AN ETHNO-PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF ACTORS’ EXPERIENCES OF
PERFORMING IN THEATRE
By
Edwin Arthur Creely B.Ed., Grad.Dip.Drama Ed., M.Ed., M.A.
A thesis to fulfill the requirements
Of the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
at
Centre for Theatre and Performance
Faculty of Arts
Monash University
Clayton, Victoria, Australia
July, 2011
Table of Contents
Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………v
Statement of originality……………………………………………………………….vi
Acknowledgements…………………………………………………………………...vii
List of Illustrations……………………………………………………………….viii, ix
Chapter 1
Introduction to the study
Section 1.1
Milieu…………………………………………………………………1-3
Section 1.2
Concerns……………………………………………………………....3-9
Section 1.3
Influences…………………………………………………………….9-11
Section 1.4
Particularities……………………………………………………….12, 13
Section 1.5
Structure…………………………………………………………….13-20
Chapter 2
Claims
Section 2.1
Introduction………………………………………………………....21, 22
Section 2.2
Terms
Section 2.2.1 Performance………………………………………………....22-29
Section 2.2.2 Experience…………………………………………………...29-40
Section 2.2.3 Presence……………………………………………………..40-45
Section 2.3
Auxiliary factors
Section 2.3.1 Introduction………………………………………………..........45
Section 2.3.2 Temporality and time……………………………………….45-55
Section 2.3.3 Space and place……………………………………………..55-62
Section 2.4
Other influences
Section 2.4.1 Introduction…………………………………………………….62
Section 2.4.2 Sedimentation……………………………………………....62-66
Section 2.4.3 Selfhood…………………………………………………….66-76
Section 2.4.4 Training……………………………………………………..76-82
ii
Section 2.5
Summary of claims………………………………………………...82-84
Chapter 3
Research Methodology
Section 3.1
Introduction……………………………………………………………85
Section 3.2
An ethno-phenomenological approach……………………………85, 86
Section 3.2.1 Tradition 1: Phenomenology………………………………86-91
Section 3.2.2 Tradition 2: Ethnography………………………………….91, 92
Section 3.2.3 Conceiving the approach…………………………………..92-95
Section 3.3
Developing research tools…………………………………………95-97
Section 3.3.1 Semi-structured Interviews………………………………97-104
Section 3.3.2 Production of texts……………………………………...104-107
Section 3.3.3 The Journal……………………………………………..107, 108
Section 3.3.4 Field observations………………………………………108, 109
Section 3.4
Approach to textual analysis……………………………………109-116
Section 3.5
Conclusion about method……………………………………………116
Chapter 4
Lenses
Section 4.1
Introduction………………………………………………………….117
Section 4.2
Merleau-Ponty………………………………………………….117-135
Section 4.3
Levinas……………………………………………………….....135-147
Section 4.4
Whitehead……………………………………………………....147-153
Section 4.5
Three lenses, one phenomenon………………………………...153, 154
Chapter 5
Examining Data: Actors-in-training
Section 5.1
Introduction……………………………………………………155, 156
Section 5.2
McGee and Bongiovanni………………………………………156-175
Section 5.3
Hardie………………………………………………………….175-193
Section 5.4
Lai……………………………………………………………...193-202
iii
Chapter 6
Examining Data: Actors post-training
Section 6.1
Introduction……………………………………………………....203
Section 6.2
Houghton…………………………………………………….203-223
Section 6.3
Williams……………………………………………………..224-234
Section 6.4
Tonkin and McInnes………………………………………...234-252
Chapter 7
Evaluations and conclusions
Section 7.1
Introduction……………………………………………………...253
Section 7.2
Evaluation of the method of this study……………………..253-256
Section 7.3
Evaluation of claims………………………………………..256, 257
Section 7.3.1 Performance………………………………………..257, 258
Section 7.3.2 Experience (Internality)…………………………….258-262
Section 7.3.3 Presence (Externality)……………………………...262, 263
Section 7.3.4 Time and temporality………………………………263, 264
Section 7.3.5 Space and place……………………………………..264-266
Section 7.3.6 Sedimentation……………………………………….266-268
Section 7.3.7 Life frame………………………………………….. …...268
Section 7.3.8 Artistic filters……………………………………….269, 270
Section 7.3.9 Continuum of training methods…………………......270, 271
Section 7.4
Implications and recommendations…………………………271-273
Section 7.5
A personal note………………………………………………......274
Bibliography……………………………………………………………......275-310
Appendices
1. Semi-structured interview (actors)……………………………..…...311-313
2. Journal entry (actors)...……………………………………..………314, 315
3. Semi-structured interview (actor educators).……………………… 316, 317
iv
Abstract
This thesis contains an ethno-phenomenological study of actors’ experiences of performing in
theatre. The methodology of the investigation was developed from the traditions of
phenomenology and ethnography, with particular attention given to phenomenological
reduction as espoused by Husserl. There are two distinct threads of inquiry that are
juxtaposed with each other in order to understand actors’ experiences and the contingencies
that accompany such experiences. First, there is a ‘wide’ examination of factors that impinge
on or foster experience for actors. Second, there is a ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ examination of the
performance experiences themselves, gathered from a small selection of actors. Both threads,
while different in approach, are complementary and are necessarily positioned together. The
study also examines the sedimentation that undergirds such experiences, including actor
training, with ‘sedimentation’ conceived to be a set of accumulated memories and practices
embodied in an actor that are often linked to training.
The research is structured around a set of claims related to actors’ experiences within the
context of performance in theatre productions, claims which have accumulated abductively
from the researcher’s theatre praxis and reading of the research literature. These claims are
tested against the testimonies of actors gathered through transcripts of interviews and written
journals from a small selection of case studies. In order to assess the extent of influence of
training on how actors experience performance, actors are grouped in the study according to
whether they are in training programs or post-training. Further comparison is made through
reference to interviews with actor educators, especially in regard to actors deemed to be in
training.
In order to analyse and evaluate textual materials, selected aspects of the philosophical ideas
of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Whitehead are deployed to provide distinct lenses on
experience. Merleau-Ponty is utilised to focus discussion on embodiment, Levinas to draw
attention to relational aspects of experience and Whitehead to suggest the nature of creative
constitution as it is linked to experience. Moreover, a set of discrete ontological categories is
introduced to enable labelling and categorizing of experience. Throughout the thesis, concept
maps are used to represent phenomena and depict the ontological characteristics of
phenomena. The study concludes that the experiences of actors during performing within
theatre contexts are more diverse and complex than is often believed, and suggests that such
experiences play a greater role in the constitution of performance than is commonly thought.
In addition, it is likely that sedimentation plays a critical role in the constitution of experience
for actors. Among a number of recommendations for further research, it is suggested that the
internality of actors in performance needs greater consideration.
v
Statement of originality
This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other degree or
diploma in any university or other institution. To the best of my knowledge the thesis
contains no material previously published or written by another person, except where due
reference is made in the text, notes and bibliography of this thesis. All material in this thesis
is original and my own work, except as acknowledged in the text.
Edwin Arthur Creely
……………………………………………………..
July, 2011
vi
Acknowledgements
No work of this complexity would be possible without the assistance and advice of many
people. My greatest thanks goes to the actors and actor educators who gave up their time and
opened up their experiences for me. Without their willingness to speak so wholeheartedly
about these experiences and to share ideas, this project would not have been possible. In
particular, I wish to thank Professor Phillip Zarrilli for his generosity in sharing his approach
to actors and giving me access to his workshops and students. I also want to thank Christine
Miller, who so faithfully transcribed extensive interviews, and Malcolm Joseph for his
meticulous proofreading. Finally, the sustained support, advice and critical friendship of my
two supervisors, Professor Peter Snow and Dr. William Peterson, have been inestimable in
the success of this research project.
vii
List of Illustrations
Illustration 1.1
Thesis outline
Illustration 2.1
Ontological elements of experience
Illustration 2.2
Volition
Illustration 2.3
An ontology of presence
Illustration 2.4
The layered nature of time
Illustration 2.5
Qualities of temporality in performance
Illustration 2.6
Space and place
Illustration 2.7
The negotiated spaces of performance
Illustration 2.8
Sedimentation, event and experience
Illustration 2.9
An actor’s self and performance
Illustration 2.1 0
Life frame of an actor
Illustration 2.11
Continuums of training method
Illustration 3.1
Phenomenology(ies)
Illustration 3.2
Conceiving an ethno-phenomenological approach
Illustration 3.3
Interview styles
Illustration 3.4
Phenomenological reductions in interview transcript production
Illustration 3.5
Process of textual analysis
Illustration 3.6
Content coding categories for actors’ experiences
Illustration 4.1
Schema of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of embodiment
Illustration 4.2
Levinas and performance
Illustration 4.3
Whitehead and phenomenology
Illustration 4.4
Interpretive Lenses
Illustration 5.1
A phenomenology of the experiences of McGee and Bongiovanni
Illustration 5.2
A phenomenology of Hardie’s experiences of performing
Illustration 5.3
A phenomenology of the experiences of Lai
Illustration 6.1
A phenomenology of Houghton’s experiences of The Pitch
viii
Illustration 6.2
A phenomenology of the experiences of Williams
Illustration 6.3
A phenomenology of the experiences of Tonkin/McInnes in OT
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ix
CHAPTER ONE
Introduction to the study
Section 1.1
Milieu
I begin this academic journey towards understanding actors’ experiences of performing and
the factors that shape performance with an anecdote from my own experience as a theatre
maker. In 1995, I was directing a secondary school production as part of my role as a drama
teacher. The genre of the production was a spoof of a spy thriller. The talented young cast
showed particular flair in developing their characters and constructing a narrative with energy
and imagination. We had what could be best described as a near perfect rehearsal process.
Nothing had gone wrong. All the lines were memorised and the cast was ready two weeks out
from the performance of the show. The opening night was characterised by nerves but other
than some initial pre-show jitters the performance was well received by the audience and
appeared to be, from all accounts, well executed. One of the key elements in the plot of this
spy thriller spoof was a painting that was meant to fall down in the last act of the play and
reveal the secret of who was behind the evil plot to overthrow the world. On the opening
night the painting fell on cue and no one guessed what was about to follow in the next
performance. On the following evening the play began as strongly and as confidently as the
first. However, approximately ten minutes into the opening act, the painting fell, revealing
the details of the perpetrator of the plot and thus unravelling the story that was supposed to
unfold over the next ninety minutes. Sitting in the audience, I was astonished by the
malfunction and quite prepared to stop the show and start again, even if it meant a loss of
face.
However, the two leading actors, one male and one female, took the misfortune in hand and
began to improvise and reinvent the narrative, without even a pause or a drop of their eyes.
They spoke to the audience (in an external monologue) explaining that the secret was
revealed and then seamlessly began to reconstruct the play as narrators and characters to fit
the falling of the painting. The narrative was repositioned as flashback, and the scenes were
re-imagined around improvised narration. The other actors quickly understood what
happened and followed the lead of the two actors. What was presented to the audience was a
remodelled play that was cleverer and more interesting than the original.
Audience members were unaware of the dire mistake that had happened and of the
inexplicable work of the two lead actors. Ironically, I even received a compliment from an
1
audience member about the quality of the script writing for what was an original play.
At the time I wondered what had caused the two young actors to take control, and I was also
curious about the thoughts and feelings that the two actors experienced during their two hours
of extraordinary improvised reconstruction. Their intimate knowledge of the script, together
with the nuances of meaning contained therein, was certainly one factor in their rewriting-onthe-run. But there had to be more to it than that. On questioning the pair after the event, they
simply stated that ‘it had to be done’ and ‘it seemed the natural thing to do’. They said that
they imagined the play differently and once the initial improvised monologue was delivered
they couldn’t stop the momentum of what was unfolding. They became part of something
larger than themselves. Since that event I have taken a particular interest in, and often
speculated about, the experiences of actors and what factors impinge on the way they think
and feel in performance. I have also wondered what would be the results if there were a
formal study of what these two actors did on stage during that performance. It is a
phenomenon that has kindled my interest in actors’ experiences since that time.
What is evident in this anecdote is its suggestion of complex internality. By internality I mean
a complex state of consciousness, suffused with awarenesses, feelings, perceptions,
cognitions and somatic experiences. I contend that internality is an essential aspect of the
constitution of both acting and performance phenomena. In other words there appears to be a
diverse and complex set of awarenesses and cognitive states that operated quite significantly
within the immediacy of performing to enable the transmogrification that I witnessed. I have
worked with actors who have responded to the serendipity of performance with some
remarkable improvisations and interpretations, ones that they never repeated in subsequent
performances and for which they cannot give a rational explanation. I have also seen the
development of actors across a season of performances, and in their adaptations and actions
they too have implied a complex internality that evolved around their character and declared
the growing awareness of the imaginative world of the character. In my view, a significant
part of this transformation concerns the visceral quality of acting and performance,
juxtaposed with affective states, and the intuitive ‘body knowledge’ that emerges in the
immediacy of performance. However, such ontological categories, these parcels or realms of
experience, appear difficult to define and hard to articulate. From the perspective of an
observer, there can only ever be supposition about what actually constitutes internality.
Part of a systematic attempt to understand experience and explore internality must surely be
2
to ask actors themselves what it is that they have experienced during performance 1. In this
study actors’ narratives about experiences of performing thus have primacy in my attempt to
comprehend their internalities.
Informed significantly by my reading of the research literature and grounded in my
hypotheses about the disposition of what actors experience drawn from the platform of
praxis, I made expansive notes in my research journal. I also created concept maps and
theorised extensively within the early stages of conducting formal research with actor
participants through research tools such as interviews and participant journals. It became
clear that my conjectural notions about performance phenomena and actor experiences should
be tested and their credibility ascertained by assessing the extent to which they are cogent in
understanding actors’ lived experiences and actors’ recollections of theatre events in which
they participated.
In sum, this study involves two territories: first, my initial conceptualizations about actors,
their experiences and the context of theatrical performance, and second, the actual
experiences of actors in performance as recorded in interviews and journals. The study is a
journey through both territories: an exploration of self as a researcher attempting to traverse
the difficult territory of experience, and my attempt to understand the experiences of a
diverse range of actors whose narratives and reflections have directed this journey. In other
words, my subjectivity as researcher is submerged within descriptions and explanations of
phenomena which I attempt to understand.
Section 1.2
Concerns
As indicated in Section 1.1, this research is motivated by my grounded professional interest
in the performer and performance and the accumulated evidence of the feelings, strategies
and bodily experiences of actors. Reference in this chapter to my practice in theatre provides
a platform for the research, especially accounting for my beliefs about actors and the set of
assumptions about what constitutes their experience of performing. Inevitably, a researcher
brings to research a body of accumulated knowledge, hunches, anecdotes and conceptual
1
Throughout this thesis, the terms ‘while performing’ or ‘during performance’, and sometimes ‘in performing’
or ‘in performance’, are employed. Since the focus is on experience and on the actions of actors, the preferred
term is ‘performing’. The terms ‘while’ and ‘during’ suggest temporality, whilst the preposition ‘in’ implies
position or location. These terms are used somewhat interchangeably to suggest experiences of an event that has
occurred at a location and during a circumscribed frame of time.
3
frameworks that are integral to forming the research questions and focus. In this study what is
brought to the research as ideational ground is essential for framing what is found in the
research proper. Moreover, such accumulated knowledge and thinking forms the basis for
testing: preformed ideas are evaluated against more rigorous academic research involving
analysis of what actors articulate about their experiences. So, while the primary focus of this
research is on actor experiences, there is a significant focus on my own journey and
transformation as a researcher.
A central concern of this research project is to find appropriate frames, tools and techniques
for categorising and analysing the experiences of actors in performance and understanding
what happens within the internality of an actor while performing. The study also includes
examination of the ground of, and contingencies to, such experience. In my view it is
essential to analyse these corollary factors because they are pivotal to the constitution of actor
experiences and are integral to understanding performance phenomena. Experiences cannot
be conceived in isolation from the socio-cultural matrix, technologies and inter-personal
dynamics within which they are inexorably located.
As researcher, I examine, analyse and interrogate actor experiences (and my apprehension of
them), and attempt to understand the phenomenon of what happens to an actor while
performing. To put it another way, I investigate and theorise what it is that actors feel,
perceive, and experience, and the states of embodiment that accompany such subjective,
bodily and perceptual experiences. To this end, I interviewed professional and amateur
actors, actors in formal training programs, and actor educators, in order to assess the extent to
which my own accumulated thinking about the nature of such experiences is corroborated by
formal research.
Actors have not often had a forum for articulating what it is that they think and feel within the
temporality of performance, and, indeed, how a particular performance has shaped their art or
determined their future careers. I can recall an actor who, after what appeared to be a
challenging but ultimately triumphant performance, walked away from acting altogether, not
wishing to see the inside of a performance space again. I have often wondered what happened
to him in that performance and what states within his internality created his apparent aversion
to further performance. Consequently, the focus of this research is primarily on performance
experiences, self-perceptions, cognitions and understandings of actors. The study includes
actors who are learning their craft in formal training programs, as well as actors who work
4
professionally and amateurs for whom acting is a hobby. My focus is on their lived
experiences within the context of a performance phenomenon. It is my intention to compare
and contrast the lived experiences of these groups of actors, and to identify and analyse a
range of states of internality, including performance strategies.
My strongest conviction about what happens to actors, one that I appraise in this study, is that
there is a complex interaction of internality and externality within the experience of actors
during performance. It is my contention that this complexity is grounded in formal actor
training programs and skills formation experiences, and developed in diverse events of
theatrical performance experienced by actors, including the formation of role. The unique
existential condition of each actor is also, I maintain, significant in the inimitable expression
of this complexity. I suspect, also, that directors, dramaturges and acting teachers tend to
suppress the importance of this existential human condition and the sui generis that actors
bring to performance. For me, this is a fundamental constituent element of performance. This
suppression of the importance of the existential state of actors is driven by the pragmatics of
tuning actors for performance such that there is a stripping back and removal of personal
habits or qualities that are deemed to potentially impede performance and a building in the
actor of a skill set and a disposition suited for a particular theatrical project.
There is also a concern in this study with a set of questions about performance, experience
and theatre that have long been of interest to me as a theatre maker. It is my intention in this
research to engage with such questions. These questions include the following: What is it that
actors actually experience during performance in a theatrical production? What is the
ontological nature of such experience? How can the phenomenon of experience be
understood within the broader frame of performance? What factors impinge on and sponsor
experience? What is the role of the audience in shaping what actors’ experience? What is the
ground of experience for an actor? What is the place of training in shaping experience within
the temporality of performing? These research questions focus on the complex relationship
between
interiority
and
exteriority
that
attends
acting
performance.
