Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm Going to Prague ...

... and this is what I'll be talking about:

‘Implacing’ Theatre Practice: A Theoretical Framework

Despite the increased attention that has been directed towards the function of space and place in the production and reception of theatrical performance little sustained academic attention has been directed towards backstage space and the use of such space by theatre practitioners. In Space in Performance (1999) Gay McAuley concludes that this exclusion of backstage space indicates the extent to which many studies of theatre architecture “are in fact concerned with the building as aesthetic object rather than with its function in a complex social process.” (9)

In this paper I will articulate a theoretical framework through which the function of theatre architecture in performance processes might be better understood. Beginning with Edward Casey’s phenomenological approach to ‘place’, and informed by the work of Edward Soja, I will argue that scholars investigating theatre architecture must take into consideration ‘perceived’ space (space as it is empirically measured), ‘conceived’ space (space as it is represented), and ‘lived’ space (space as it is experienced). The meaning of any place, especially a built place, is always complex and contested, and it is the very tension between ‘perceived’, ‘conceived’, and ‘lived’ space that constitutes the ‘matrix of sensibility’ within which any place is made meaningful.

Such a framework encourages a more holistic understanding of the vital relationship between theatre architecture and theatrical performance and opens up avenues for insight into how theatrical performance is made and re-made in different cultural settings and historical moments.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Best opening line to a story...

From Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis:
"As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin."
What is your favourite opening line to a piece of prose, poetry or drama?

Surveillance Culture

I've just been reading 'Encountering surveillance', the final chapter of John McGrath's Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy and Surveillance Space (2004). In it McGrath advances some fascinating ideas about how the development of what he terms a 'surveillance society' in many Western nations has involved distinct cultural shifts as well; in effect, we have developed a 'surveillance culture'. McGrath sees the development of such a culture as radically discontinuous with given representational understandings and as "nothing less than a challenge to our consciousnesses." (219) McGrath argues that to ignore these challenges is to lose any control over the various forms of ourselves that are now in circulation.

What struck me in this chapter was the way McGrath sees our engagement in surveillance as "structured in a profound way by death." (211) While the surveillance cameras that increasingly record our daily movements are often presented as protective, they are also "always potentially filming our deaths." (211) The blurred security footage of UK toddler Jamie Bolger or that of murdered Sydney resident Kerry Whelan that we see broadcast on nightly news programs may seem innocuous, but to watch it is chilling because of our knowledge of why we are watching it. Indeed, McGrath argues that surveillance images of ourselves are traumatic because "our own deaths may appear at any time." (211) In effect, like the appearance of missing or otherwise harmed people, "any appearance of ourselves on surveillance footage can carry traces of this trauma-in-waiting, the ultimate surveillance scene that we, of course, will never, ourselves, see." (211-12)

So, the rhetoric that increased surveillance leads to increased security is patently false. The very fact of surveillance readily admits the ever-present potential for injury and death, increasing our awareness of our own insecurity. Ultimately, in our brave new surveillance culture, harm cannot be prevented, only witnessed.

Finally, while on the topic of surveillance, check out the German film The Lives of Others if you get a chance.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shoes I: These are my boots

These are my boots. There are many like them, but these are mine.* I often wear them on wet days. Together we have travelled through many parts of Australia, New Zealand and Europe. In these boots I can stand up all day long and not get sore feet. They provide my feet and ankles with a hard leather exoskeleton, supporting and protecting them from awkward sideways movements. The fact that they are leather is significant. Leather requires care. I have enjoyed heating them in the oven and then lovingly applying bees wax as a waterproofing agent. The warm leather melts and absorbs the wax, producing a marvellous smell and greasy texture.

These boots are heavy and they lend me a sense of weight. I feel confident in these boots. I imagine that they make my feet sound imposing as I advance along corridors. Indeed, in these boots I advance and never retreat. With their enclosing leather and thick, insulating, rubber soles, these boots attach me to the earth. Whilst wearing them I will not easily be knocked over by anything!

And the red laces are also a great conversation starter ...

