Thesis: An Examination of the Use of ´Site´ in Directing the Performance of Play-Texts
Supervisor: Dr. Nicolas Whybrow
My research examines the relationship between site and play-text through (1) a theoretical framework and (2) my practical exploration as a professional theatre director of play-texts performed in ‘non-designated performance spaces’. Chapter 1 will provide a criticalframework for the research by considering various approaches, by both theorists and practitioners, to the question of text and site. In chapter 2, I will discuss three different theatre productions I have directed over the past three years.Each of these productions served as an experiment in staging an extant play-text within a particular site to distinct ends.I will also address the rationale behind each of these experiments, in order to explicate how they functioned as part of a continuum that led to a final, practical presentation in June 2009. Chapter 3 will then analyse this final performance,held in several different sites of a single location, and which incorporated the following play-texts: Victoria Station (Harold Pinter), The Wayfarer (Valerii Bryusov) and Fewer Emergencies (Martin Crimp). I will also provide appendices containing rehearsal notebooks,production photos and a DVD of the final presentation.
As a director, I was trained traditionally to follow the playwright’s words as a set of instructions: to serve the play-text. Dialogue could not be cut or revised unless first approved by the writer or through the writer’s estate. I was also taught that, although the director and performers interpret a play-text, the actual ‘structure’ of that text must remain intact.[i] I have always considered this perception of an extant text to be the essence of the directorial challenge that, through the process of interpreting that text, leads the director to his or her own particular vision. The writer’s words are a piece of coding that a director is meant to realise using actors, blocking and scenography. The audience then sits within a theatre building, in chairs nailed to the floor, and observes actors standing in front of manufactured sets that have been created or incorporated to represent a certain place. There is nothing real about the overall representation of the set, but it is all that the spectator has as a framework for the world on stage. The spectator may know that the back wall is dried paint and not real brick, but is willing to suspend disbelief in order to engage with the play-text. One can argue that, while a play-text consists of words written upon a page, a performance can (or should) be connected to a place in a way that a play-text cannot be. Perhaps more significantly, a play-text staged in a way that engages with the immediacy of a site that is not a theatre produces a performance accessible only at that very moment in time, in a way that is utterly dependent upon its location. A representational place inside a theatre is usually cut off from the world outside of the building. For this reason, Dan Rebellato argues that a play “can always exist in different spaces” because a play and a performance of a play are two different things. “The performance may be here, but the play is not (at least, not wholly). We might say that the play in performance is spatially non-identical” (Rebellato 2006: 111). While this may be true in the most concrete sense, as a play-text consists of words written upon a page, it is also possible that a performance site will anchor a play-text into something unique to that particular location. In examining Sarah Kane’s stage directions in her famously difficult play, Blasted (2001), he argues that notes such as ‘The sound of Autumn rain’ are “virtually impossible to realise” (Rebellato 2006: 111). What Rebellato suggests is impossible, I regard as a directorial challenge. Furthermore, stage directions such as Kane’s offer an opportunity for site to play a role within the performance. Such an instance involves more than just finding a site with appropriate meteoric outcomes, however. It involves a site performing in a way that requires the spectator to physically engage with both it and the play-text. In this sense, I am suggesting an inversion of Fuchs’ statement, in that site can perform a play-text in a way that it allows the spectator to pass through the time and space, creating a production that is specific to that particular location. This perception is difficult to articulate and part of the intention of this thesis is to find a way to do so.
PRACTICE AS RESEARCH
Stray (Thesis Production, June 2009): Staged in Newbold Comyn, Leamington Spa. Performance of three short plays on separate sites, as audience journeyed through each: Victoria Station (Harold Pinter), The Wayfarer (Valerii Bryusov)Fewer Emergencies (Martin Crimp).
Other Recent Directing Work, Practice as Research:
Far Away (Caryl Churchill):Staged in car, yard and stairwell of flat in Leamington Spa.Funded by The Capital Centre.
A Dream Play(August Strindberg): Staged throughout ground floor of Milburn House,University of Warwick.
Crave (Sarah Kane): Staged in children’s playground of Leamington Spa Park at night.
Spring Awakening (Frank Wedekind):Staged outdoors in Woodland Trust.
Our Town: Act III (Thornton Wilder): Staged outdoors and indoors of a flat in Leamington Spa.Funded by The Capital Centre.
[i] By ‘structure’, I mean the series of transitions or events that occur within a play-text. This includes dialogue, as it is often what describes and/or influences these changes.