Using
a
phenomenological approach and research tools derived from social research, my intention is
to explore these questions and critique my own thinking in regard to such questions.
In order to understand actor internality and critically examine my reflections about
experience, discrete ontological categories for analysing experience within a broader
phenomenology of performance are examined in detail in this study. These categories are
5
drawn and elaborated, as suggested earlier, from extensive notes and reflections in my
research journal, sponsored significantly by the research literature. Also analysed and
discussed is the role of training (formal or informal) in shaping what it is that actors
experience while performing. The notion of ‘sedimentation’ is introduced to indicate a
layering of habituations, learning and memory of experiences related to performing within
the experience and practice of actors. Sedimentation is positioned as integral to experience,
the core of which, I believe, is formed in actor training programs. By implication there may
be aspects of performance and the experience of the actor that are not easily accessible or are
backgrounded or absent for an actor. What we can know of a performer’s experience of
performance is also mitigated by the selectivity and bias of the individual actor. In other
words, what do performers want to share from their experiences?
Understandably, this qualitative research, given its focus on experience, needs to engage with
highly diverse
fields
of
knowledge,
including European
philosophy (especially
phenomenology), psychology and ethnography, as well as performance research, actor
training methodologies, and theatre and performance theory. The task of understanding what
actors experience in performing requires the breadth of the discourses and perspectives
offered in these fields. Indeed, the complexity and cultural matrix of such human experiences
necessitates such compass.
Given the choice to focus on experience and internality, together with an understanding of
externality and the larger constitutive elements of performance, phenomenology (or the
phenomenological) is the prime approach for examining experience in this study. Smith
(2009) defines phenomenology this way:
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the
first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its
intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or
about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its
content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate
enabling conditions.
It is these “structures of consciousness” that I am concerned with in this study: structures of
perception, awareness and felt states, among others, as they are reported by actors,
juxtaposed with my own consciousness as a researcher of the participants and their
6
embodiments as performers. Moreover, an actor’s intentionality, by which I mean a directing
towards the world and the givenness of an actor’s body in the world, is critical as the ground
of experience. Without engagement with the world and the content of the world there is no
content to consciousness and thus no experience of the world. In terms of a phenomenology
of theatre performance, this means that experience and what is contingent to experience in
theatrical spaces or within theatrical events are interwoven. Thus, it is important, as I have
stressed above, to deal with both the reported experiences and the matrix of such experiences,
or what Woodruff Smith calls “enabling conditions”. In this study, I make claims about the
nature of both. Woodruff Smith’s definition is limited, however, by his seeming lack of focus
on bodies as another matrix for experience. Experiences of body and being in a body, the
visceral and the somatic, would seem to me also to be an integral aspect in any consideration
of experience. Part of my approach is a phenomenological reduction or ‘bracketing’ of
phenomena from the world in order to apprehend them. In this study ‘bracketing’ is mainly
achieved through reduction of reported experiences to text, which then can be systematically
labelled and analysed through the employment of ontological categories and philosophical
perspectives.
While the central methodology of this study is derived from phenomenology, the tools used
to gather data about experience and to identify phenomena are drawn from social research
methods. Moreover, the approach has an especially ethnographic turn with its focus on sociocultural context, first-hand accounts by participants, thick descriptions and interpretations.
LeCompte and Schensul (1999) describe the ethnographic technique of research this way:
Ethnographic researchers learn through systematic observation in the field by
interviewing and carefully recording what they see and hear, as well as how things
are done, while learning the meanings that people attribute to what they make and
do. The idea that the researcher is the primary tool for data collection may not be
comfortable for those who believe that science and that the presence and interaction
of the researcher in the field may bias the results (2).
The key ideas in this definition are observation, recording, focus on meanings and the central
place of the researcher in the research. Included within this ethnographic approach is a set of
tools for facilitating careful recording, including the semi-structured interview, the reflexive
journal, observation and field notes.
7
Therefore, the methodological approach in this study is labelled, ‘ethno-phenomenological’.
However, the term itself, while useful for representing what is a hybrid approach to inquiry,
is potentially problematic because it might suggest a privileging or prioritizing of an
ethnographic approach over a phenomenological approach. Such is not the case. The term
‘ethno-phenomenological’ should be taken to mean that the approach to data gathering,
systematic recording and writing is ethnographic, whilst the way of looking at or interpreting
the data is orientated to the phenomenological, influenced as it is by the philosophical ideas
of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Immanuel Levinas and Alfred Whitehead. The
term ‘ethno-phenomenological’ implies ways of gathering experiences with perspectives to
explore and interpret experiences. As such ethnographic and phenomenological approaches
have different but complementary functionalities within the research.
As a broad generalization, academic literature within theatre, drama and performance studies
appears to be orientated towards exteriority in regard to performance and theatre acting. This
orientation is suggested by an emphasis in many academic journals on critique and criticism,
on semiotics and representation, and on theatre history and textual analysis. Even a cursory
examination of research journals in the last twenty-five years suggests limited concern with
internality, experience and the use of personal testimony as a research approach about acting.
Fearon (2010) observes:
Academic analysis of theatre and performance tends to be based on the personal
interpretations of professional academics and critics whose responses are trained
within literary or performative criticism (132).
In this research, it is my intention to place unequivocal emphasis on experience, and
especially on structures in consciousness, pertaining to:
 The internal, dynamic and organic states of actors while performing;
 The strategies that actors use to adjust to the exigencies within the temporality of
performance;
 Theorising about the ontology of the subject-bodies of performers in performance;
 The poetics of performance as articulated by actors;
 The aesthetics and contingencies related to an acting space (or spaces);
 The notion of ‘place’ in the experiences of actors;
 The experience of temporality and constructions of time in the experience of an actor;
8
 The broader existential frame that forms the ground for experiences of actors;
 Influence of props and other objects on performance experience.
The state of being of an actor in performance, together with the interaction of cognition, soma
and volition in performance, are of great interest to me. I see a niche area for research that is
built on the points listed above and which explores the fluid and ephemeral states of being
that appear to exist in performance. In sum, this study is grounded ethnographic and
phenomenological research that is motivated by my professional interest in actors and what
they experience. It is also a piece of basic research in an area of performance studies that does
not appear to have received much focus in the academic research literature. Finally, this
research is a vehicle for testing a set of assumptions about experience, performance and
training that have developed out of praxis and the speculative thinking that was prompted by
the research literature.
Section 1.3
Influences
One article that especially provoked my interest in the experiences of actors, and the
ontological structures of such experiences, is the work of Lockford and Pelias (2004) and
their topology of performance knowledge. They propose five aspects of this performance
knowledge:
Communication: Are the actors engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating and
coordinating their characters and themselves through interaction? Do the actors seem
connected, listening to and incorporating what each other is saying? Are they
adjusting their thinking and action according to what they are hearing? Are they
producing a coherent story?
Playfulness: Are the actors open to possibilities? Are they functioning with
spontaneity and imagination? Are they playing with language? Are they recognizing
linguistic and social constraints? Are they working within the limits of the given
circumstances? Have the actors moved beyond established patterns to the
"intricacies" of the scene?
Sedimentation: Are the actors relying upon lifetime structures of learning? Are they
trusting their bodies, following their impulses, paying attention to what feels right?
Have they become reflective about their hidden, tacit knowledge? Have they
considered the degree to which their sedimented behaviors match those of their
characters?
Sensuality: Are the actors’ senses alive, ready, actively engaged? Are the actors
taking in what they need? Are the actors feeling with their bodies? Are they open to
the pleasures of sensory response?
9
Vulnerability: Are the actors willing to put themselves at risk? Are they willing to try
to make difficult situations work? When feeling vulnerable, do they have the ability
to keep the focus on what needs to be accomplished? Are the actors willing to trust
one another? (441)
Lockford and Pelias point to the notion of a body-as-subject in performance. They also
delineate a body-in-action, including the strategies, awarenesses and knowledges that are
intuitive (or should be intuitive) in an actor’s performance subjectivities. Their ontological
categories embrace both the ground for experience and the possibilities within experience, as
related to the expectations of performance. Both the conceivable structures in consciousness
and felt states are implied in their topology.
However, even within the work of Lockford and Pelias, in which there is a more significant
focus on internality, there is an implied sense of an actor being observed, rather than
experiencing. Their topological structures suggest expectation, rather than actuality.
I
maintain that within a phenomenological study of actor experience, the actual felt
experiences, as reported by actors, are primary. However, Lockford’s and Pelias’ categories
of examining what actors might do, and the states that actors are possibly in during
performance, are most useful as constructs for understanding experience. Certainly, within
this study, their topology was employed in developing interview questions and for
constructing ontological categories for analysis of reported experiences.
To these categories of performance ontology I would add ideas about the intentional (and by
extension, cognitive) nature of performance. Beyond the felt experiences and bodily states of
an actor in performance (which are primary and highly important in this study), there is a
volitional layer in which outcomes, even in regard to such performance decisions as where an
actor chooses to stand at a particular moment in a performance space, may be deliberative
and consciously thought through. A conscious cognitive layer was suggested in the anecdote
of the two young actors described above, shown in adaptive intentional actions in the world
of the play and in the performance space. Of course there may be intentional actions that are
not within the conscious awareness of an actor and may be habituated in the body.
Intentional actions can be, thus, volitional and self-aware, and attended by cognition, or
habituated and not overtly in consciousness. Indeed, both types of intentionality may act
together to create a unified embodied state of an actor in performing.
10
As indicated above, Lockford and Pelias explicitly discuss the ground on which such
experiences are based. Their notion of ‘sedimentation’ is particularly significant in
understanding the root of performance experiences and has had fundamental influence on the
development of my own understanding of sedimentation. In this study I argue a case for the
potent effects of sedimentation on the nature of what actors experience while performing; it
becomes a phenomenological theme that is rendered throughout this study. As noted above,
sedimentation refers to established habituations, memories and practices of actors (the tacit
knowledge) as they become embodied during performance and thus shape the experiences of
performance and the facility of actors to be adaptive. The use of the metaphor
‘sedimentation’ suggests that there are a series of layers of relatively solid and stable
practices that shape an actor’s response in performance and become a ground for experience.
At the same time, however, these sediments are always being deposited on and aggregating
with the existing layers of knowledge and memories for an actor, suggesting that for each
new experience of performance there are new combinations of memories that affect the
experiences of performing on the next actual occasion. In addition, there is always the
possibility that this sedimentation could be substantially compromised and changed by
training, experience or circumstances that are revolutionary or extreme in nature.
Sedimentation can also be closely aligned with a self-educative process that actors engage in
as part of a group or through individual reflection throughout their lives, such that it is
suggestive of a broader existential life frame.
It is with this in mind that the perspectives of actor educators, including their approaches to
and the methodology of training actors, are indispensable to this research. Actor educators
establish frameworks for practice that actors may bring habitually and intuitively to
performance. Therefore, actor educators form a peripheral but important part of the study in
terms of their presumed contribution to the sedimentation of actors. Six actor educators were
interviewed as part of this inquiry. Some of this interview is used to provide contextual
material for the analysis of actor interviews and journals and to test claims and propositions
about training and sedimentation.
Section 1.4
Particularities
This study functions partly as a meta-narrative of my own resolve to fathom the experiences
of actors and understand the role of contingent factors that impinge on such experiences.
11
However, in pursuing this research interest, it has to be acknowledged that, as a middle aged,
Caucasian male, I come with my own biases, gendered perspectives and cultural proclivities.
There are, inevitably, certain patterns of thinking, discourses and experiences that may colour
the research and give it an idiosyncratic hue. For example, my theatre experience primarily
comes out of a western theatre practice in which narrative coherence, a unified notion of
character and moral certitude tend to be valued. There is an implied expectation from the
audiences that come to my shows in regard to the aesthetic values articulated above. More
experimental, postmodern and non-Western forms are certainly of interest to me, and I have
incorporated such forms in some of the theatre works that I have made. However, given that
most of my practice has been in community theatre, there is limited scope for such alternative
sensibilities. Incontrovertibly, this limited frame of experience and sensibility is brought to
my interactions with actor participants and to the data that comes out of such interactions.
That being said, it is also my desire to move beyond such limitations (to the extent that this is
possible) and to be open to what actors have to say about their experiences and to be sensitive
to their idiosyncratic condition and to the diversity of cultural perspectives they wish to share.
I also believe that while my being-in-the-world as a middle aged white male is an existential
state capable of constraining the possibilities of research, this same state might also foster or
facilitate particular types of research. I certainly bring to this study a body of praxis and
reflexivity created through over thirty years of hands-on theatre work, and I am an
experienced pedagogue. This experience means that I have a range of tacit knowledge about
what happens to actors during performing based on years of informal observation and
conversations with actors. This embodied knowledge makes the case-based, dense
ethnographic analysis typical of this study an especially apt form, given my disposition
towards understanding actor experiences and ease of working with actors.
A thoroughgoing critique of my position as researcher, and of the ideas and methodologies
that I espouse in this study, is an integral part of the inclination of this research approach.
This inclination to critique is complemented by a reflexive and auto-ethnographic dimension,
so that I have an overt presence in this research. The broader issue in terms of research that
comes out of my decision to bring meta-analysis to bear on the outcomes of this research,
concerns the nature of what is implied in doing research. It is not usual to critique one’s own
research. If one takes a positivist line then the inquiry should bring results that are consistent
with the methodology. But if one is to take a more constructivist position (see Knorr-Cetina,
12
1981), then research itself is a discursive process or journey of discovery and rediscovery that
is neither fully complete nor ultimately definitive.
The use of a research journal, while certainly not unique in qualitative research, became for
me mostly a personal tool for mapping my research journey. I made the decision early to
systematically date and number each entry, and these entries became extensive over the life
of the project. Within the journal there are field observations, layered with analysis,
speculations and reflections inspired by the literature. The journal also contains numerous
diagrams, concept maps and lists, some of which are included in the thesis. As an extension
of the previous point, I undertook, from the earliest entries in the journal, systematic criticism
of ideas, perspectives and structures as they emerged.
A final particularity to do with the presentation of this thesis is the extensive use of concept
maps (sometimes referred to as mind maps or flow diagrams) to represent key ideas, states of
being and phenomena2. Initially, I employed these diagrams as cognitive devices to facilitate
my understanding of complex phenomena without the specific intention of using them in the
thesis. I consider myself to be quite a visual thinker or at least a person who has a preference
for the visual in order to foster understanding, so most of the diagrams in the thesis started
life as hand drawings in my research journal. What I have come to realise is that these
diagrams are also powerful communicative and rhetoric devices for representing the complex
ideas and phenomena dealt with in this study. In using such diagrams, the Husserlian ideal of
bracketing a phenomenon and then representing it in consciousness is adroitly achieved.
However, such diagrams should not be regarded as static or promoting any idea of fixity. On
the contrary, they are intended to suggest complexity, fluidity and dimensionality.
Section 1.5
Structure
The thesis is structured in the following order:
1) Articulating the ground for the inquiry;
2) Identifying research questions;
3) Developing a set of claims about these questions based on accumulated evidence
2
On the theory and characteristics of concept mapping, and its place in academic discourse, see Novak & Cañas
(2008).
13
drawn from practice and research literature;
4) Formulating a method to test and evaluate such claims;
5) Collecting data through the use of tools of ethnographic research;
6) Analyzing data using ontological categories and a set of philosophical perspectives;
7) Coming to conclusions that support or refute claims;
8) Noting limitations and possibilities for further research.
Maxwell (1996) has criticized linear approaches to research as being “not a good fit for
qualitative research” (2). In contrast to linearity, Maxwell proposes a richly interactive
model: one in which the unfolding perspectives of research and the various components of
research are highly interconnected, not “a fixed sequence of steps” (3). Whilst there is a
rigorous design to this study, (a spine that is delineated above), it is, nonetheless, highly
interconnected, with a self-awareness of limitations and differing perspectives. The design is
emergent and evolving in that it begins with a curious and reflexive researcher who is on a
research journey where his original claims and perspectives could easily be challenged or
problematised. The inquiry is neither fully inductive nor fully deductive; rather, it contains an
amalgam of both approaches. As Alfred North Whitehead stated in his 1929 Gifford
Lectures:
The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the
ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative
generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational
interpretation. (Whitehead, 1978, 5)
For me “the ground of particular observation” is my practice as a theatre maker and as an
observer of actors. The “flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization” is the set of
diverse claims about acting, experience and theatre forged from praxis and imaginative
exploration of the research literature. And the “renewed observation rendered acute by
rational interpretation” suggests my gathering and interpretation of data from actors and actor
educators who participated in this inquiry, together with a critical evaluation of the acuity of
the original starting ground.
It is more than feasible that a simpler research approach to an investigation of the experiences
14
of actors could have been undertaken, namely, an inductive and qualitative inquiry into
actors’ experiences of performing, preceded by a discussion of previous research and
conclusions drawn from an analysis of these case studies. But such an approach might have
placed my grounded concerns as a researcher and my voice as a writer (as ethnographer) into
the background. Frankly, I may not have found such an approach as stimulating or
compelling; nor do I believe that the level of engagement with and critique of key ideas about
experience and its contingencies would have been as significant and as far-reaching.
What have emerged in this study are two distinct but complementary modes of inquiry. First,
there is what might be termed a ‘wide’ approach. This approach entails examining a range of
factors that impinge on, affect, or foster actors’ experiences. It is my contention that a
phenomenon cannot be properly understood without cognizance of such factors. Indeed, these
factors both create and shape experience and so they are part of what constitutes a
phenomenon by necessity. Second, there is what could be called a ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’
approach in examining what actors said they experienced and through reduction finding the
essences of such experiences3. The ‘wide’ and the ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ are used in concert to
understand experiences and what may create them within a particular contextual frame.
Illustration 1.1 below schematizes the content of the study, showing the focus of each chapter
and the ostensible links between chapters, unfolding the inter-active and multi-linear model
of research discussed above. It is clear in the diagram that the central thrust of this thesis is
about the veracity of a set of claims concerning the nature of actors’ experiences of
performing and includes factors that affect such experiences, especially sedimentation. As
such there is a direct link between Chapters Two and Seven. The claims that are made in
Chapter Two are evaluated and critiqued in Chapter Seven. In Chapter Three the
methodology for gathering data and tools for textual analysis are introduced. In Chapter Four
a set of philosophical frames and perspectives (that I term ‘lenses’) are articulated. These
frames and perspectives are deployed in Chapters Five and Six to facilitate the examination
and analysis of data. The results of the analysis of data become the basis for judgements
about veracity in Chapter Seven.
