Performance Composition - Sample Essay
The words performance and performer are so often used in a various number of contexts that their true definition has, in a way, been diluted. Performance is essentially a disputed concept. It is also a complex and constantly shifting concept. One of the main things that I found challenging yet fascinating on this module is the exploration of the definition of performance and a desire within myself to define it. Our understanding of the term “Performance” has inevitably developed over the duration of the course and the consideration of this definition is where my creativity sprang from.
At one point or another we are all conscious of playing a role. All human actions could potentially be perceived as a performance. Therefore, if you are conscious of yourself you are performing. Some people’s actions are carried out without thought, but when we think about them a consciousness is present and this is what equates them with being a performance. The distinct conflict between traditional theatre and modern performance that was outlined at the beginning of the course caught my attention immediately.
Traditional theatre centered on developing a dramatic role i. e. Shakespeare’s Macbeth and when devising a play in class I often took the same attitude and undertook a specific role or characteristic in my character. Whereas, In Modern Performance, work is not based upon a character but rather the performers own experiences or own bodies as a stimulus. This module emphasises this fact and it was evident in people’s final pieces. For example Katie clearly did not take on a role or character in her piece but she called upon her own life experience (Self-Harm) and her consciousness of this made it performative.
So from the outset I was aware of a definite challenge present between traditional and modern performance and I found myself at a crossroads as to which one I was drawn too. In the majority of my performance modules I have often struggled with confidence and stage presence. Afterall, if you do not have the required confidence deep down then your stage presence will also be missing. At times I am easily intimidated, especially among other performance students and I believe that this was sometimes reflected in my early practical work especially in Improvisation.
Aside from this, my ideas and creativity in tasks compensate for this slight problem. Throughout the majority of my individual practical work, my strength of mind overcomes my other fears concerning the tasks set. One task we were set was to present an emotional piece, with a choice of shouting, singing, crying and laughing. Despite the simplicity of the task, I found this somewhat testing as it is an extreme display of emotion thus performing this would be exposing myself to the group.
This was the exercise in which I realised how my lack of confidence would consequently inhibit my ability so as a result of this I had to alter my frame of mind when delivering these certain performances. One of the key aspects I learnt about performance composition is that every part of the piece is like a puzzle piece in a jigsaw; the small pieces make a big difference. A detail such as the set design is fundamental to the piece. Theatre in a word is Potential. It is an immense and changeable space which is open to experimentation and expression. Adolph Appia believed light, space and form were central to the piece itself.
If the set is not used to its full extent and purpose this can change the overall meaning of piece. An element such as light can be adapted in so many ways such as the use of shadow in my final piece, which would have evoked a different response or feeling if it were not present. The attention to space is a crucial part of stage production. A large degree of awareness to these components expanded my overall knowledge and understanding of staging practices. The exploration of found texts (for example- the monologues) was largely influential to my overall understanding of composition.
This close analysis of found texts was engaging as it continued throughout the duration of the course and was referred to in many sessions. These found texts were equally as important as the texts that were essentially our own. This acknowledgement then presented a dilemma as to whether or not I should use other people’s work or my own, concerning the text in my final piece. This module opened the door to opportunities to use found texts from previously existing materials, which was then challenging to reassemble them.
By using my own thought up texts, there is no evidence of me re-working or adapting aspects of it (except through the process of editing) Therefore the use of the found texts complies more closely with the definition of composition. So in compiling my piece I had to be aware of the compositional devices and tools I utilised to create it. Afterall, this is the process that is most relevant to the module. In this session on Monologues I chose the playwright Carolyn Gage and the performer Ruth Draper, both having rather extensive monologues.
This task of editing these monologues helped greatly when compiling my final piece. After my work in progress, I was advised to edit it considerably, It had to be questioned and manipulated. I found this to be problematic as I believed all the text was relevant. But with the use of the previous task of editing and my development of this, I found it much easier than I’d originally thought. Not only did I edit the text substantially, I also reduced the number of props I used too. One of my key developments on this module was concerning the notion that “Less is more.
” I did not have this attitude at the start of the module, this was evident in the way I often layed to much emphasis on quantity as opposed to quality in some exercises. The dangerous acts exercise was one that seemed a rather random task but provided an alternative insight into the apparent boundaries (or lack of) in a performance environment. In the words of Elizabeth Goodman, theatre is a world that “pushes boundaries, but leaves some intact”1 These Perimeters that existed were vital to an understanding of the diverse number of possibilities open to us as performers.
This reflection upon dangerous acts within the theatre offered a challenge to us. Afterall, “Theatre is a place that is all about taking risks. “2 Marina Abramovic certainly mirrored Goodman’s words when she fasted for 12 days to push her own natural limits in performance. This once again, reiterates the disputed definition of performance. That argument being- Can these dangerous acts be classed as performance? And theatre’s questioning as to why these performers would go to such limits and what is the message they are trying to convey to the audience?
When we had to write a review of our piece from the point of view of an audience member, this allowed me to develop my understanding of the expectations and requirements of an audience. Life encourages you to put the “Boot on the other foot” so to speak, this was reflected through this task of the review. After writing the review on my piece as if I had already performed it, I had cut out certain elements of my final piece as I didn’t think they were appropriate after taking into account my personal reaction in the position of reviewer.
