you think this is all a bit extreme and abstract, remember Prince Hamlet’s lament: The time is out of joint, O cursed spite,/ that ever I was born to set it right! Great dramatic art depicts such acts, successful and disastrous.
A shaman might say: “You want a cure for cancer but do not consult the storytellers!” This is a metaphorical pronouncement designed to provoke, not a callous and injurious verdict on human suffering. Maybe you want to attempt an act of healing which involves removing something. Perhaps a malignancy needs to be discovered and dissolved, along with all it has affected. Or a tumor needs to be transformed into a life giving entity.
Souls in situations, the stuff of drama. We are still talking about nothing but the role of theatre in the cultures of the world.
Share your thoughts at the Performance Group Potlatch.