What follows now is a brief summary of the content of Chapters Two to Seven.
3
The use of this term ‘deep’ is influenced by Cataldi (1993), who, using notions drawn from Merleau-Ponty,
explores emotional depth as a quality of self-understanding and embodiment.
15
Chapter Two
This chapter functions as both a literature study and a series of detailed elaborations in which
an array of claims about actors’ experiences of performing and related concepts are
elucidated. The basis of the chapter is a set of suppositions drawn from praxis and from
reflections derived from reading selected research literature. This chapter came into being
from a concatenation of notes in my research journal, in which I began to develop an
emergent series of performance-related constructs that are wide in scope. Thus, the chapter
represents a detailed and systematic exposition of my initial exploratory thinking in this
research, up to and including some of the first interviews with actors and actor educators.
In this chapter, claims are constructed in regard to notions of performance (particularly in
regard to role), experience and internality, presence and externality, time and temporality,
space and place, sedimentation, an actor’s life frame, artistic ‘filters’ that regulate
performance and actor training methods. The central question in Chapter Two is the
following: What claims do I make about actors’ experiences of performing and about
contingent and related factors as they affect such experiences? The validity of such claims is
alluded to in Chapters Five and Six and fully explored in Chapter Seven. The main argument
of the chapter is that experience is complex and multi-layered, and is inexorably shaped by a
range of factors that encroach on it.
Chapter Two is especially long and methodical in style, given the scope and complexity of
concepts elaborated. The length, and the systematic approach taken, is necessary to establish
the elaborate conceptual ground needed to contextualize and frame the analyses of actors’
experiences undertaken in Chapters Five and Six. Within these chapters frequent reference is
made back to this conceptual ground and to the validity of claims that emerge from it. It is
important to regard the concepts elucidated in Chapter Two as unified (and thus belonging
together as one chapter), since all these concepts are critical for conceiving both an ontology
of actors’ experiences and the context in which such experiences are constituted.
Chapter Three
This part of the thesis expounds the methodology of the study, namely, ethnophenomenology. As stated above, this is an amalgam of two research traditions: ethnography
and phenomenology. From social research methodology (and especially ethnography) is
derived the data gathering tools, including the semi-structured interview, the reflective
16
journal and field notes, as well as the approach of understanding phenomena within a
particular social and cultural milieu, or what I term ‘wide’ inquiry. Also introduced is the
method of phenomenological reduction, using propositions derived from phenomenologist
Edmund Husserl. The means of reduction used in this study is textual, with interviews with
participants transcribed for textual analysis and then marked up in regard to their ontological
features. Finally, a set of specific textual coding categories is explicated. These categories are
used to identify ontological features of experience as apparent in transcripts of interviews and
journals. The important question in this chapter is this: how is data to be collected,
categorized and delineated? This chapter presents a detailed exposition of the use of narrow
and deep textual analysis juxtaposed with a broader ethnographic perspective. Both
approaches are deployed in synergy in order to understand comprehensively what actors
experience in theatrical performance.
Chapter Four
Chapter Four provides a detailed exposition of three philosophers, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas
and Whitehead, who are deployed as interpretative lenses or perspectives through which to
view the data gathered from actor participants and actor educators. Selected ideas of these
philosophers are discussed in terms of what these ideas can possibly bring to an
understanding of actor experiences, embodiment, contexts of theatre, dramatic creation, and
relationships within the context of theatrical performance. These ideas are actively employed
in the analysis and exposition of research data in Chapter Five and Six. From Merleau-Ponty,
the notion of the subject-body and its intentional, situated engagement with the world is
explored as it relates to performance. This focus on the individual is complemented with the
ideas of alterity and relation from Levinas. The ethics of obligation central to Levinas’
metaphysics is explored as it appears relevant to performative contexts and because it
provides an interpretive frame for what actors experience of otherness. Finally, Whitehead
provides a perspective or lens on the constitution of elements of a performance phenomenon,
and his work is suggestive of the inexorable role of experience in such a creative constitution.
A key focus in this chapter is on how I might understand actors’ experiences and corollary
factors that impinge on experience, utilising these three distinct philosophical perspectives.
This chapter, like Chapter Two, was written (in its first iteration) prior to the analysis of
interviews and journals. Again, the core ideas in the chapter were developed in my research
journal. The contention of Chapter Four is that the internality of actors is a complex
17
phenomenon and requires a breadth of perspectives in order to reasonably encompass its
complexities.
Chapter Five
This is the first of two data analysis chapters. This chapter focuses on detailed thick
descriptions and interpretations of the experiences of actors-in-training, evident in the
transcripts of interviews, journals, field notes and other observations. This and the next
chapter emphasise the ‘deep’ and ‘narrow’ thread of this study. The milieu for these
experiences is each actor’s participation in a theatrical production. The descriptions are built
on a set of ontological categories that are used to differentiate types of experiences and
identify corollary factors to experience. Within this chapter, four actors in training programs
are introduced and their unique socio-cultural circumstances are elucidated. Material from
each participant’s acting teacher is woven with a discussion of experiences of performing in
order to illuminate the role of training in the disposition of experiences and to suggest a
connection with the broader frame of sedimentation. Throughout these analyses, the
perspectives of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Whitehead are implicitly deployed to focus
discussion on embodiment, relation and creation. For each of these participants, I have
synthesized the phenomenological character of their experiences through the use of a concept
map. Each map focuses on the structures of consciousness obvious to me as researcher. What
is evident in the chapter is that each actor has a unique footprint of experiences and essences,
though the importance of training, and its apparent sedimentation in experience, was shared
by all participants.
Chapter Six
Chapter Six is the second data chapter and presents analyses of interviews with four actors
about their experiences of working in a theatrical production. Three of these actors had
completed actor-training programs, and one actor had no formal training, but he had had
many years of acting experience with community theatre companies. The approach to
description, analysis and interpretation is equivalent to that employed in Chapter Five. The
place of actor educators is not as explicit in this chapter since there is no material included
from each participant’s acting teacher. In this chapter reference to training is only made as
offered by actors themselves. Of the many findings from this chapter, two key ones are that
actors show a greater awareness of their experiences and bodies during performance than is
18
commonly thought and an actor’s life frame is a significant factor in what is experienced in
performing. Surprisingly, the previous formal training of an actor still played a significant
role in performance and experience, even some years after the training.
Chapter Seven
Chapter Seven focuses on an assessment of the validity, appropriateness and accuracy of
claims that are elucidated in Chapter Two. As part of this assessment, the methodology of the
inquiry also comes under scrutiny. The chapter includes a range of conclusions about and
implications of the research, as well as recommendations for future research possibilities
based on perceived limitations. The focus is on the question: What critical understandings
does the analysis of data bring to my claims about actor experiences and corollary factors to
such experiences? Perhaps the most important findings expressed in the chapter are that
actors’ experiences of performing are both complex and diverse, that the audience and
personal factors play an important role in such experiences, and that actors’ awarenesses are
more acute than is often expected in performance situations. Moreover, sedimentation
appears to assume a significant place in the constitution of experiences. Finally, the
experiences of actors and the disposition of their internality, far from taking away from what
is constituted in a performance phenomenon, appears to be an important element in its
constitution.
19
Illustration 1.1
Thesis outline
20
CHAPTER TWO
Claims
Section 2.1
Introduction
The approach of organising research in a linear progression from the particular (the data) to
the general (conclusions about data) is not possible in this study. Indeed, I do not believe that
such a linear inductive model is ever feasible or fully realised for any researcher. In many
cases, researchers have a set of working principles or hypotheses in place before examining
data, and this certainly is the case in this study. Such working principles are often based on
long-term tacit knowledge that has not been rigorously examined but provokes further inquiry
(see Collins, 2001). Blaikie (2010) suggests that there are, in fact, four distinct, but often
inter-woven, research strategies. To induction and deduction he adds abduction. This is the
use of ‘thick’ descriptions and concepts “derived from everyday concepts and accounts”
(105). The use of the term ‘abduction’ may also refer to an accumulation of concepts derived
from previous experiences, bodies of literature and research. Finally, Blaikie includes
retroduction in his list of strategies, by which he means the explanation of social phenomena
by means of mechanisms within a particular context.
There is a creative interplay between so-called inductive and deductive, as well as abductive
and retroductive, approaches to gaining knowledge in this research. Also encompassed in this
interplay of approaches is the notion of trial and error, utilizing Karl Popper’s idea of testing
and assessing instances of failure (Popper, 2002; Jeffrey, 1975). Another influence is the
Kantian perspective, that knowledge is both transcendental and empirical: organised within
structures of consciousness and derived from the world sensorially (Kant, 2007).
The central questions in this chapter, then, are as follows. What concepts, hypotheses and
frameworks have emerged in regard to actors’ experiences of performing, based on my praxis
(and thus my tacit knowledge) and the literature with which I have engaged? Furthermore,
how do such frameworks, hypotheses and concepts equate or correspond to the data gathered
about actors? Finally, what is the efficacy of such frameworks and concepts in understanding
what actors experience, including what is absent from my elaborations? In Chapter Seven, I
offer conclusions that address all of these research questions. In sum, a composite of
approaches to research is offered in this study, and these approaches are held in juxtaposition
in order to shed light on both the experiences themselves and on the process of attempting to
21
understand such experiences within their context.
In this chapter, there are three discrete sections that contain ideas and elaborations which are
designed to frame and delineate the study and to develop several concepts that are significant
for analysis of data in later chapters. They are also the focal points for evaluation of my
claims about experience. In the first section, key elaborations about actors and what possibly
constitutes their embodiment in performance are identified. Included in this section are the
terms ‘performance’, ‘experience’ and ‘presence’. In the second section, the concepts of time
and space are positioned as being key factors that impinge on and shape experience for
actors. Finally, personal and professional factors that may affect experience of performance
are introduced. Included in this section are the metaphor of sedimentation, notions about an
actor’s life frame, and the role of training in the constituency of experience. At the end of this
chapter I offer a summary of both the conceptual frameworks developed in this chapter and
the claims about actors’ experiences that emerge from these frameworks.
Section 2.2
Terms
Section 2.2.1 Performance
Central to this study, and pivotal to my investigation of actors’ experiences of performing, is
the term ‘performance’. It is used to suggest both what actors are a part of and what they do.
Actors experience doing as well as perceiving what is being done. Between these two states
there is accommodation and adjustment. In sum, the term is employed in a specific way in
order to understand what actors experience and how this experiencing is situated. In the
material that follows I explicate the term in order to differentiate my use of the term from
commonly accepted usages.
The pervasive nature of this term and its appropriation across a diverse range of academic
contexts, disciplines and discursive practices is well documented (see, Palmer & Jankowiak,
1996; Carlson, 2004). In popular usage, ‘performance’ could imply what a rock band does in
delivering a song to a receptive audience. It might also mean what a clown does in a circus
act. It is a term that is emblematic of the Arts in all their diversity and particularities across
the fields of music and theatre, as well as public spectacles.
Performance could be as broadly employed as suggesting that all of us, in everyday life,
including me as researcher, are performers (States, 1996) and that our gender is performed as
22
a series of layered acts (Butler, 1988). Performance appears to be as definitive of occasions
such as processions (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1985) as it is of emerging virtual reality contexts
(Ryan, 1997) and theatrical recreation of histories and archives in documentary theatre
(Martin, 2006). Performance is inclusive of notions about performance landscapes in sociospatial theatre (Westgate, 2007). The term is used in regard to new ecological understandings
of space and performance (Kershaw, 2007), or performance as a political act (Martin, 1990).
The breadth of usage of the term ‘performance’, its acquisition by a range of distinct
disciplines (and thus its transdisciplinary employment) and its complexity of application are
expressed concisely by Jackson (2004): “Performance’s many connotations and its varied
intellectual kinships ensure that an interdisciplinary conversation around this interdisciplinary
site rarely will be neat and straightforward” (15).
Given this ubiquity, I want to distinguish the use of the term to describe the ordinary or the
lived-in-life from the frame4 of the dramatic and the theatrical, a frame that could be termed
supra-ordinary (see Beeman, 1993). Though undoubtedly they intertwine, as Natanson argues
(Natanson, 1966), performance in everyday life and the taking on of social roles in the
context of frames of everyday social interactions (Brissett & Edgley, 2006) can be
distinguished from specialised performance contexts associated with theatre spaces5.
In some cultures, including Asian and African cultures, such separation is artificial (see, for
example, Dowsey-Magog, 2002). Though in the concept of ‘social drama’ Turner (1988) and
Schechner (1987) imply a connection between the everyday and the dramatic or theatrical, in
many traditional societies theatrical ritual is associated with a discrete sacred space. This
designation of ‘performance’ as a distinct space of presentation positions the term as a
phenomenon of showcase or spectacle (see Counsell, 1996). All of the actors who
participated in this study performed in specialised theatrical spaces, so the term
‘performance’ is used quite specifically to frame these precise creative contexts.
4
I am using this term as an anthropological construct following the work of Bateson (1972 & 1979) and
Goffman (1974), as well as Entman (1993). Turner (1982) neatly defines the term this way: “To frame is to
discriminate a sector of sociocultural action for the general on-going process of a community’s life” (34). This
often means establishing rules of inclusion, and specific notions of time or space. There is also a reflexive
element as a frame comes under inspection or analysis. The concept of a ‘frame’ is a useful paradigm for
understanding performance.
5
Read (1993) argues that theatre is beyond the everyday but “ironically dependent” (ix) on it. The everyday is
thus the necessary ground for theatre’s existence.
23
Bauman (2004) suggests that performance is an act of expression by a performer that is
framed as display and positioned in terms of communicative responsibility to an audience.
Bauman is implying that performance has an existence of-itself and is thus capable of being
documented and objectified (Auslander, 2006). It is an artefact, but, at the same time, it is
also process and organic, fluid, ephemeral and changeable. For an actor, the experience of
being observed, observing, and objectifying an embodied experience are aspects of what I
call ‘performance’. Much as an electron in physics is both particle and wave, so a
performance could be conceived as both documentable (and thus an artefact) and embodied
expression and experience (objectified and subjective). A performance leaves traces in the
memory of all those who performed in and witnessed it, memories that are explored in
transcripts of interviews and journals of the actors analysed later in this study.
Schechner (1985) has expressed the ‘doubleness’ of performance in cultural terms. In
performance (and especially in theatre) a reading or interpretation of culture is offered, but, at
the same time, representations in performance are culturally determined. Both the making of
performance in terms of culture and the cultural analysis of that performance are interwoven
and cross-pollinating. Performance could be conceived as event that is made and then
observed (teleologically located in time as object or cultural artefact), that which is
experienced (what is being lived through in temporality), and that which is analysed as
culture. This fluid relationship between event, experience, and critique is often negotiated
through sign systems that function deictically in the spectator-performer relationship (see
Elam, 2002). Performance, as elaborated above, is a culturally-embedded event6 which is
experienced temporally and has a materiality that means it can be documented, while at the
same time it leaves traces that are part of rooted memories and can be imbued with paradox
and surprise (Dastur, 2000). In exploring actors’ experiences of theatrical performance, all
three aspects of performance within this definitional frame are considered. Indeed, the
interviews conducted with actors demonstrated the pervasive nature of event, experience and
critique in their memories.
6
In The Theatrical Event, Sauter (2000) focuses on the communicative encounter between audience and
performer that is experienced as event. Such encounters have, according to Sauter, a quality of ‘eventness’,
despite the specificity of their context.
24
Performance, for the purposes of this research, is also a phenomenon of contracted7 exchange
between a performer and an audience, often, but not always, in a dedicated and codified
space, one in which the audience is invited to watch and thus understand that an artifice is to
take place: that they should suspend belief and move beyond the architecture to a space of the
imagination, through diegesis and mimesis. The use of the term ‘dedicated’ means that a
space has been imbued as having a specialised functionality which Meyerhold (1969)
suggests implies an overt sensibility about the relationship of actor to audience in a space.
Just as there are dedicated places of ritual and worship in many religious traditions, so
performance occurs in what could be conceived as a ritual space (Turner, 1982). Any space
can have this ritual performance quality if it is emblematically set aside for performance, and
carries gradations of being ‘sacred’ (see Avorgbedor, 1999). By ‘contracted’ I mean that
there is a palpable expectation that is ascribed to a performer in the act of performance by all
agents involved in a performance, be they the audience, the production team or the actors.
This expectation may be a significant constraint on what an actor experiences while
performing, but it could also be a catalyst for experience since expectation can evoke an
affective response from both performer and audience. For one actor with whom I worked in
this study, expectation became a touchstone for driving his aspirations as an actor; while for
another it produced anxiety and a tendency towards desiring perfection in his delivery of a
text.
According to Feral (2002), “space is a vehicle of theatricality” (92). Any performance space
carries expectations and potentialities before a performer enters a space to perform. There are
pre-aesthetic and pre-performative states that exist prior to performance but which are,
nevertheless, co-extensive with performance and codify both performers and audience. There
is a sense that both performer and spectator come discursively into a theatre space, and the
actor assumes the specialised bodies of performance (see Zarrilli, 2004, 655).
These notions of ‘contracted’, ‘expectation’, ‘dedicated’ and ‘codified’ may be important in
understanding the reception that an actor experiences in performance. But they also form the
pre-performative ground upon which performing is built for an actor. Such a ground could be
7
The term ‘contracted’ suggests that there is an agreement that is binding and mutual between an audience and
performers. There is a contract that an audience makes with performers in paying money and coming into a
space to watch a performance. According to Deighton (1992) audiences are consumers of performance, and like
all consumers they have product expectations.
25
significant in abetting what is experienced during performing, a claim tested in this study.
Dramatic role is also integral to what is experienced by actors while performing. Arguably,
dramatic role is created in an environment of pretence. According to Osipovich (2006), a
theatrical performance is
a particular kind of interaction between performers and observers (actors and audience
members) in a shared physical space. A necessary component of this interaction is that
the performers pretend that the interaction is something other than what it actually is
and that the observers are aware of this pretense (461).
