What do I say 3

WHAT DO I SAY ABOUT THIS WORK NOW? is an online project begun for the COVID-19 shut-down period. As new spatial artwork can not easily be shown during this period, this project instead encourages discussion of artworks that already exist. Artists are invited to reflect on one of their own works, including how and why its location is part of the work, for posting on this blog. Responses will also be posted here, and can be self-posted on Facebook and elsewhere. Here is the third reflection:

Lliane Clarke's reflection on her Voices of Women project at Leichhardt Town Hall in 2019 is available via the link below  and is supported by the following text by Clare Grant.

VOICES of WOMEN - THE MONOLOGUE ADVENTURE 2019           https://youtu.be/PES30S7XvJQ

The staging of multiple voices in a shifting space
By Clare Grant

Thinking about the staging of the Voices of Women readings means thinking about maximising the staging possibilities for active listening for the audience, understanding that they are never JUST listening, while accommodating the voices of multiple writers. In the most obvious of setups, the reader would probably stand out in front of the audience, delivering the text in what is known as ‘front-on’ mode, like a lecture, or a sermon; a situation laden with associations of being ‘talked to’, or formally addressed.

From The Theatre of the Bauhaus; (ed) Walter Gropius and Arthur S Wensinger;

 Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London; 1961; p23.

This Bauhaus image clearly shows how the tiniest movement of a finger on a stage space can trigger exponential shifts in viewpoint for an audience; each line in the diagram impacts on each of the others. What happens, then, if you place the audience into this mix, ‘on the stage itself’, and ‘just’ read to them? The construction of the listening space becomes critical, so that the work and the listener are able to meet each other with as little distraction as possible – while never trying to persuade the listener that they are anywhere but in the actual building. They are on the real chairs, in real time. This ‘reading’ space becomes a kind of neutral space, open to the various ‘worlds’ being evoked by many writers’ imaginations and experience; a listening space that offers multiple ways to become immersed.

It’s a point of transition and exchange, with an extra layer if the writer is in the room too, in physical form, rather than just implied by the structure of the event itself. The reader/actor is also unquestionably present as themselves, while carrying into the space some of the characteristics of the figures of the story. It’s not strictly acting, because the writing is overtly being presented as itself, and the performer (usually) holds the script in her hands.

A rendition of an immersive performance space, designed by C20 theatre director Jerzy Grotowski, re-imagined by Justin Cash, “Non-naturalistic Performance Spaces” (2016) 2020; at: https://thedramateacher.com/non-naturalistic-performance-spaces/

An early proponent of a staging plan that shaped a disrupted viewing, C20 Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski engaged in one of the earliest experiments in spatial relationships with the audience, freeing up the theatre space to be reimagined, and to activate the most resonant relationships between a writer and a space. Bringing multiple voices into play in the same space needs this break from more traditional arrangements of bodies in space, to absorb the range of voices without illustrating any of them.

Staging the ‘Voices’ readings to date: the first, in a long thin studio space, where, to be in a front-on arrangement would have left most of the audience with poor eyelines and a lack of physical proximity to the readers, the use of the ‘traverse’ setup allowed for a constantly shifting point of focus and a broad scope for actions by the performers. For the second, the ‘in the round’ setup in the vast space of the Leichhardt Town Hall also allowed for the audience to connect immediately with the performers, and, with only two rows of seats, the sense of ‘accountability’ of the audience members is slightly ramped up. The use of a floor rug and several standard lamps created a sense of intimacy, the domestic, thus a cosiness that the otherwise expansive space could have killed. The rug and the lamps were simply signals to the audience to relax and allow themselves to engage in the writing, while the lamps, not intending to create any kind of fictional ‘setting’, were simply a functional means of being able to see, while also achieving a ‘mood’ to help contain the audience’s focus.

The new challenge in of this project in Articulate project space ….. the ‘space’ for the third event, might have been inspired by the following set-up proposed, and designed, by Jerzy Grotowski.

Figure 4.1 Jerzy Gurawski’s “scenic architecture” for Akropolis, 1962. 
Published in Paavolainen T. (2012) ‘Grotowski and the “Objectivity” 
of Performance’. In: Theatre/Ecology/Cognition. Cognitive Studies in 
Literature and Performance. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. P.133.

All parts and angles of the multi-levelled space, with its multiple and variously-delineated areas will be drawn on, to amplify and, possibly, challenge the written voices and their stories. Grotowski enables a way of thinking about staging that releases the audience from the traditional proscenium arch, pointing to the multiple potential stagings for the Articulate readings program, albeit this time, challenged to ‘pivot’ still further into the filmic, the virtual; a possibility that would have been anathema to Grotowski, the most rigorous of believers in the power and importance of the body of the live performer.