* 10 Commonwealth Bank Award points for anyone who can name the film I am riffing on with this line.

Walking Country

There's a beautiful podcast currently available from Radio National's Radio Eye programme entitled 'Ways of Walking Country'. The programme involves interviews with four individuals whose lives engage profoundly with the simple everyday practice of walking.

I've spent a lot of my life walking and no doubt many of you have too! What a simple pleasure that we too often take for granted! Through the act of walking we engage intimately with our surroundings, performing our places of residences and our local surrounds by traversing the 'runs and rills' we find ourselves in. We inscribe and re-inscribe our own embodied maps. Through this the places where we walk also inform who we are; they affect the shapes and habitual rhythms of our bodies.

[Martin Place, Sydney - AF]

When I am in the city I walk faster. Walking through the Devonshire Street tunnel under Central Station I enjoy the mild exhilaration of cruising past and between people, overtaking and sliding through gaps that open around me. I imagine myself as something akin to a V8 Supercar (although stealthier and with less gaseous emissions!) with a similar sense of changing up and down gears. I see a gap, I push into second, third, fourth gear, slide through the gap and then knock back down to second. The tiles underfoot offer little resistance. I can forget my feet; I push from my gut and my shoulders. My legs might actually be propelling me, but in this state I am aware of them only as keeping up to the push of my body through the crowd. Research out of California State University has suggested that city walking speeds have increased by ten per cent over the past ten years. Perhaps the influence of modern transport together with the development of technology that allows for the rapid transmission of ideas and documents leaves our physical bodies straining to keep up in their wake.

As part of my performance practice (such as it is) I've spent a lot of time walking in rooms, with others. Just walking. You can learn a lot from just walking, about yourself, your environment, your relationships with others. Choose a room, clear it of furniture and walk. Avoid patterns. Walk perpendicular to the walls, walk parallel to the walls. Walk in a grid; walk in organic curves and spirals; walk back and forth along the same line. Stand still. Walk at different speeds. Enjoy smoothly transitioning between different speeds. Invite some friends to walk with you. Think about other things as you walk. Think about yourself and your body. How does your body move? What do you notice about the feeling of the air on your skin, the proximity between yourself and others, between yourself and the walls?

In the bush my walk is irregular and conscious. It's a thinking walk. Maybe 'thinking' doesn't have the right connotations ... It's a productive walk, a craft. My muscles and joints have to work out the country as they bring me into it. They lift me onto rocky steps and attempt to stabilise me on uncertain, slippery ground. I can't forget my feet and legs. I'm tied to them. I have to keep watching the ground in front and around them so as not to crash down onto it. If I'm encumbered with a heavy pack I find myself grounded, having to hold myself up as I move. Without a heavy pack the tension lessens; I'm unburdened and can scramble and leap ahead. This bush experience is more removed from the everyday. I associate walking in the bush as restorative and regenerative when compared with my everyday urban travels. Is it really?

I thought of this post as I walked, in the sun, to the shops earlier this afternoon. My spongy thongs kept my feet in a clumsy sympathy with the asphalt, the cracks in the concrete pavement and the lumpy grass of the nature strips. Maybe in the next post I'll think about shoes ...

Let me leave you with four photos of less everyday places I've enjoyed walking in. The first three are from a recent traversal of the Milford Track in New Zealand. The final photo is from the Jameson Valley in the Blue Mountains.

Where do you walk?

[Clinton Valley, NZ - BH]

[Mackinnon Pass, NZ -AF]

[Arthur River, NZ - AF]

[Looking towards Kedumba Crossing, Jameson Valley, NSW - AF]

Sunday, May 06, 2007


[Graduation Day - AKF]

(lurn-ed) adj 1 having great knowledge. 2 involving or characterized by scholarship.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


[Clinton Valley NZ - AM]

(rug-gid) adj 1 Rocky or steep. 2 with a jagged or uneven surface 3 (of the face) strong featured. 4 Rough , sturdy, or determined in character. 5 (of equipment or machines) designed to withstand rough conditions or use in rough conditions.