For Osipovich, there is a shared physical space in theatre involving actors and an audience
who come together to create make-believe (a suspension of reality) as active agents in a
performative interaction. Part of this pretence involves the relationship of a performer to role.
Performance is conceived in terms of role in this research because of what I see as its
essential place in what actors experience in performance. Role is taken to mean an embodied
creation of a discrete fictional personality separate from, but interpolated through, a
performer or actor, existing in a state that is ascribed ‘dramatic’ and having a degree of
contrivance associated with it. Role implies entering a new state of being prompted by the
framing of a space as ‘other’, as fictional/dramatic ‘other’. It is a fluid construct that suggests
how an actor physicalises, makes and appropriates (even colonizes) a character within a
performance context and in response to audience reception. Role is thus about what is shown
in the body through action and expression.
It is important to differentiate ‘character’ and ‘role’ (see, Stanislavski, 1950). The term
‘character’ is taken to mean a literary construction of a fictional personality (as in the work of
a playwright in a play) or a construction of elements of a fictional self that more-or-less form
a gestalt (as in more improvised or group-devised theatre)8. Character is thus an abstraction
based on a set of representations, images and ideas. Individuals in an audience certainly
develop notions about a character in reaction to a role created by an actor. Each actor
interprets a character and embodied representations of a character through his or her
performance. The relationship between role and character can be viewed as a question of
etiology: does a character create a role or does a character emerge out of the embodied acts of
8
See Pavis & Shantz (1998, 52).
26
role? In my view, a character exists both prior to performance as potentiality and is emergent
in performance through interpretation, embodiment and reception. However, a character is
never complete or stable but emergent in the serendipity of performance as a construction in
consciousness. Performers and spectators share an understanding, even a simpatico, that a
performance involves a transformation into a constructed other world that is fiction and in
which characters ‘live’.
The embodied presence of a performer or actor in a space in relationship to an audience is a
dynamic way of conceiving performance generically. The introduction of ‘role’, with the
performer as ‘actor’, brings with it a possibility of paradox (Feral, 2002, 100; Schechner,
1985). The self of an actor is held always in tension with the making of a character. An
audience never fully believes that an actor is the character; nor does an audience believe that
an actor is not the character. It is at this fragile or liminal point of tension and paradox that
role exists or does not exist. This is why role is central to an actor’s experience of
performance and should be differentiated from other aspects of performance. An actor’s
embodiment of a role could also be said to include particular performance bodies that are
adopted or put on for each occasion of performance. A performer fashions these bodies and,
in turn, other artists including other actors, directors and dramaturges shape these bodies.
These ‘shapes’ are formed through repetition and “standards of practice” and map a “social
identity” (Cohen, 1998, 485) within a performance context.
Experiences of an actor in this fictional state of ‘other’ are, more-or-less, mediated by role. In
many theatre contexts, role is a prime determinant of actor agency within performance, a
contention that seems to be supported by interviews with some of the actors in this study.
Furthermore, there are discursive practices that are specific to role9. Both role creation and
discursive practices associated with executing role, I contend, are significant factors in how
an actor experiences performing, a point explored in the analyses of Chapter Five and Six.
Of course the notion of the centrality of role in the internality of an actor is not new. For
Stanislavski (1950), in Building a Character, what is clear is a rejection of both emotionalism
and a set of external acting clichés (see, also, Mitter, 1992, 32-36). Instead, he asks an actor
to “Learn to love your role in yourself” (23), suggesting the primacy of role such that an actor
adapts his or her physical actions and internal states holistically to the requirements of role.
9
On the connection between agency, discursive practices and discourse, see Thibault (2004).
27
For Stanislavski, ‘role’ is the raison d’être of an actor’s existence. By the use of the word
“love” Stanislavski also implies that a significant element of engagement, passion and
commitment accompanies the embodiment of role. My claim is that role is all consuming and
a pivot around which the experiences of acting performance are built. In examining the
experiences of actors in this study, this claim assumes critical importance in my thinking,
though it is possible that my own partialities as a theatre maker have mediated it in this way.
Kirby (1995) has taken a different approach to conceiving acting performance. He has
proposed a continuum between acting and not acting, between existence and its negation, and
he suggests that “not all performing is acting” (43). Kirby amplifies what he means by this
notion of acting and not-acting by introducing the term ‘matrixed’. He uses the term to
suggest that a performer is fully embedded in the fictional world as a character.
‘Nonmatrixed’ performers, according to Kirby, are those who are not part of this fictional
world, even if they appear to be so. The notion of a continuum implies that there are degrees
of being ‘matrixed’, and that acting can be a variable quality, one that can disappear or appear
at will. While Kirby uses terms such as ‘acting’ and ‘matrixed’, he is, in effect, suggesting the
existence or non-existence of role.
Of course this distinction between role and non-role, or between acting and non-acting, can
be problematic. First, how can an observer perceive that a performer is ‘matrixed’ or
embedded in role? Is it enough to interpret the signs of an actor’s body or are there other
factors of acting ontology that suggest role? For the most part, this issue is addressed in
Section 2.2.3 below. Suffice it now to suggest that sensing the presence of role is a complex
interaction of an observer’s previous cultural experiences, an apprehension of signs suggested
by an actor’s body in relation to a performance context, the somaesthetics of an actor’s
expression (including gesture, body tension and intensities, and voice), and textual
interpretations of an actor in juxtaposition with other actors. It could well be as simple as
Stanislavski’s notion of ‘faith’ (Stanislavski, 1967): does an actor ring true?
Second, not all acting performance fits neatly into a continuum of acting or not-acting. For
example, Richardson (2001) suggests that there is a distinct problem with understanding how
narration functions in both literary and performance texts. Who is actually speaking? 10 If an
actor is performing a role and then this same actor narrates a section or is a generative
10
See Aczel, 1998.
28
narrator of the whole work, with whose voice is the actor speaking? Is it the author’s, the
actor’s or the character’s voice? In all likelihood it is all three and perhaps more. In reference
to the above discussion, what role is being created as narrator? Locating voice is elusive in
terms of understanding role. Also, some avant-garde theatre, with influences from a
postmodern perspective, especially in Europe from the 1960s onwards, demonstrates not only
a radical rethinking of plot elements and narrative composition, but fragmentation of
character and a repositioning of role. A performative aesthetic (and its effect on an audience)
is more in focus than the dramatic, and there is a radical decentering of traditional ideas about
dramatic text. This is why Lehmann (2006) labeled this type of theatre ‘postdramatic’ (see
Hamilton, 2008; Hunka, 2008). For this form of theatre, the well-formed drama with its stable
and unified characters is dissolved and new discourses about performance are offered. While
conventional notions of the play and western drama are privileged in this study, there are
some examples in which what could be termed ‘postdramatic’
11
was embraced in
performance making.
Section 2.2.2 Experience
Performance has to do with a set of communicative and embodied states within a
performance milieu, and implies an observer as well as a performer. ‘Experience’ concerns
internality: states of temporal existence, and memories or traces of that existence. That the
two belong together is self-evident. What is complex or Gordian is the nature of the
relationship between experience and performance. It is a problem explored throughout this
inquiry.
I now theorise about possible ontological categories of experience in an actor. Much of the
material in this section is based on my observations of and speculations about actors and what
actors have articulated about their experiences of performance. Indeed there is a significant
grounded or ethnographic basis to this theorizing, which has emerged out of my reflections
on lived and embodied experiences of actors. A relatively small body of academic work, part
of which is explicated below, has also significantly influenced this formation of categories of
experience.
However, before beginning this exploration of actor experiences and embodiments, and
11
I employ Lehmann’s term ‘postdramatic’ in a more generic sense throughout this study to suggest theatres
where traditional ideas about narrative, character, presentational form and text may be subverted or not apply.
29
before proposing a set of ontological categories of experience, I begin with an elaboration of
the term ‘experience’. The term could mean that which is apprehended in the moment but
also that which is accumulated over time. Both senses of the term are employed in this study.
‘Experience’ is something personally encountered or lived through. It also involves an act or
process of directly perceiving events or reality. It is this sense of subjective encounter and
direct perception that is appropriated in terms of describing an actor’s experience of
performing. Experience is thus both an action and an acquisition. This is succinctly expressed
by Landgrebe (1973), when he writes of the views of phenomenologists such as Husserl:
We first of all concede that all experience is impossible without sensory perception.
But we have seen that sensuous perception, the acquisition of sensations, is not
possible without the “I can,” that is, without being able to control our sense organs.
Perception is impossible without being able to control our sense organs. Perception is
impossible without the experience which we gain in kinaesthetic movement. Because
of kinaesthetic movement we experience at the same time something about things
and about our power through which we cognitively and practically make things our
own (11).
Landgrebe suggests that experience comes out of a grounded, moving, lived encounter that
contains both perceiving and encountering the world through intentional movement. This is
an important orientation in terms of my argument in this chapter.
In using terms such as “lived” in regard to experience, however, there is an understandable
return to bodies as the ground of such experience. It is in bodies that we experience, and it is
through embodiment that experience is referenced. Landgrebe rejects the notion of a living
body being an object among other objects, and conceives this living body as that which
constitutes the “life-world” (12). In his seminal work, The Absent Body, Drew Leder (1990)
declares the unavoidability of body. He suggests that body becomes “the most abiding and
inescapable presence in our lives” (108).
Likewise, the premise of existence-through-
embodiment is a recurrent philosophical theme in the work of Merleau-Ponty (dealt with later
in Chapter Four) 12 . Gardner (1994) suggests there are varying levels of ambiguity and
disclosure of bodies. Likewise, bodies can become a ground for paradox and dispute. Leder
12
See, also, the work of Johnson (1987) who argues for a unified experience that is tied to the body, such that
mind emerges out of body. Lakoff & Johnson (1999) employs the concept of an embodied mind to express this
emergence from body. He, along with other cognitive researchers, is convinced of the sensory-motor basis of
mind (see Gallese & Lakoff, 2005) and thus experience.
30
has described absence as a state in which bodies become missing or submerged from
awareness. It is worth making a distinction, however, between what I call affective-bodies
(that are felt or experienced viscerally) and connotated-bodies (that are ascribed and
signified 13 ). From my observations, both these kinds of bodies act divergently and
convergently within performance through states of internality and externality. Thus,
embodiment is about both experiencing and watching.
Building on the work of Jones (1979), Johnson (1987), Leder (1990), Rayner (1994), States
(1995), and others, Zarrilli (2004) conceives two levels of embodiment experienced by an
actor. The first of these is what he terms “an aesthetic ‘inner’ bodymind” (655). Taking
concepts derived from Indian yoga and other Asian traditions, Zarrilli portrays this mode as a
subtle state of inner awareness that is often dormant or absent until re-engaged, and it is
training that activates this state (see Zarrilli, 1995). The second is what he terms “the
aesthetic ‘outer’ body” (664). This is the outer set of bodily actions, which are set in motion
and oscillate “with the enactment of the score [the performance text] in a role” (664). It is the
inhabiting and embodying of this textual score that creates the gestalt of performance. To
these two layers, Zarrilli adds the concept of the “chiastic body” (665). Employing the
framework of Merleau-Ponty, he suggests that an actor’s body is a “braiding, intertwining, or
criss-crossing” (666) set of interactions between the inner bodymind and the outer expressive
body that links with the sensory world. These interactions can become, according to Zarrilli,
“heightened modes of psychophysical practice” (666). In an earlier work (Zarrilli, 1998) he
suggests that the body becomes all eyes and there is an opening of the boundaries between
inner and outer. Considering this work of Zarrilli, Leder and others, together with my own
reflections on praxis, there appears to me to be ontological patterns that emerge when
considering embodied experiences of actors in performance. I am, of course, asking the
question: What counts as experience?
The constructs in Illustration 2.1 below were conceived as an ontological response to this
question. In Illustration 2.1, an actor’s experience of performance is depicted as being
contained within a larger sphere, which represents the sum total of possible embodied
experiences of an actor in the temporal frame of performance. Within this larger sphere are
13
I especially find the work of Pavis (1982, 1992 & 2003) convincing in that he positions the interpretation of
signs on stage (and therefore the inscription of meaning) not as atomistic but in terms of embodiment and the
conflicts that emerge from states of embodiment.
31
four other defined circles, which designate labels employed to describe experiences. These
smaller circles represent a sub-set of all possible experiences. When one or other of these
smaller spheres comes into consciousness there is an interior awareness 14 or sense of
presence. The presence of experience and its absence should be conceived as being in
opposition within this sphere of possible experience.
While separated for the sake of phenomenological analysis, these spheres are closely linked
and cross-pollinate at the level of the experiential. This sphere of felt states, awarenesses and
absences is seen in the world through an exterior embodied function that is often mediated in
discursive social practices and the nuances of languages and site-specific expectations.
Within the sphere of “interior awarenesses” I am suggesting four possible ontological
elements. First of all, there is emotional awareness of subjective or affective states without
necessarily being connected to cognizance. Two distinct types of affective states are
postulated.
14
It is important to differentiate between ‘awareness’ and ‘experience’. Experience (or experiences) is the
totality of all that emerges in consciousness; whilst awareness is a sub-state of experience that involves
recognition or a coming-into consciousness of that which involves what Dretske (1993) calls “a concept-free
mental state” (263). A distinction is made here between knowing in consciousness and recognizing in
consciousness. Marcel (1982) suggests that there is a difference between conscious perception and unconscious
perception, the former containing a level of construction not present in the latter. Rashbrook (2011) concurs
with a number of philosophers in conceiving consciousness to be in continuity, both as a state and a stream. If
Rushbrook is right, then experience emerges in consciousness as both a state of being and a contiguous flow of
awarenesses, cognitions, feelings, perceptions and somatic impressions. Lyyra (2009) suggests that
consciousness is not necessarily linked to an awareness of itself but is defined by its availability.
32
Illustration 2.1
Ontological elements of experience
33
The first is an emotional15 state that emerges in relation to particular stimuli16. According to
Lazarus (1991) emotions are also linked to appraisal: a reaction to a situation or an
assessment of what is needed for survival. This state may or may not run counter to
expectations of performance and is certainly an important factor in considering that it is that
actor’s experience. The second is what could be termed a constructed emotional state: One
‘put on’ or partially constructed from what Stanislavski (1967) termed “emotion memory”
(157), though, of course, emotional states are not only made from emotion memory (see
Konijn, 1995). This concept is misunderstood if it is identified as emotionalism, as it has been
with some forms of American Method Acting (see Gordon, 2006) and some feminist readings
of Stanislavski’s work (Blair, 2002). “Emotion memory” is more a controlled state of artifice
that is as much embodied as it is felt, and while induced by stimuli such as actual memories
(see Reisberg & Hertel, 2003), is enacted deliberatively in and through the body (see
15
Emotions are constructs used in a range of disciplines (especially Psychology) to describe affective states that
link to corporeal experience, often attended by physiological changes and somatic responses and perhaps having
adaptive value (Ekman, 1992). Emotions are also discursive devices, according to Averill (1990), based
substantially on metaphor. Emotions imply states of mind that suggest some reference to an object (so, when we
use ‘fear’ we ask: what of?), but this relationship is not necessarily causal and can infer a cognitive connection.
Emotional descriptors, such as fear, anger, jealousy, love, hate are really blunt instruments for what are complex
internal felt states. Kövecses (2002) considers that emotions are constructed metaphorically in language, and
thus contain multiple level meanings that are culturally specific. The term ‘feelings’ should not be confused with
the term ‘emotions’. Feelings are subjective and corporeal; whilst emotions are descriptors used to encapsulate
or circumscribe such felt states. Of course there is a whole literature on emotion in Psychology, Philosophy and
Sociology, which is outside the scope of this study (see, Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981; Stets & Turner, 2007;
Baier, 1990). This literature suggests not only how contested is the word ‘emotion’ but how problematic it is to
define it. Lutz (1986) positions the use of ‘emotions’ as really “a master Western cultural category” (287). As
such she portrays emotions as devices used to research human existence, to position subjects culturally and for
political utility. Given the phenomenological basis of this study, I use the term ‘emotion’ with caution, being
aware of its discursive, linguistic and cultural specificity. The term is deployed only as participants themselves
utilize it. It is useful as a category of analysis with recognition of its constructedness and its referentiality to
corporeal experience.
16
See, for example, Le Roux (1995) and especially the book, The Emotional Brain (LeDoux, 1998). Also, see
the earlier work of Searle (1984) and Simonov (1986), and more recently the research of Garrett & Maddock
(2006) and the perspective of Blair (2008) on the biological basis to acting. The point of these references to
physiological studies on the brain in relation to emotion is to suggest the physical or biological basis to felt
states and thus the importance of emotion as a bodily basis in the work of actors. This research counters the
position that emotions are just discursive and based in social practices and language formations (See Mascolo,
2009; Gustafsson, Kronqvist, et al., 2009). However, I suggest, that ‘emotion’ as a category is to an extent
socially constructed in its ‘showing’ to the world but the notion that affective states are just in the mind, rather
than constitutive of body and self, does not sit easily with recent brain studies (see Pollatosa, et al, 2005).
Finally, Northoff (2008) suggests that emotions should also be seen as “constituted by the person/bodyenvironment relationship” (523). In other words the environment plays a critical role in the constituency of
emotional feelings.
34
Benedetti, 2008). Stanislavski infers that this state is operating sequentially with perceptual
and other states. Alternatively, Bloch (1993; 2006; Bloch, et al, 1991; Bloch, et al, 1987)
claims, in her actor training method that has become known as Alba Emoting, that particular
psychophysical states or specific body actions can activate particular emotions or sets of
emotions that she terms “emotional effector patterns” (Bloch, 1993, 141). Bloch links
patterns of breathing, bodily states and specific emotions into a set of practical tools that can
be used by directors and actors. What Bloch’s work clearly suggests is the intimate link
between internality and externality in terms of emotions and how important bodily states are
in the composition of emotion in theatre performance, a proposition affirmed by Hurley
(2010). However, in regards to this research, I want to distinguish techniques of creating
emotion in theatre spaces from emotion that actors actually experience, though I
acknowledge that one may overlap with the other.