The sections I had excluded from my final piece were intimate interactions with the audience, which after careful consideration believed them to have a more negative effect on the audience than a positive one. Performers should be attentive not only to the audience needs but also be aware of the audience- performer relationship. An audience member requires closeness to share in the experience and distance to observe it. My understanding of audience- performer relationship was crucial to the progression of my final piece.
The module title is performance composition, however the audience composition is as equally important in any performance. In my final piece I wanted to evoke a certain feeling among the audience. In the words of Sarah Kane “You have to know what you want to do to them, I consider how I want it to affect me and the best way to achieve that” This quote was at the heart of my piece. All performance, in one way or another, carries a message or communication within it. Whether it is intentional or not. Performance should have meaning and value and the first person to experience this is myself.
It is therefore my responsibility to share this feeling with the audience to the best of my ability. I believe it is here that I learnt the true value of audience and performer relationship. I developed an understanding to the many concepts on this module, one being the concept of narcissism. This featured in the session where we had to write diary extracts and single out the narcissistic areas of the diary. In doing this I was able to identify narcissistic elements of my own diary which would then potentially take the form of a performance.
It was clear in the final pieces that there were references to narcissism. In the sense of the narcissistic projection of the body which was seen in Fiona’s final piece. This almost echoes Hannah Wilke’s seemingly narcissistic obsession with displaying her sexualised body within performance. Despite this comparison Fiona’s role was not quite the extreme display of femininity that Hannah Wilke is sometimes known for. Although it does parallel the same narcissistic element present in both. Giving people the freedom to perform on this module is consequently allowing them to indulge in narcissism.
The diary parallels this, asking people to write a diary extract is providing an outlet for narcissism. This personal approach to performance through the creation of texts indicated an alternative stimulus for the foundations of my piece. We were asked to bring in an object to the session and with this object we had to “attach it to the body in an interesting way. ” This task was very basic but proved very beneficial in future work I produced. The results of this specific task were intriguing to me as it developed my understanding of the importance of props in a performance.
Some have stereotypical associations which can greatly affect the overall piece. This consideration of objects and props calls to mind Marcel Duchamp’s artwork. He infamously stated “take an object out of context and you produce a new meaning” By taking objects away from their normal function we are therefore forced to think about them in a new way. I used a stamp and placed it on top of my hat. I took an ordinary object of life and placed it so that its functional significance disappeared. You view the object for what it is- an object!
Although at the same time the manner of observation will always effect the observation itself, so it is hard to observe an object in its purest form. Some objects can be given a meaning of their own, just like performance. This was a significant inspiration for me because from then onwards, I was mindful of objects and props I used (if any) as I had become aware of the implication involved in using certain ones. This questions the status of the art object, which parallels to the questioning of what is Performance?
Along with the constant challenging question of performance, Another principal challenge for me on this module was the collaboration exercises working in groups or pairs. This often proved difficult, as the majority of people on the module are particularly strong-minded and resolute in their opinions. At times this worked to my advantage and there was a mutual motivation involved. However, occasionally there existed a clash of ideas which had to be compromised. For me, these group effort tasks were essentially the most engaging times on the module.
The primary inspiration for me on this module was the presence of the others in the group. I mentioned before how my confidence is my predominant problem in performing, yet witnessing other people’s liberation of themselves, encouraged me to attempt the same release from judgement. Their resolve to engage with the tasks gave me an awful lot of motivation with my own work. Whether it was Lorena’s hilarious skit chasing Calle hysterically screeching “Leave me Alone! ” or Katie’s impersonation of a manic red indian or Claire’s disturbing intimacy with the wall.
Through their self-confidence they all provided me with inspiration to complete my individual tasks to the best of my ability. Without contribution from the others in the group my dramatic experience would not have developed to the extent it has. Another fundamental inspiration for me on this module was the discovery of the artist Damien Hirst. He may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea! ‘ but I came across his work whilst researching the dangerous acts exercise. Through his pieces, he takes risks with his audience and is constantly pushing the boundaries and challenging their views with his controversial work.
Hirst confronts death and dares to portray it openly, his apparent preoccupation with the presence of death and the brevity of life is what initially inspired my final piece. The source being how the artistic observance of death helps illuminate life. Its echoed in my piece in the line where I say “Death is the mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected. ” Overall I wanted to convey an alternative attitude to the deliberation over death. My development as a result of this module is not only restricted to developments in performance but also in art and even life in general.
I had to question myself as to where I find my own uniqueness and identity? And how is this displayed through the act of performance. These are questions that prompted me on this module and where I found my source of encouragement. I have learnt to expand my imagination and see past the original idea at hand, this was helped in the exercise where we contemplated ten other locations for our piece. This allows us to engage more in the actual process rather than the conclusion to it. My ideas developed laterally as opposed to centering my attention on the final product.
In my final piece I drew upon many of the aspects I have learnt in the exercises over the course of the module. And within each one I have developed my own sense of understanding towards different approaches and techniques. Some of the tasks set have challenged my existing ideas and given way to new and diverse methods which I hope to progress and build on in the future.
‘On the way to work’ Damien Hirst- ‘The Twentieth Century Performance Reader’ Michael Huxley&Noel Witts 2nd Edition ‘Directing a play’ Mc Caffery http://www.channel4.com