Secondly, there are perceptual awarenesses in response to sensory input from the boundary
of the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). This perceptual element includes consideration of the
information that is input and the senses that receive this input. I also include within the
parameters of perceptual awareness, notions of temporality, periodicity and space that are
discussed in detail in sections to follow. Perception cannot be holistically understood without
also appreciating its link to lived bodies and to desire. Barbaras (2003) states that “the body is
alive, and we must raise the question about the meaning of life. But the meaning of life is
linked to the possibility of perception from life; thus the meaning of this life will take shape
in contact with perception” (160). For an actor, meaning, perception and desire are
interdependent. Take the category of haptic perception for instance. O’Neill (2006) regards
haptic senses as a significant part of corporeal experience, especially experience to do with
spatial perceptions. Touch (one part of haptic perception) is not only about object
identification, but in theatre it could also be about the meaning that such touch conveys, the
manipulation of props for dramatic effect and the experiences and desires that accompany
touch and proprioception. In the case of two of the actors in this study, haptic engagement
with props was formative in the presentation of a theatrical work for its audiences.
Thirdly, there is volitional experience. By this I mean that which is contemplated, the cogito,
and then that which leads to decision and to action in the world. Volition is an internal
35
experience of wilfulness to act17 or purposeful direction to action and involves a mindfulness
of the function of actions in the world through reflexivity. Volition should be differentiated
from responses that are instinctive or automatic, momentary and adaptive. An intrinsic part
or ground of this volitional experiential state is intentionality, which, according to Brentano
(1981, 1995), is both a directing toward objects and an overtly aware perception of those
objects in consciousness18.
Illustration 2.2
Volition
Illustration 2.2 above depicts a notion of volition that is applied to case examples of actor
experiences in Chapters Five and Six. The diagram suggests that volition emerges out of
experience (across the boundary of the body) and is grounded as both temporal intentionality
(represented by the space inside the broken line) and a self-aware willful act that has
extension in time (outside of the broken line) and meaningfulness in a social context. Many
17
For Heckhausen (1991), volition means a deliberative process of planning and goal-setting that leads to
action. According to Binswanger (1991) volition is linked to self-regulation and free expression of will. Wegner
& Wheatley (1999) argue that conscious will and thought is prior and appears to be causally linked to action.
18
Brentano (1981) asserted that objects are apprehended only in consciousness, while Husserl (1969) differed in
maintaining the transcendence of objects as mental acts, capable of detachment from the world. Such
detachment is obviated in the views of Merleau-Ponty (1962) and Heidegger (1996), both of whom see a
necessary relationship with the world.
36
intentional acts constitute a volitional state, and this state is a factor in the formation of
agency. Stanislavski (1967) describes such a volitional state when he points to a purposeful
line of decision-making or “that inner line of effort that guides the actors from the beginning
to the end of the play” (250). Volition regulates the usefulness of affective states for the
purposes of role creation and the broader effectiveness of a theatrical work. Indeed, Slaby
(2008) argues that emotions are “rather crucial carriers of world-directing intentionality”
(429).
Finally, there are experiences that could be described as somatic in that they demonstrate
somatic awareness or attentiveness (see Csordas, 1993). By this term I mean that which is
related to control and expression of a physical body in space, and it includes instinctive or
spontaneous action of a body. It also encompasses visceral experience, composed of
sensations from the body, including pain19. According to Bakal (1999), “somatic awareness is
at the cutting edge of the mind-body interface and…is a commonplace inner
experience…discernable in the background of consciousness” (4). In terms of performance,
and in regard to the expression of a physical body in space, one can speak of a somaesthetics
or a sense of a living body as a site of aesthetic expression and appreciation (see Mullis,
2006; Alberts, 1997; Powell, 2010).
Shusterman (2008) regards this somaesthetic expression in the world as a body consciousness
linked with body practices and mindfulness. Barba (1995), drawing on a range of
performance traditions, including Asian, describes the preliminary preparation of the body for
performance, involving muscle tension. A similar approach is seen in the Alexander
Technique (Barker, 2002), where a “psycho-technique” aims to achieve an “ease of motion”
(39)20. It is clear that the somatic category has an inner and an outer quality to it, being both a
visceral experience and an expression of the body in the world. To separate the two or to
privilege one over the other is to understand only partially the holistic nature of body and
experience. Such holism has emerged in the work of practitioners. Smith (2010), for example,
has developed a kinaesthetic practice centred on soma to create what he terms, “somatic
19
I refer the reader here to the multitude of medical/physiological studies that connect pain with somatic
experience. The seminal study is that of Lewis (1938).
20
See also Tarr (2008), whose ethnographic study of the Alexander Technique suggests that conscious
awareness is critical in the habitual formation of the technique.
37
acting”: acting derived from and centred in the corporeal body.
Outside the sphere of experience (as schematised in Illustration 2.1) that is temporal to a
performance, are a series of layers which provide a ground to constructions of experience.
These are:
1. Sedimented practices — those states of tacit knowledge, training and practice that an
actor brings to a performance space (see Section 2.4.2 below). Such states exist prior to
an actor’s entry into a performance space but can become activated during performance.
2. Specialised bodies of an actor — that body or those bodies that an actor willingly puts
on, or are ascribed to an actor, for the sake of performance. Such bodies are derived in
part from sedimented practices and performance constructs, and suggest varying levels of
disclosure and ambiguities, representations and abstractions. These bodies can also be
signified bodies: bodies-as-text that are constructed as part of a broader performance text
(Rozik, 2002).
Illustration 2.1 suggests that an actor’s experience of performance is as complex and variable
as the elements that compose it, and that all these ontological constructs are meant to be seen
in fluidity, in flux and constantly self-adjusting. A goal of this research is to explore this
experiential complexity and variability. As suggested earlier, it is entirely possible that the
ontological categories discussed may not be directly conscious to an actor, or that
consciousness of these areas may vary or be intermittent during a performance. Also, the use
of the two-way arrows from the interior experience to the ‘sedimentation’ implies that
memories and habituations are constantly being embedded in the sedimentation practice of an
actor: that as an actor experiences performance there is an embedding and an enmeshing of
that experience in the totality of sedimentation.
Operating within the experience of an actor are ‘contingencies’. Let me elaborate what I
mean by ‘contingencies’ and identify some possible contingencies that operate on the actor in
performance, given the dependent relationship between contingencies and experience.
Contingencies are taken to mean those entities, conditions or dependencies that exist only
because a primary phenomenon exists. They affect a primary phenomenon in a variety of
ways. According to Husserl, that which is not part of the essence of a thing given in the
structures of consciousness is contingent (see Kim, 1976; Husserl, 1969; Husserl, 1999). A
38
contingency is a boundary, a limitation and a point of resistance in experience that is both a
part of and independent to experience. As is suggested in Illustration 2.1, contingencies
operate directly within interior awarenesses and become present and absent in the experience
of actors during performance. In essence, contingencies have the potential to both constrain
and enliven experience.
In relation to experiences of actors in performance, six classes of contingencies are proposed:
 Contingencies of temporality. These involve the effect of time on the actor, and would
include such qualities as the length of performance, the position of the performance in
the day, the preparation time leading into performance and even the season of a
performance. Temporality is discussed more fully in Section 2.2.5 below.
 Contingencies of space and place. This set of contingencies involves the nature of the
place and the dynamics of the space in which the performance occurs. This aspect of
space is detailed in Section 2.2.6 below. One could, for instance, ask whether the
space is a highly constructed and strategically signified space, or whether it is a fluid
space, subject to the active creation of the space through improvisation.
 Contingencies of subjective artefacts. This involves props (which may also involve
class 2 above), costumes and makeup that are used to create subjectivities in
performance.
 Contingencies of technology. This involves work of actors with various technologies
that impinge on or complement performance. These would include lighting, sound
effects, multimedia, staging devices and the like.
 Contingencies of self to ‘other’. This contingency concerns the relationship of an
actor to other actors in the space and involves the extent to which other actors limit
the work of a particular actor. It should be stated that relationships of one actor with
another may indeed not be a contingency (in the sense of a barrier or restriction), but
could, in fact, be emancipatory. It would appear, also, that the otherness of audience is
an important contingency in most theatrical work.
 Contingencies of textual dissonance. This is the sense of collision or tension that
exists between a performance text and a performer. Rozik (2002) suggests that “there
is a constant tension, which can be augmented or diminished at will, between the body
as such and the text inscribed in it” (110). This implies that acting and the signs
ascribed to a body through text are often in tension or in a position of dissonance. Part
39
of this textual contingency is the role of narrative and the narrative world of the drama
in containing actor experience (see Jahn, 2001).
In sum, these sets of contingencies bear on and affect the nature of actor’s work in a
performance space, the specifics of which are discussed in the analysis chapter to follow. All
these contingencies exist and have being only because of the existence of a primary
phenomenon. It is important to describe the ontology of contingencies, because such
contingencies clearly affect actors’ experiences of performing, even though they may be
demarcated from such experiences.
Section 2.2.3 Presence
In the previous section the focus was on experience and on developing an ontological
framework for investigating interiority. While interiority is essential to the concerns of this
study and pivotal to an understanding of what actors say they experience, theatre is a highly
communicative medium. According to Kattenbelt (2006) theatrical performance can be
distinguished from film in that it is “the art of the performer and the art of presence” (29)21.
Theatrical performance involves overt exteriority or expression, which is termed an exterior,
embodied function in Illustration 2.1 above. What an actor experiences in performing
involves intentional action in the world and, thus, by necessity, an experience of the world.
The term ‘presence’ encapsulates within it a cogent way of linking interiority with exterior
embodied function.
‘Presence’ is an emergent analytic term in the literature of performance, communication,
virtual reality and media studies (see Lombard & Ditton, 1997). Lombard and Ditton define
‘presence’ as follows:
The perceptual illusion of nonmediation. The term “perceptual” indicates that this
phenomenon involves continuous (real time) responses of the human sensory,
cognitive, and affective processing systems to objects and entities in a person’s
environment. An “illusion of nonmediation” occurs when a person fails to perceive
or acknowledge the existence of a medium in his/her communication environment
and responds as he/she would if the medium were not there.
21
In this regard, see Auslander (1999).
40
This suspension of mediation as a state of utter immersion and immediacy has resonance
with me, but I also find the above definition unsatisfying. It is unsatisfying because it
contains no sense of degree (or intensity) and it does not assess the affective link between
performer and observer. Presence is also linked with seduction and desire, and implies within
it the charisma of an actor. Presence is also linked to exercises of power such that it could be
interpreted as having what Auslander (1987) conceives as collusion with authority, which is
according to Hélène Cixous a masculinised authority (Silverstein, 1991). Simply put,
presence has power. Presence involves more than just being-there; it is a being-that-seduces.
When referring to an actor having presence, an observer or audience is probably using this
term tacitly, based on a total sense of an actor’s embodiment in space or, more importantly,
what is not embodied within a particular cultural frame. From my perspective, the cultural
frame of reference for presence, the experience of an audience or observer and what actors
express and experience are highly interwoven and bound together22. Goodall (2007) suggests
that it is the influence of Derrida and Heidegger that has fostered a “widespread movement in
contemporary philosophy that has found it easier to convert discussion of presence into a
focus on absence” (5). So, for Goodall, there is a reading of presence in the frame of
modernity, especially within a cultural frame in which presence is linked to loss of innocence
and a desire for human fullness. In Stage Presence, Goodall’s ultimate goal is to understand
presence more pragmatically. She writes of “two models of human presence” at the “core of
western theatrical tradition” (8): the regimes of training and the evocation of notions of
mesmerism and magnetism.
The nature of an actor’s presence for one observer is likely to be different from that for
another observer, although the affinity between different observers in regard to the presence
of an actor is often significant. I want to suggest that ‘presence’ is a condition of being that an
observer perceives in an actor’s body, and that this condition is, most importantly, related to
the internal state and experiences of an actor in performance in confluence with overt
expressiveness. As such it is an opposite pole to what might be termed ‘wooden’, or
22
According to Hadley (2010) audiences are critical to the live exchange and the creative potential of
performance; indeed, the uncertainty of an audience evokes “conditions of possibility” (149). Spectatorship is
part of an intimate and essential exchange in theatre (see Fearon, 2010), one which is, as Phelan (1993)
characterises, imbued with politics. See also Read (2008), and Boerner, et al (2010), whose empirical study of
audience internality is an interesting example of the complex range of experiences fostered in theatrical
contexts.
41
performance without perceivable affect and charisma (or indeed magnetism, to utilize
Goodall’s term). Presence is thus a phenomenological construct useful in attempts to
understand dynamics within a performance space between actors and spectators. As a
spectator of performances by the actor participants in this study, I observed first-hand the
condition of being that appeared to foster presence.
In a study of portrayal of emotions by ten actors in moving and still images, Atkinson (2004)
found that basic emotions, such as anger, disgust, fear, happiness and sadness, were readily
identifiable (in the whole body, including the face) and that the intensity of emotion was
linked to features of movement and the degree of movement, rather than still forms23. This
study corroborates the assertion that emotion is readily perceived tacitly in the body of an
actor and that the movement quality of an actor, perhaps developed from training and
propelled by an actor’s internal states, portrays the nature of the emotion. As suggested in
Illustration 2.3 below, ‘presence’ is a state of embodied being of a performer in a space where
that which impedes expression and performance goals (be it a lack of conviction or
deficiency of expressive ability with the body) is surmounted and the body is able to fulfill an
aesthetic vision through physical action in a state of synergy between internal state and
external expression. In this state, the full vitality of a performer can be given as a gift to an
observer, who measures this against the expectations of performance that are brought to the
performance space. It is a moment when a desire to create and express finds fullest
expression in a body, and an observer senses this tacitly.
23
This study appears to be supported by the earlier study of Wallbott (1998), who concluded that some
emotion-specific movements were evident in an analysis of 224 video takes of actors. The research of Bloch
discussed above also appears to corroborate Atkinson’s position.
42
Illustration 2.3
An ontology of presence
Presence is thus the observable outworking of an experiential state of an actor achieved
through skilled use of a body where performance goals are realised and performing becomes
what Dennis (1995) describes as virtuosity. States of being in an actor that take away from
this aesthetic condition of presence (such as ‘nerves’ or anxiety or lack of focus on
performance goals) could be said to be counter-synergistic.
This synergy is also what Zarrilli (2004) appears to be pointing to in his notion of the
chiasmatic body of an actor. He builds this notion on the idea of a heightened state in which
inner and outer become fully permeable. In An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski (1967) is perhaps
suggesting a comparable concept of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ when he writes:
There are mechanical tricks which actors use to cover up their inner lack but they
only emphasise the blankness of their stare. I need not tell you that that is both
useless and harmful. The eye is the mirror of the soul. The vacant eye is the mirror of
the empty soul. So he must build up greater inner resources to correspond to the life
of a human soul in his part. All the time that he is on the stage he should be sharing
these spiritual resources with the other actor in the play….If actors really mean to
hold the attention of a large audience they must make every effort to maintain an
uninterrupted exchange of feelings, thoughts and actions among themselves (182,
184).
43
Michael Chekhov used a corresponding idea of actor process in his employment of
movement, breath and meditation drawn from yoga so that his students would be able to
radiate energy out to an audience from prana or vital body energy (see Chekhov, 1991;
Kirillov, 2006; White 2006).
States (1995) proposes that an actor’s presence in a performance space is composed of three
modes or arbitrary “points of reference” (41). The first mode is the “self-expressive mode”
(24) where an actor performs to “see what I can do” and to convey and impart his or her
skills. The second mode is a “collaborative mode” (29) in which there is a breaking down of
the communicative barriers between audience and actor and a display of the “extroverted
personality” (34) of theatre. The audience is drawn in (almost as an insider) to the drama.
Perhaps this aspect of State’s model is closest to the notion of presence that I am advancing,
since I conceive presence as an act of mediation between the internality of a performer and an
observer through body, though States implies a more active role for the audience than I am
suggesting. The third mode is a “representational mode” (34): what is presented in a dramatic
and text based production is a play with all its textualities and signs, and audiences come to
disappear into this play and relate to its humanness.
While States’ structure is a useful paradigm, especially in understanding the dialectic of the
relationship of performer and audience, there are significant limitations, especially in terms of
the notion of an affective ‘presence’ suggested above. There appears be a marginalising of
the experiences of actors within the frame of the phenomenon of the exchange between actor
and spectator. In truth, actors enjoy, find fulfilment and pleasure, even ecstasy, in
performance. This experiential dimension is an essential aspect of presence and fully a part of
the drama. Secondly, in my experience, audience members come to see a production both as
play and performance: they want to feel the presence of actors and be caught-up in the
narrative. As Nordmann and Wickert (1997) point out, a theatre performance is a place of
wonder where both performers and audience share in the awe of performance. Finally, this
sense of ‘inner-outer’ (or internality/externality) appears to be the ‘engine’ of performance
but is missing in States’ account of actor presence, and so runs counter to versions of praxis
that go back to the work of Stanislavski. States thus seems to discount more holistic notions
of embodied performance that include both experience and reception.
To sum up, the idea of ‘presence’ is vital to an understanding of what actors experience in
44
performing because it accounts for interiority, exteriority (and thus expression), and the
reception of an audience (which is closely aligned to experience). Presence is also an
evaluative term in suggesting the degree to which internality and externality are in synergy.
As such, the term connects the expectations of an actor with an actor’s intentionality.
Section 2.3
Auxiliary factors
Section 2.3.1 Introduction
In Sections 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 below, I explicate two significant factors that potentially constrain
and foster experience: temporality and space. It is self-evident that these factors impinge on
experience. In exploring the experiences of actors in the chapters to follow, I analyse and
evaluate how temporality and space have influenced or forged such experiences. However, in
order to carry out such an analysis, conceptual frameworks are suggested. I elucidate such
frameworks in Section 2.3, exploring selected literature, identifying key concepts and
proposing possible implications of each factor for what an actor experiences while
performing.
Section 2.3.2 Temporality and time
Human experience is bounded by periodicity and temporality. Periodicity evokes notions of
interval, frequency, cycle and season and includes what is perceived as change. By contrast,
temporality is the experience of boundedness wrought by periodicity. A consideration of
experience is inadequate without these potent constructs. Part of human experience includes
periods of sleeping and periods of waking, juxtaposed with perceptions of the seasons and
natural cycles of nature and the phenomena of a moving and organic universe. Ultimately,
human existence is conceived within the periodicity of life and death. However, the notion of
time is an abstraction beyond experience. I conceive ‘time’ to be a socially and culturally
determined construct abstracted from primitive experiences of periodicity. It is both an
observing and then a measuring of change in the world, and implies a sense of separation
between events in the world often linked to technologies such as clocks (see Davies, 1995;
Sherover, 1975). Time can also be considered as construct for the formation of organisational
patterns in society, and therefore has political implications (Bluedorn, 2002). Bergson (2007)
argues that time is so mobile and ineffable that we cannot perceive it in its moments. We can
only imagine it in images. He calls this inner life of imaging time ‘duration’.
45
Arguably, the most important component of human experience of periodicity is breath.
Breath can be described, metaphorically and actually, as an internal ‘clock’ and regulator of
life and experience. Most often we are not aware of breath; it is absent in our consciousness
but present as part of an involuntary bodily system. Drew Leder (1990) has postulated that
our bodies, including breath, are often absent in awareness and that there is a fluctuation
between absence and awareness in our consciousness. Only at times of stress, panic or
particular exertion are we aware of the vicissitudes of breath as it comes into consciousness.
In yoga, martial arts, Asian acting and dance forms, and in many actor and dance training
methods, awareness of breath is part of the development of focus and control of tempo. An
awareness of breath may also foster a sense of the rhythms of performance. Breath is a key
actuator in an actor’s sense of rhythm and temporality. Yoshi Oida (1997) suggests that
conscious awareness of breath leads to a deeper understanding of the mind and the
subconscious.
What has been left out of the discussion so far is the material basis of time. Is time a
necessary element of the universe, of the unfolding processes of the universe? Astronomers
and physicists, of course, would argue that time is as much a part of the dimensionality of the
universe as is space itself (see, for example, Whitrow, 1961; Davies, 1995; Lockwood, 2005).
It could be argued that time is a scientific label for an observable and definable aspect of the
construction of the universe. Indeed, over thousands of years there have been ever more
sophisticated and accurate methods of measuring time. However, there is also the question of
whether time exists without there being a perception of it, or an observer to experience it. Is
time merely a process of perception of transitions or change? If time is acknowledged as
rooted in the physical nature of the universe (and I would argue that a phenomenon exists
both as essence and experience of it), then there are three layers of an epistemology of time: it
has a rootedness in the universe, it is perceived by sentient creatures who experience it
primordially as periodicity and temporality, and it is a powerful socially and culturally
positioned construct.
This notion of the layered nature of time is depicted in Illustration 2.4 below. The diagram
46
suggests the a priori of time in the universe and its pervasiveness in all human experience
and social expression of that experience. Both the phenomenological idealist position on
time, that notions of time depend on their construction in the human realm, and the
phenomenological realist position, that time is not dependent upon its human reception and
exists independently (see Smith, 1988), are, in my view, equally valid and part of a more
pragmatic phenomenological view of time. Part of this view is that time and the interaction of
material elements of the universe are inextricably inter-related and that observations of the
phenomenon of time are really observations about the relative materiality of the universe.
In my opinion, time is essence, perceptual state and a construct that implies both duration
(how long it takes from one point to another) and moment (what exists as experience at a
particular point in the continuum of time) mediated through measuring technologies.
Illustration 2.4
The layered nature of time
47
Time is known (enters consciousness) and regulated in experience through change (or
images, to use the Bergsonian concept), through markers that reveal that transpiration has
occurred and measure its passing? I contend that all three of these layers of time impact,
constrain and regulate quite profoundly what actors experience in performing.
There are at least four perceptual markers that create ontologies of time in an actor’s
experience. First, there is a teleological marker of time24: it begins at a definable point and
ends at a definite point (the metaphorical arrow, if you like). It is self-evident that a
performance begins and ends and that this is an interval in which an actor experiences the
uniqueness of that period of time as performer. However, the term ‘teleological’ implies not
just a defined interval but also the goal or purposefulness of the time. To do in time, to have
agency in time, is part of the fabric of performance time: it begins and ends with
intentionality and purpose. Time implies activity and a sense of accomplishment. The
corollary of this point is that each interval of time is unique and each performance in that
interval is a distinct gestalt. This leads to designations of a performance interval as event: an
interval set aside for significance.
The notion of the teleological and the idea of the arrow of time have evoked much discussion
among philosophers and physicists (Earman, 1974; Gould, 1987). Price (1997) has
challenged arguments that the past, present and future of time are different. Rather, he argues
for an Archimedean position of standing outside time, objectively, and suggests that the
above designations are part of the one continuum we know as time. Within a performance, in
my view, time (past, present and future) operates co-extensively. As an actor performs there
is a sense of the past in what has been completed (there is a memoric state), awareness of the
present (the temporal now of experience), and expectation of the future (what is yet to be
experienced but is on the predicted path and part of the performative system’s outcome).
Thus, the memories of what has gone stream into the immediacy of the ‘now’ experience and
shape its acuity, and the purpose and goal of performance is driven by a point of destination
24
Gilead (1985) conceives a concept of teleological time in which there is a span in history: there are
beginnings and ends, though these are not deterministic but open to the freedom of the individual in time. Ends
are constitutive and teleological time unfolds from each temporal moment for each individual.
48
in the future. Indeed, prolepsis may have a tangible and powerful effect on performance. For
an actor, past, present and future co-exist as the one experience of performance. Therefore, I
reject arguments that time exists only in experience in the present, contextually, or as Harré
(1984) suggests, as a “psychological time” based around people as “locations for discourse,
both public and private” (36)25. I would even suggest that within a performance, a gestalt is
constructed by the totality of time, past, present and future (see Kalu, 2009). However, it
should also be clear that there are, or may be, several futures, rather than the future.
Outcomes within a system of performance can be predictable but not definite. It is this quality
of the operation of time that makes each performance unique and each experience of
performance unique. In the analysis of actors’ experiences in Chapters Five and Six, I
evaluate the extent to which this claim reflects what actors actually experienced.
Second, there are cyclic markers of time, in which repetitions and patterns of life assume a set
of regulated phases of experience. Of course in Asian conceptions of time, a cyclic notion
assumes more overt significance than is often seen in western traditions. This may be to do
with Asian conceptions deriving typically from religious practices. In many Buddhist and
Hindu traditions, a cyclic notion of time is embedded in cycles of birth/life/death/rebirth and
the impermanence of the world (see Mansfield, 1996). In a similar way, performance is often
repeated and reiterated and is built on a set of practices that institutionalise repetition.
Schechner (2002) suggests that performance is stylised around a structure of
“gathering/performing/dispersing” (189), and that this takes place whether the drama is a
social drama (of the everyday or religious kin) or an aesthetic drama (of the more theatrical
turn). My point is that ritual performative structures are laden with cyclic markers that both
performers and audience (or observers) come to know and internalise. These markers could
include performative features that are known to both performers and observers. In the
experience of an actor in performance, there are pre-performance rituals, the cycle of the run
25
This could be similar to Bakhtin’s notion of chronotype: that time, space/place are unified within experience
in a distinct unit of temporality (Bakhtin, 1993). Of course Bakhtin is thinking specifically about the novel, but
this notion could reasonably be applied to theatre experiences and suggests coalescence in temporality between
space and time.
49
of performances across a season (with the reiteration of fictional time), post-performance
reflections, and critical practices that are burgeoned by performance.
Third, I propose that there are markers of completion in time. It could be said that time is a
metaphorical container that demands filling and that human experience is largely occupied
with that filling (see Fernyhough, 2006; Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). This metaphor implies that
time has a viscosity in experience: it is felt and tangible, pressing and impelling. For an actor
in performance completion is pivotal to the exercise of performance and the expectations of
an audience. Even the nomenclature of drama (‘scene’, ‘act’, ‘plot’, ‘rising’, ‘denouement’),
suggests this sense of ‘filling’ or inevitability towards completion. Time is thus both the
creative matrix of performance and also a barrier to, or contingency of, performance. It sits
paradoxically as both an unstoppable determinant in experience and gives a periodicity for
potential expressiveness. Put another way, time creates both the possibility of expression and
a boundary that limits or confines it.
An extension of the containment metaphor would be to suggest that time implies not only a
sense of filling or completion but also a transformation (or becoming). With each new
‘becoming’ a unique gestalt is created, so that periodicity provides the boundary for the
coming into being of a complex system, a creative dramatic entity, of which a performance
and the experiences of actors are a part26.
Finally, there are rhythms or tempos internally and externally created in time. These should
be distinguished from the cyclic markers of time suggested under point two above. The
elaboration of rhythm or tempo implies that there is not just completion, but also varying
rates of completion that are regulated internally in an actor’s experience of tempo, and
externally through technological interventions in performance. The tempo, ‘beat’ or ‘pulse’
of an actor’s experience in performance is a well-known phenomenon27, and this ‘pulse’ is
26
Prigogine (1980) has argued that this unfolding movement to complexity is an integral part of the physical
sciences. I would argue that it might also characterise any systematic human activity, including theatrical
performance.
27
See Hodge (2000), Benedetti (1997) and Goodridge (1999).
50
juxtaposed with rhythmical patterns within the drama itself. In addition, there are time
constraints that are outside the frame of the drama but, nevertheless, affect what is
experienced within it. There is a constructed time within a theatrical performance and an
actual time extramural to the performance. It is often said that when we see performance as
an audience we are called to suspend belief. The use of the word “suspend” suggests to me
that an audience is invited into the vortex of this constructed time and that this specialised
time imbues the drama with the quality of ‘apart in time’. Both audiences and actors can
experience this otherness of dramatic time. What exists in experience for actors and observers
during performance is the potential for the experience of a different quality of time, which for
a number of actors in this study appeared to characterize their experience of temporality.
My explication of perceptual markers of time in performance assumes an overt awareness of
time by an actor within a performance space, a proposition that needs some testing. Time
possibly links actors to a consciousness of their own stories and their own being, including
their own performance history and anecdotal recollections. We can thus speak of a being in
time or subjectivities of time, which form a matrix for creative expression in an actor. “When
I did that I became…” becomes part of an identity formation that is intrinsically linked to
time. Time in this sense becomes part of an unfolding human condition and a segment of a set
of embedded memories that an actor can bring to performance. A performance and a season
of performance are part of the life history of an actor that defines what he or she becomes,
and suggests the possibilities of what could be, what “I am” and what “I can become if”.
That time is part of this human existential experience and a locus for our mortality has been
part of a twentieth century quest for the existential. In Being and Time (1996), Heidegger
suggests that our overt and volitional sense of being in the world (our Dasein) cannot be
divorced from a larger history that locates us in time. We are grounded in temporality and
defined by it: it constitutes our existential and ontological being. For an actor, being part of
performance is a component of a broader teleology that encompasses the whole history of
being of that person. A performance season both shapes this historical locus and is itself
shaped by it. Therefore the age of an actor, their disposition (intellectually, emotionally and
51
spiritually), and the experiences that have preceded a particular performance, could all be
factors in the constitution of an actor’s being that is grounded in time, in an actor’s life-story
or story-of-being-in-the-world
Building on the preceding discussion, I want to suggest that there may be at least four
qualities of temporality that affect experiences of actors during performance. These qualities
are depicted in Illustration 2.5 below. The series of concentric spheres suggests the increasing
embeddedness of one experience of time within other experiences of time. It is also possible
that one sphere enlarges and becomes more significant in the experience of an actor during a
performance. It expands in consciousness to overwhelm the other spheres for the period of
performance, though it never leaves its embedded state.
Illustration 2.5
Qualities of temporality in performance
The first of these qualities of time is the intra-dramatic. This means that awareness and
experience of time is located within the fiction and narrative of the drama itself, including
compressions and textual markers of time, framed by devices such as flashback, prolepsis and
52
the juxtaposing of memories with the immediacy of the narrative. This intra-dramatic
constructed time sometimes begins with the script, and in performance is constructed through
characters, storying, physicality, space, and most of all, action. The fictional world of the
drama inhabits the temporality of existence for performers and observers as a psychological
state but not with a connection to time in the real world. Yet, this fictional time is really a
device using notions of time, not actual time. It uses time as a proposition, imaginatively, so
that narrative, characters and themes can emerge. Turner (1982) uses a similar idea in what
he considers to be cultural time or a place of anti-temporality. Performers and observers come
to believe in a drama’s temporal properties.
As part of this fictional world, there are a number of fictional strategies that have temporal
features. The first of these is tense-transactions. This category includes flashback, flashforward and cyclic movements of tense within fictional time. The past, present and future are
juxtaposed and repositioned to form a fluid whole, building on an adult human cognitive
function which Hoerl (2008) calls “tensed thought” (498). What is most apparent about these
transactions across tense is that distinctions between past, present and future are dissolved
and what is deemed as being in the immediacy of experience is paradoxically connected with
the whole landscape of time28. A second category is compressive and expansive states. This
refers to the speeding up or the slowing down of references to time within a drama. It would
include summations and the pace of a drama, including temporal tags that locate the
narrative, characters and themes in dramatic time. Finally, the use of interpolations within a
drama, whether these be through intrusions such as voice-over, a multimedia overlay or a
narrator, provide breaks in the flow of dramatic time that amount to timeless interludes
outside the dramatic frame. The question of how these interpolations affect actors’
experiences is an interesting one because the experience of temporality may be disrupted,
fragmented or altered through the more eternal epochal quality that is engendered by
28
See Nahin (1999). His book, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction, gives
a fascinating insight into the particulars of how time operates fictionally and actually. Nahin makes a strong
distinction between a fictional, narrative time and the actual paradoxes of moving in time. Fictional
employments of time are thus denuded of their inherent paradoxes.
53
interpolations.
A second quality of time in performance could be termed extra-dramatic. This quality
includes aspects of performance that are linked to the drama and the narrative but are
essentially external to it. For example, technologies that assist a drama and a performance,
including lighting, sound, props and special effects, could be deemed extra-dramatic. These
technologies respond to both the constructed or fictional time (discussed above) and the
constraints of quotidian time that impinge on the technologies. A lighting plot in a theatrical
work is developed in response to fictional and dramatic time but also in terms of the actual
running time of a performance; it is measured and calibrated with technologies of time
(including recording technologies). An actor in performance may experience the extradramatic impinging on intra-dramatic time. These two qualities of time could be viewed as
synergistic, and discontinuity between intra-dramatic and extra-dramatic time could adversely
affect performance.
In the third place, temporality within performance may also be conceived as being intraperformance. This notion of temporality involves time markers that relate to a performance as
event. The category of intra-performance could incorporate when a performance commences
and concludes, and the cycle of routines and the sequences that are contingent to performance
as event, as well as the stage management of a performance, and front-of-house and other
public and audience-orientated features. An actor’s performance is framed within and
contingent to intra-performance qualities of time (see Goffman, 1959, 15, 16). There is the
necessity of adherence to the temporal properties of an event and these appear to frame
consciousness and set parameters for what can be experienced.
A final ontological category of time with reference to performance could be termed extraperformance. This category involves aspects of time that include the lead-up to performance
(planning, rehearsals, design and administration), the performance season, the postperformance review and the positioning of the work as cultural product. In this sense, all
performances are seen as part of the totality of a project that is located as event and as an
interval in time. In other words, there is a historicity that encompasses performance. Thus, as
54
discussed above, past, present and future are equally important in experiencing a
performance. The future resonates in the present, on one level as expectations of reception of
performance, and on another level as self-critique through performance goals. The past is
used to modify goals and shape expectations in the present through review and feedback.
There is also the sense that a performance project has duration, a lifespan that shapes the way
that performers experience it.
Time is both exterior to a performer and internal to experience. It is experienced as
temporality but also bounds existence and shapes perception. Time is, therefore, a multilayered phenomenon that has a profound influence on performance, and is even an
imaginative frame through which a performer exists in a theatre space.
Section 2.3.3 Space and place
The concern of this study is actors’ experiences of performing and what sedimentations from
training and accumulations of skills and knowledge from practice have formed the ground for
these experiences. However, it is important to contextualise such experiences. An essential
component of context is space. Three important questions emerge in consideration of the role
of space in experience. First, how does space become place in theatrical performance?
Second, what is the relationship between space and place in processes that lead to
performance? And finally, how are space and place experienced by an actor in performance?
These questions are addressed in the analysis chapters which follow, and the ideas and claims
discussed below are tested with reference to the data.
Space is that abstracted29 and null ground of potential engagement and dwelling for an actor
that has not yet been fully concretised into the habitual and the familiar, the embodied and the
sense of ‘home’. It is that site of becoming and possibility. By contrast, place is that dwelling
that has become the ground of being and has been situated, made familiar and habitual. It is a
location in which embodiment is experienced and actualised. Place combines physical
location with, most importantly, a location in consciousness. I am, of course, aware that the
usual designation of these terms is to conceive space as emerging from place, because place
29
I use the term ‘abstracted’ to mean existing as an idea in consciousness or with the property of conceptuality.
This can mean a loss of connection with the concrete, with materiality or the world. However, my use of this
term here and elsewhere implies maintenance of the concreteness of the idea whilst retaining its abstractness.
55
is linked to notions of topography, location, land, landscape, geography, site and such like
(see Cresswell, 2004, 8; Turton, 2005; Chaudhuri, 1997; Malpas, 1999)). I wish to reverse
this designation and borrow the term for my own purposes. The reason for the reversal is that
to position place as colligated to geographical location (a theatre building and stage, for
instance) is to denude it potentially of its imaginative scope. Place has richer functional
potential for me in understanding actors’ experiences when shifted to the transcendental; in
other words, to a construction in consciousness or an abstract mental location. ‘Place’ can
then carry connotations of belonging and being, dreaming and imagining. It also becomes
less associated with complex identity relations and intersubjectivity that may be imbued in
viewing place as equivalent to location (see Auburn & Barnes, 2006). Of course, place still
carries with it the traces of its geographical origins, so it is inexorably linked to location.
Space, on the other hand, is null—is yet to be. It is in a state of potential becoming that can
emerge in consciousness in many and varied forms as ‘place’. While place is employed
transcendentally, the term ‘location’ is used to suggest geography and topography.
Place and space have been much discussed. For instance, Edward Casey, in The Fate of
Place: A Philosophical History (1997), argues for the utter importance of place in experience,
for its deep historicity and for the primordial origins of place. He suggests that place emerges
out of chaos or nothingness. In Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding
of the Place-world (2009), he continues this theme and connects notions of place and home
with the environment and with existential themes of human existence. Likewise, Yi-Fu Tuan,
in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (1977), contends that space necessitates a
movement from a place to another place. Similarly, a place requires a space to be a place.
Hence, the two notions are co-dependent. In the earlier work of Gaston Bachelard, in The
Poetics of Space (1969), the importance of the materiality of place is emphasized. Bachelard
argues that in architecture, what is most significant is experience or reception. By implication
place, architecture and experience are highly inter-related. Bachelard’s ideas have significant
resonance for dramatic spaces and places.
In the work of philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, notions of space and
place are also significant. Heidegger, in Being and Time (1996), introduces the notion of a
‘region’ which is a space articulated by world relations linked to being-in-the-world, but
which nevertheless is still open to the possibilities of the world. In his unfinished The Visible
and the Invisible (1975), Merleau-Ponty proposed the notion of hyper-dialectic (explored
56
fully in the next chapter), which Berman (2003) characterises as “the interrogation of
perceptual faith, as well as by temporality and reversibility” (404). By ‘reversibility’
Merleau-Ponty is implying that meaning cannot be found totally in one subject or object but
is always deferred to another, in a flux or dialectic. This “interrogative mode” (VI, 103) is
about questioning our perceptions of and existence in the world. Place is found or located
through the application of this hyper-dialectic. In terms of constitution, the ideas of
Whitehead also provide a useful perspective. According to Whitehead, in Process and Reality
(1978), in process objects come together to form a new and unique whole. Objects come to be
located through process, and a place is a unique whole that is formed through process.
Finally, according to speech-act theory (Austin, 1962; Butler, 1997), there is the possibility of
the constitution of place in utterance and through the reiterative power of discourse.
Let me now construct some notions of space and place based on the preceding discussion and
schematised in Illustration 2.6 below. Actors begin with the abstraction of ‘spaces’ because
they come with existing performative constructions about space and its epistemologies
already built into their discourses. Through engagement with space (Merleau-Ponty’s hyperdialectic) actors find place; they manufacture a place corporeally, in co-presence,
ideationally. It becomes recognised and familiar, a designation in consciousness as well as
corporeally through its materiality as object (Bachelard’s emphasis on the importance of
architecture). This is fully realised in performance with an audience who receive ‘place’.
Through void and chaos (following Casey) a place is located and embodied, but is still open
to the possibilities of the world (Heidegger’s notion of ‘region’). It forms in process (a la
Whitehead) to a new coalescence.
Illustration 2.6
Space and place
57
Space and place are essentially inter-connected (as in Tuan’s co-dependency of space and
place).
From this synthesis, I want to return now to construct an ontology of dramatic spaces and
suggest some possible epistemologies of spaces. I propose that there are four dramatic spaces
within which actors and audiences find place. In Illustration 2.7 below these four spaces are
represented as being embedded and inter-dependent. They co-exist within the parameters of
the performance space and are active with it. In effect they are connected layers
deliberatively over layered on top of the base material space. They are spaces created by a
community of writers, actors, designers and directors. They are also spaces that are
negotiated and fought for, implying the importance of power in the creation of the spaces.
Finally, they are dynamic spaces of exchange and dialectic where the formation of ideas and
texts is sponsored.
Strategies, feelings and adaptations of actors in performance are partially attributable to the
properties of these spaces. Put simply, space is generative of experience. Equally, it might
also be the case that the properties of the spaces are shaped by each actor and the other agents
in the dramatic creation process. The constitution of the spaces is, then, a reaction caused by
the coming together of human and non-human agents in a creative amalgamation. This
reaction is somewhat unpredictable and creates what might be termed ‘serendipity of
performance.’
58
Illustration 2.7
The negotiated spaces of performance
Apart from ‘location’, all other spaces are epistemological spaces in that they are spaces of
‘knowing’ and understanding, interpretation and ‘reading’ formed in consciousness. They are
also psychological spaces because of an experience of perception, cognition and emotion
associated with these spaces. The spaces are intended to represent what an actor perceives,
but a case could be made that a spectator also reads these spaces. Finally, the spaces could
also be represented as aesthetic spaces because within these spaces dramatic and visual texts
are forged, made and find being.
Let me now explicate the properties of each space in order to demonstrate that each one is
unique but dependent. First of all, in the centre and at the hub of the performance space, there
is a location. This is the actual physical or material setting of the performance, including the
set, props, lighting, crew and ambience (which would include such factors as temperature),
and implies the design of a space for performance. Moreover, there needs to be a distinction
between the existing material structures and the adjunct structures that have been added to
facilitate the drama. This space is a bounded location in the world, and thus the parameters of
59
movement, and design for movement and interaction, are determined by its dimensionality.
The second category is the ‘constructed dramatic and signified space’, the design space, or
the space of scenography (see Baugh, 2005; Howard, 2009). This space is where visual
design and construction are deployed to fit the aesthetic vision of the drama. This is the space
where directors and designers are most active, though, to a lesser extent, actors may play a
role in the construction of this space. It is a space analogous to the function of a computer
operating system with computer hardware. This space operates directly at a locational level as
well as an interpretive level. It is a ‘deep design’ or aesthetic level. Actors would need to
negotiate and contest the operation of their performance within this level. The extent of
influence on this level by an actor would depend on the amount of agency allowed by those
who control the creative and constructive process. For one actor in this study, the issue of his
agency and his use of space became critical for his propitious experience of performance.
The third category, the ‘imagined space’, is the space beyond the temporal world, in that
place of memory and in the poetics of imagining (see Kearney, 1991; Bachelard, 1987). It is
that space where the poetics of the dramatic is potentially realised in the psyche of the actors
and the ensemble to which the actors belong. This space is an expanse into which spaces one
and two are transmogrified through the imagination and visualisation of the possible to
become landscapes of emergence. While this space is not “actual’ or physical, it is the space
that is motivated by what Stanislavski (1967) terms the “if”. In a sense, it is a space that is
beyond the reach of the politics of the dramatic space since it exists in the consciousness of
the actors and in the collective imagination and consciousness of the ensemble. This
imagined space is possibly shaped by the lower two spaces but moves beyond the time and
physical constraints of these spaces to a possible world and a potential place. It is a space
where an actor can become fully engaged because the imaginistic potential of the space is
realized in fictional places.
Finally, I envision a socio-political space. This is a polemic space, which is constructed in the
inter-personal relationships of the agents in the process of dramatic making. It is a space of
power, social exchange, dialectic and contestation over aesthetics and expression. Power and
knowing are intrinsically centred in this space, a point that Foucault30 has made about other
organisational contexts. It includes both the formal dramatic relationships, such as that
30
See Foucault (1970, 1972), and also Visker (1999) about the place of Foucault in phenomenology.
60
between actor and director, and the informal relationships, including those between members
of the ensemble or the cast. It could also include the actor’s relationship and interaction with
the audience. This space is also one in which certain behaviours, interpretations and decisions
are sanctioned or marginalised. It is, thus, also an ethical space.
My claim is that all four spaces are significant and mediate an actor’s experience of
performance, a hypothesis that I evaluate in chapters to follow. Take, for example, a scenario
where an actor is experiencing significant inter-personal conflict within the ensemble or with
the director about aesthetic interpretation or method of expression. In this instance, it may
well be that an actor does not fully enter ‘imagined space’ and is thus impeded from artistic
creation of role in the dramatic space. An actor’s experience of action, role and engagement
with the various spaces that impact on performance may be adverse.
If an actor is caught predominately in this ‘imagined space’ and does not regard participation
in the other spaces as important, then there may well be issues of inconsistency, conflict or
lack of continuity that emerge in performance through the shared spatial experience of
performance and through co-corporeal exchanges. Essentially, the art and the method of
acting are realised in the strategies and negotiations that actors undertake as they work within
these four spaces. A clumsy actor could show little awareness of the physicality of the
material space; or a naïve actor may ignore the politics and sanctions within the sociopolitical space.
It is my belief that all four categories coalesce before an audience to form a unique
performance place, the nature of which is constructed by how the elements and agents in the
spaces come to be in the temporality of showing. However, place is never monolithic or
permanent but always in inter-play, in flux, and open to the possibilities of space. This
theatrical happening, according to Nordmann and Wickert (1997), is a place where inscribed
memories, aesthetics and community come together to experience a kind of awe.
However, there are spaces that do not fit any of the four categories above. These might be
termed ‘liminal spaces’31 and can be considered proximal to performance spaces. These are
threshold spaces of ‘betweeness’, crossover or borders: spaces of transition between one
point and another. These spaces can be actual or psychological. They have been of particular
31
Liminality has received considerable interest in academic literature. See, for example, Kay, Kinsley, et al.
(2007), Hughes-Freeland (1998) and Schechner & Appel (1990).
61
interest to anthropologists (Turner, 1986; Turner, 1979). In theatre, this could be a location
that actually exists, such as the wings that are between the performance space seen by an
audience and the space dedicated just to actors (such as dressing rooms). These spaces are on
the border between showing and preparing to show: in that uncertain territory where being in
role and out of role is in flux and possibly precarious. If other media forms, such as video,
projections or audio effects are used in conjunction with live theatre performance, liminal
spaces can also exist for actors in that interface or territory of exchange between different
media (see Breder, 1995).
Section 2.4
Other influences
Section 2.4.1 Introduction
In the sections above, my discussion and my claims were about aspects of western theatrical
performance and factors emerging in performance that constrain, constitute or enliven
experience for actors. I made a number of propositions and introduced several frameworks
that I intend to evaluate in response to analyses of data in forthcoming chapters. Section 2.4
explores other factors that may possibly influence experience, especially ones more particular
to an individual actor and their life circumstances, including the factors that have wrought
that person, particularly training. The research question that is used to focus this section is
this: How have the sedimented experiences of an actor prior to performance influenced how
performing is experienced? While introduced in Chapter One, the notion of ‘sedimentation’ is
given more extensive treatment below. My claim is that most experiences that have preceded
performance create the ground for the constitution of experience in the temporality of
performance. I especially nominate training (be it formal or informal) as pivotal to this
process of sedimentation and central to both constraining and enlivening experience.
Section 2.4.2 Sedimentation
A key metaphor in this study is that of sedimentation, introduced in Section 1.3 above.
Sedimentation is a metaphor derived from the image of a riverbed, over which a river flows.
As in a river, there is depth, suggesting an immediacy and complexity of experience in the
temporality of the now, and length, implying both a teleological and a cyclical sense of an
actor’s life narrative. The metaphor can be employed to conceptualise what actors bring,
psychophysically, to performance and what is added and repositioned because of
62
performance. The laying down and changing of the sedimentary layers of the ‘bed’ is
constituted through a set of memories, embodiments, practices, intensities, internal states and
consciousnesses, knowledges and material experiences built in training, rehearsal and
performing32. These layers coalesce to form a conduit for and a regulator in performance.
This set of constituting elements could be derived from acting experiences (including those
working with various directors and dramaturges), life experiences, on-going actor training
and philosophies of performance. In effect, this ‘bed’ represents a state of potentiality upon
which subjective temporal experiences are overlaid. David Hume, in An Enquiry Concerning
Human Understanding (Hume, 2007), argues that knowledge is acquired from the world
through various types of sensory experience, which he calls “impressions”. Such impressions
are then transformed into ideas and thoughts, which then co-join and proliferate to form more
complex conceptual patterns. This is possibly how the process of sedimentation proceeds:
from experiences to thoughts or ideas about experience. Such thoughts and ideas moderate
and shape the classification of new experiences in a never-ending process of accumulation.
However, it is important to consider the role of memory in these accumulations, and, by
extension, the effects of the past as they flow into the present33. Bergson (2004) suggests that
there are two different types of memory. The first type is an automatic or involuntary
memory that resides in the body. Bergson proposes that there are memories about habitude,
repetition, and reiterations of the past for facilitating present action and that these memories
are essentially non-contemplative. The second type he considers to be pure memory, a
memory based on images and mental pictures which capture the past. He argues that such
images are free and spiritual, contemplative and about acknowledging lessons learnt. While
one could question the separation of these memory states, and his notion that the spirit is in
the place of the past, whilst the body is in the present, Bergson’s differentiation of a body
memory from a conscious and imagistic memory is useful in conceiving the types of
sediments that are being laid down. But, perhaps, what needs to be added to Bergson’s
32
See, in regard to long-term and short-term memory, Baddeley (1976). Jacoby et al (1989) suggest that prior
experience and memories directly affect subjective temporal experiences, though not always in predictable
ways.
33
Escobedo and Adolphs (2010) report an extensive body of research that indicates that emotionally and
morally positively valanced events have stronger and more detailed recall in memory, especially when linked to
what is considered praiseworthy.
63
categorisation is recognition of the constructedness of memories around beliefs about self.
A primary and solid core layer of this sedimentation (built on memories) is the formalized,
deliberative and ordered training of an actor (according to a particular pedagogy, emphasis or
perspective), often in an institutional context, but sometimes formed in regard to a particular
educator or teacher whose influence has been abiding in the professional practice of that actor
or at formative stages. All other sedimentary elements that constitute layers in the ‘bed’ settle
or form around and on this core layer, in confluence, and are given shape and place in
reference to it. Each new experience adds to the sedimented layers and creates a new whole,
one with semblance to and yet altered from what was before. The primary layer of training,
and the formation of core performance skills, physicalities and sensibilities, provides
stability, even rigidity, to the ‘bed’. What this suggests is that within the existential hub of an
actor there is a privileging of this solid core of training, and the privileging is more than just
volitional but emergent in the embodied practices of that actor, and may be absent in
conscious awareness.
Illustration 2.8
Sedimentation, event and experience
This process of on-going accumulation should be positioned in regard to particular
performance events. The sedimenting process and its positioning are schematised in
Illustration 2.8. I claim that sedimentation involves both an on-going process and a particular
shape formed through training. This is not to deny the place of rehearsal and other important
64
inputs into sedimentation. For each performance event in which an actor is involved there are
sedimentation effects that configure, constrain or foster experiences of performing. I also
suggest that there is a pre-performative state prior to experiences of performing that is
directly related to sedimentation. Following a performance there is also a post-performative
state in which experiences of performing are evaluated and then are added to sedimentation
as part of this on-going accumulation. Training may bring a predisposition to or a focus on
certain types of experience.
Like any layers of sediment there is the possibility of disruption, disjuncture and fracture. The
layers may be disturbed because of an event, circumstance or state of being, and they can be
radically reformed and reconstituted. It could be that this disintegration is so extensive that
the whole ‘bed’ is fully eviscerated and becomes dysfunctional. Or, the disturbance might be
substantially redefining for an actor. Mostly, however, the core layer of training remains
intact and allows breaches in the ‘bed’ to be resolved and reformed without collapse. On
occasion, there is, under the influence of a particularly epochal experience or ideology, a
fundamental reconstituting and transformation of the core training layer, which is likely to
have a fundamental effect on the constitution of the ‘bed, leading to a reorientation of ‘flow’
and a disturbance and reformation of all the layers in the ‘bed’. If the layer of training is
incomplete or does not exist, then the likelihood of disruption, change and reorientation, and
the extent of concomitant action, could be greater and more sustained, since there is no rigid
core of formation.
That the flow of actor experiences in the temporal flux of performance is fashioned, to a
greater or lesser extent, by the boundaries and bed of sediments is highly likely. Impediments
to ‘flow’ and reorientations of direction are to be expected along the course of a river,
metaphorically taken to mean the career path and artistic goals of an actor; that length
discussed above. Moreover, the unique characteristics of a river (and each river is unique) are
not only formed from the input of water (experiences) but also by the shape, depth and
direction of the bed (the pre-performative conditions). In sum, what an actor brings to
performance is a certain embeddedness that exists prior to experience and is contiguous with
experience.
In using the metaphor of sedimentation, there is an understanding that all metaphors, by their
very emergence from concrete imagery, are limited (and of course abstracted) and cannot be
said to represent all that can be deduced about a phenomenon. Nor can there be a claim that
65
the metaphor describes all attributes, in this case of actor processes and experiences. Indeed,
there are other metaphors that may illuminate these processes and experiences differently.
Within such limitations, sedimentation is useful, and for me compelling, in conceiving how
training and experiences of performance are linked cohesively and form together. The
metaphor also implies a sense of accumulation and layering (as discussed above), an adding
to that which emerges out of specific experiences of performance. Finally, it suggests a sense
of shape, containment or being conduit-like, so that experiences flow across and are given
certain properties by the containment.
Section 2.4.3 Selfhood
In this section I engage with the following questions: What does an actor bring to
performance? What is an actor expected to bring? And in this bringing, what are the possible
implications for how actors experience performing? In explicating my claims and
elaborations about such questions I propose that when actors come into a theatre space there
are discrete pre-performative conditions that constitute, regulate, delineate and cultivate
performance. Such conditions involve training sedimentations, institutional discursive
practices and an actor’s life frame. I term these conditions ‘filters’.
It would not be an unreasonable generalisation that formal training of actors in the West is a
twentieth century phenomenon (see Hodge, 2000; Cairns, 1996; Gillespie & Cameron, 1986).
From the late 19th century, with the work of Francois Delsarte (Kirby, 1972), through to
contemporary acting schools, the training of actors for the stage has evolved into sets of
systematic pedagogies. What any training appears to establish is a set of sedimented practices
and disciplines that is purported to prepare an actor for the profession and the industry. What
is argued in this section is that despite a diversity of approaches, actor training methods share
a common perspective on, or view of, actors. This perspective is that an actor should strip
back and denude that which impedes performance and adopt that which impels performance.
There is, in effect, an implied approach that functions covertly in a performance space for an
actor trained in a particular method: it is the actor-as-instrument, accomplished, ready and
tuned to a comprehensive virtuosity.
66
Grotowski (1968) writes of this when he states:
The actor is a man who works in public with his body, offering it publicly. If this
body restricts itself to demonstrating what it is—something that an average person
can do—then it is not an obedient instrument capable of performing a spiritual act
(33).
Grotowski’s image of an “obedient instrument” implies a certain state of action and
intentionality that serves the need to perform “a spiritual act”. What is often portrayed as an
imperative for an actor is primarily that which facilitates the impulse towards physical action
and expression for an audience34. It is an idealised state of preparedness or readiness. Yet,
there may be a dissonance between this expected state of being and actual experiences of
actors in situ. One of the objectives of this research is to establish whether this dissonance is
indeed an issue, and to assess the extent to which it directly affects an actor’s experience of
performance.
The potential for this dissonance in the experience of an actor is theorised in Illustration 2.9
below. In the diagram, I suggest that there are two distinct inputs into actor performance: an
actor’s ‘self’, and performance conditioning and readiness. I begin with an actor’s ‘self’35: the
actor as a person, with idiosyncrasies and ‘baggage’ 36 . It is ‘self’ that an actor brings to
performance and adapts to performance. This ‘self’ of an actor could also be conceived as a
34
There are many works written that make this connection explicit. See, for example, McGaw & Clark (1987),
Smith (2010), Richards (1995; 2008), Bainbridge Cohen (1993), Styan (1975 & 1983) and many other books
and articles. These more contemporary reflections on practice echo the earlier thinking of European acting
teachers.
35
Carrithers, Collins, et al. (1985) explore the complex history and cultural specificity of the term ‘self’.
Markus & Kitayama (1991) suggest that different cultures have vastly different notions of the individual self. In
Asian cultures, they suggest, there is a greater notion of connectedness, compared to the West. I want to locate
‘self ‘, phenomenologically and auto-ethnographically, as both that position which a person conceives him or
herself to be in within their socio-cultural and familial frame and their own internal self-awarenesses. Zamir
(2010) considers acting to be an existential amplification of the ‘self’ of an actor, where imaginative possibilities
are actualised in an expansive rendering of the ‘self’ of an actor.
36
The term ‘baggage’ is used in the popular colloquial sense of what a person carries that weighs them down.
These could be memories, conflict or issues of personality, even concerns with body and interpersonal
perception. The term is not meant in a derogatory sense but implies what weighs on an actor as a preperformative condition.
67
‘life frame’, in other words a unique set of circumstances, mental events and experiences that
frame an actor in time and space, in place and temporality, in performance and out of
performance.
Actor Kathleen Chalfant (Sonenberg, 1996) speaks of this frame when she states:
Then you add all of the baggage. Quite often you play the end of the scene at the
beginning. You test the emotional waters to see whether you really can be moved.
By that I mean, you know that halfway through the scene you’re going to have to
be in a rage or cry or be hurt, or you’re going to have to do terrible damage to
someone else, and you “practice your emotion” because you distrust that your own
emotional life will be there when the need arises in a scene. You come in from the
get go as of every single member of your family has just been wiped out in an
accident on the grounds that you probably won’t, given the information in the
scene, be able to cry, because after all it’s Wednesday and everybody’s tired. (104)
In this candid exploration of her interiority during performance, one can see awareness of an
ideal of what is expected and an awareness of the circumvention of an ideal driven by
existential circumstances and a pragmatics of the flesh. The actor also suggests a selfknowledge that comes out of a deep reflexivity about the craft of acting, and a holistic sense
of an actor as a person.
Illustration 2.9
An actor’s self and performance
68
Of course the notion of self and awareness of self is keenly debated among philosophers (see
Howell, 2006, for example). For Condillac the ego is a collection of sensations that are felt or
that memory recalls and that build one upon another (Hine, 1979; Well, 1987). Sartre (2003,
2004) suggests that the self exists for-itself and is constituted in temporality, but the self
struggles against its own negation and fragmentation in its striving for unity. Dennet has put
forward the proposition that ‘self’ is a fiction or narrative at the centre of consciousness
(Dennet, 2010, 1998, 1996; Hofstadter & Dennet, 1981), while for Bakhtin (1981) the
identity of self is shared with others and formed with others. For Hobson (1993) self is
formed in emotional relatedness to others. The work of Harré on the discursive production of
the self (Harré, 1984; Harré & Gillett, 1994) has pointed to cognition and language as key
constructors of self. In psychology one debate is about whether the self is essentially egoistic
or altruistic37. Perhaps all these perspectives are useful in examining the notion of self. We
are fragmentary, with a series of parts and also whole, with a consciousness of selfhood.
There is perhaps a social dimension to this consciousness and its construction. The wholeness
could be what Tye (2003) considers as phenomenal unity: a unity of “qualities represented in
experience” (6). In dramatic acting there are multiple and layered experiences that unify into
an embodied experience as a sum total of all experiences. Perhaps, in one sense, self is a
conglomerate of unified qualities that define who we are, and position us in terms of the
‘other’.
Because of the focus in this study on individual actors, the notion of a ‘life frame’ is
especially valuable. The term implies a construction of a unified embodied sense of self,
juxtaposed with a history of self in various social settings 38 . A ‘life frame’ suggests a
perspectiving of experience and a socialising of experience, as suggested in the work of
Erving Goffman (1971, 1974, 1981). In utilising ‘life frame’, I am conceptualising how ‘self’
is seen and from what perspective it is evaluated, and how this personal frame fits into a
larger social-cultural frame (see Sauer & Ensink, 2003)39. The notion of a ‘life frame’ also
implies the idea that a person is largely constituted in self through a unified series of mental
37
See Batson (1991), Sober & Wilson (1998) and May (2009).
38
The use of life stories as a source for social research has grown in significance in the last thirty years. See in
this regard, Bertaux & Kohli (1984) and Bruner (2004).
39
Simon Callow’s (1984) candid autobiography as an actor on the British stage seems to exemplify this sense
of self in the larger cultural frame.
69
states, impressions and events, a view promulgated by philosophers such as Scott Campbell
(2006).
This idea of a ‘life frame’ is depicted in Illustration 2.10 below. There are at least four
parameters of this ‘frame’. The first is the immediate life situation of an actor before
performance. This parameter would include the state of employment of an actor, his or her
personal relationships and incidental circumstances, and other such events that impact on
performance. A second parameter is the disposition of bodily states of an actor prior to
performance. This would include the health and well-being of an actor, and an actor’s sense
of bodily tension, mindfulness and alertness. Thirdly, the performance history of an actor
could be a significant part of this life frame because of its direct impact on performance. An
actor’s practice or performance history creates a distinct sedimentation of skills, experiences
and attitudes that is the ground of being for the self-reception of any new performance
context. Performance history would also include the immediate chronicle of performance
from the most recent season that an actor has undertaken.
Illustration 2.10
Life frame of an actor
70
In effect, every actor has a narrative of performance, which is linked with a larger career
narrative. It is a self-story that is pervasive as an existential thread in experience. Within the
acting profession in Australia, Moore (2006) has noted the difficulties and issues related to
gaining employment as an actor. This existential problem of employment could significantly
affect an actor’s self-story and thus shape what is experienced within a performance context.
Finally, and intimately related to the other three factors, is the internal state of passion and
motivation in an actor. In all likelihood this is transitory for any particular performance or
season of performances, but it is also sustained by longer-term goals. Thus, motivation at a
particular moment is moderated in light of a passion for acting that is part of the self-story of
an actor juxtaposed with cultural constructs such as ‘celebrity’ (Turner, et al, 2000; Turner,
2004). A study of forty theatre students by Martin & Keir (2002), using techniques normally
applied to elite athletes such as flow theory and sports motivation scale, found that
efficacious theatre performance was linked to high intrinsic motivation (especially finding the
experience of acting stimulating and exciting) and a sense of flow, or a state of full
enjoyment and absorption. While a small-scale study, the research of Martin and Keir
suggests that motivation and internal states are pivotal to what is both experienced and
wrought in performance. All four aspects of an actor’s life frame, I contend, are significant,
and in the analysis chapters that follow, this notion of a life frame is tested against the actual
experiences of actors.
The life frame of an actor is abstracted as being a part of an actor’s sense of self. This sense
of self is an essential element of the lived experiences of performance for an actor, and is
input into the constituency of a performance. Within a performance, I assert, there is a
process of adaptation between the expectations of performance and the life frame of an actor,
as shown in Illustration 2.9 above. In my experience of working with and talking to actors,
this life frame remains immediate for actors in and throughout performance and is resolutely
a part of the embodied experiences of an actor while performing. Stanislavski observes:
Yet an actor is only human. When he comes on the stage it is only natural that he
should bring with him his everyday thoughts, personal feelings, reflections and
realities. If he does this, the line of his own personal, humdrum life is not
interrupted. He will not give himself up wholly to his part unless it carries him
away. When it does so, he becomes completely identified with it and is
transformed. But the moment he becomes distracted and falls under the sway of
his own personal life, he will be transported across the footlights into the audience
or beyond the walls of the theatre, wherever the object is that maintains a bond of
71
relationship with him. Meanwhile, he plays his part in a purely mechanical way.
When those lapses are frequent, and subject to interpolations from the actor’s
personal life, they ruin the continuity of the role because they have no relation to
it (Stanislavski, 1967, 182, 183)
Stanislavski views these “interpolations from the actor’s personal life” as being, potentially,
an impediment to role: external to it and antithetical to its proper application in performance.
Whilst I acknowledge the genuine possibility of an actor’s life frame compromising creation
of role and “distracting” or interfering with focus and continuity in a performance space, it
could also be argued that these “everyday thoughts, personal feelings, reflections and
realities” are part of what constitutes the inimitable gestalt of each performance and each
application of role. Any exploration of the phenomenon of a performance would need to
account for the unique profile of each actor and their life as it relates to the gestalt of a
performance.
To be fair, as Lloyd (2006) points out, there is embedded in the work of Stanislavski an
inherent spirituality and an awareness of the human psyche that goes beyond his system of
bodily control and the evocation of emotion, but remains consistent with it. In all his works,
and especially in My Life in Art (1956), Stanislavsky was conscious of the place of spiritual
energy in the life of an actor (see Carnicke, 2009). It is interesting that the renowned Japanese
actor, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, is quoted as saying that health was the essential factor for being an
actor (Ishii, 1985, 38). By this she is implying more than just a physical state of being but an
internal passion of the heart circumscribed by doubt, fear and demand. So many notions
about training, actor, performance, experience and the creative self are conceived in regard to
agency: through notions of “action, capability, freedom and independence” (Reader, 2007,
582). Yet, as Reader so compellingly points out, there is the nether side of agency: for action
there is passion (i.e. suffering), for capability there is liability, for freedom there is constraint
and for choice there is necessity. In forthcoming chapters I discuss the extent to which this
‘doubleness’ of agency brings a useful perspective to my analyses of actor experiences.
Let me now return to discussion related to Illustration 2.9 above. Running in counterpoint to
actors’ life frames is what could be termed ‘performance conditioning and readiness’. This
constitutes a second input into performance. Performance conditioning and readiness refers to
a set of preconditions, cognitive states and responses that is expected of an actor in order to
facilitate performance. There are patterns of behaviour, responses and professional practices
72
that define an actor in terms of theatricalities and determine expectations within a
performance context. I want to suggest that for an actor, expectations that are part of the
discursive practices of a performance site lead almost inevitably to surveillance. There needs
to be a mechanism of accountability and critique against which an actor’s work is measured.
Theatre becomes what McGrath (2004) terms a surveillance space, which is part of a
surveillance society. Such surveillance might be informal or implicit, or it could be built
around a codified set of parameters that are explicitly used to observe actors. For example,
one level of coding, formed in rehearsal, and textualised by production staff as the running
script or ‘the book’, is the order of running of a performance. There is an expectation of
conformity to this structured ‘running’ or teleological (goal-orientated) device, built on a set
of discourses, which suggests surveillance.
This idea of surveillance is tantamount to an imposition of power or control, which Foucault,
in his various studies of social institutions and mores, and especially in his discussion of the
Panopticon design for prisons, suggests is intimately and deeply woven into all intersubjectivities and institutional discourses 40. Put simply, an actor’s embodied performance,
together with his or her agency, is constituted within a matrix of textual politics and
institutional discourses. This proposition also suggests that knowledge (through a set of
performance epistemologies) is integral to expressions of power (another critical aspect of
Foucault’s work) in the creation of dramatic work and in acting performance.
The preconditions for this state of conditioning or readiness appear to be set by
‘artistic/performance filters’. A filter functions to separate and differentiate, select and create
a barrier. According to Saint-Onge (1999), within an organisation there is tacit knowledge,
which is used as a powerful regulator or filter on the exchange of knowledge within that
organisation. What is being sorted or differentiated in terms of acting performance is what
physical, vocal and emotional expressions, what actions and impulses, are most apposite for
and efficient in a particular performance, and what states of consciousness have an efficacy in
performance, or work for a particular inter-subjective context (see Meyer-Dinkgräfe, 2005).
My view is that these filters function overtly, as subterfuge, and covertly, as ‘mask’. They
may be immediate in experience, or backgrounded, even subsumed, in the totality of a
40
See especially his Discipline and Punish (1977) and the comprehensive more recent discussion of his work
by O’Farrell (2005).
73
performance experience and in the management of risk.
These ‘filters’ appear to emerge out of at least two life experiences of an actor. First, there is
the method of actor training that underlies an actor’s performance practice and methodology
of approaching performance making. Actor training programs have both an immediacy of
application in the practice of an actor and a historicity that positions such contemporary
training within a diverse past of practitioners, trainers and directors who have employed a
gamut of approaches. This perspective is developed in more detail in Section 2.4.4 below.
Therefore, when a ‘filter’ is applied, it is framed within an actor’s practice, within an
institution’s discourses and within the discursive practices of a broader performance
community with a history of convergence and divergence of practice.
Second, an actor’s on-going accumulated experiences, while participating in a range of
theatre performances, function to refine and delineate specific filters expected for particular
performance contexts. Actors can also develop strategies for dealing with the specific
epistemologies and power structures of an organization such as a theatre company.
Additionally, actors may accept what has been normalised in a particular performance culture
or context and reject or reposition that which has been marginalised as ‘unfashionable’,
‘inappropriate’ or ‘not apt’. Perhaps also, performance experience carries with it the
possibility of inertia that weighs on an actor as ‘I’ve seen it all before’ or ‘I’ve done it all
before’.
Tait (2006) suggests that one of the primary propositions of theatre is to present a language of
emotion that arises out of a social context. One of the filters that may apply to an actor’s
work is defining such emotions through the body for a particular performance space and
within a socio-cultural setting. However, according to Tait, such an expression of emotion is
“notoriously slippery” (7). There is an uneasy distinction between the affect of emotion as
generated around style, and cultural approaches to embodied expression and felt states as
reported from the perspective of an actor. It is the latter which is the primary focus of this
research.
Konijn (2000) identifies the problem of distinguishing emotional reception as a social
exchange (with an audience, for example) from emotions linked to artistic intention, felt
states and agency. Konijn proposes that there are alternating states of detachment and
involvement in the experiences and presentation of actors. Whether there is detachment or
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involvement is affected by the style of acting, the approach to forming character and the
genre of a dramatic work. She deems this issue of emotion in an actor and emotion that is
created in an audience to be in a paradoxical relationship.
Diderot in The Paradox of Acting (Diderot, 1957) contends that, paradoxically, in order to stir
an audience an actor may remain in an unmoved state: the paradox being that the lack of
overt emotion by an actor can lead to greater emotion in an audience41. I believe that such a
proposition is simplistic and does not necessarily accord with actual felt states by actors,
variations in audience reception and different theatrical contexts or dramaturgies.
Cognitive approaches to performance emphasise the apparent link between thought and
feeling, or cognition and emotion, as well as between action and cognition, and the role of
memory in all these processes (see Noice & Noice, 2006; Lave, 1988; Courtney, 1990; Scott,
et al, 2001). There is a possibility that actors may prefer one approach, such as cognitive or
emotive (among others), and that this preference shapes the nature of character creation. By
‘cognitive’ I am suggesting an approach based in text and the rendering of a text, using
carefully designed and deliberative processes. By contrast, Grotowski’s notion of acting tends
to place ‘thinking’ in the somatic realm with its processes exacted through action 42 . An
‘emotive’ process, on the other hand, depends on affective states and intuitive approaches by
an actor. This distinction should not be viewed as binary. In fact, in talking to actors with
whom I have worked, it is apparent that actors shift, even within a performance, between a
cognitive and an emotional focus, and that, in the end, these aspects of internality are
interwoven and embodied as a whole experience.
41
Metcalf (1931) identifies two discrete perspectives about actors, emotion and audience: first, that of Diderot
in which emotions within actors may harm performance, and the other that actors are by nature wildly emotional
creatures and these emotions are therefore necessarily shared with an audience. Metcalf is of the view that
emotions are always artifice for an audience and that an actor’s emotions can get in the way of creating the
‘right’ artificial effect on an audience. Effective emotions within an actor are, according to Metcalf, created in a
positive response from an audience. Essentially though, like other writers such as Selden (1958), emotion is
manufactured through the externality of an actor. Hetzler (2007) challenges this notion of the re-creation of
emotion. Through surveys and interview with actors in the UK and the USA he concludes that actors generally
do not consider that they are ‘manufacturing’ emotions but reacting circumstantially as their character. Konijn
(1995) distinguishes emotions of an actor from what she calls “task emotions”, that is, emotions that are
genuinely felt but are specifically directed towards creating spontaneity and character emotions in an actor’s
output to an audience.
42
See, for example, Grotowski (1968) and Richards (1995).
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The embodied fusion of these two inputs, an actor’s life frame and his or her performance
conditioning and readiness, are part of the texture and serendipity of performance. In a sense
what is operating is a collision between what an actor uniquely brings from his or her life,
unfiltered, and subject to flux and unpredictability, and the expectations that are institutional
and constructed in an historical frame.43 I can imagine that such a collision could produce
fracturing and discontinuity; it could result in performance that is flawed and compromised,
making the two singularities working together seem impossible or disjunctive. Also likely,
however, is a continuity and amalgamation that results in a performance gestalt that contains
idiosyncratic aesthetic possibilities.
Riley (2004) has identified the mind/body problem as being particularly germane for acting
performance, and claims that perhaps this problem finds its resolution in actor training and
rehearsal through embodied perceptual practices. By this she means a metaphysics of
presence in which mind and body, perception and physicality, are co-extensive and dialogic:
a state of embodiment in which, for example, breath (somatic) and imagery (cognitive and
perceptual) work together.
I apply this same perspective of holism to the issue of the interaction between an actor’s life
and experiences and the expectations of performance. The amalgam of an actor’s life frame
and the discursive practices of a performance context (conceptualised, in part, as aesthetic
and performance ‘filters’) may create unique performance possibilities. Moreover, far from
being avoided or negated, an actor’s ‘baggage’ can have aesthetic richness. The extent of
these possibilities for actor participants in this study is analysed in Chapters Five and Six,
where I engage, phenomenologically, with the ideas of a ‘life frame’ and a discursive ‘filter’.
Section 2.4.4 Training
In all likelihood, actor training is one critical factor in the nature of the potential collision
between the two inputs into theatrical performance discussed above. Training regulates the
operation of ‘filters’ and embeds skills that an actor then applies in a performance context.
The primacy of training is considered an important concern in this study because I contend
Mossman (1975), in his study of the dissonance possible between taking on a role and an actor’s disquiet
about the nature of a role, claims that reduction of dissonance happens because of a growing belief by an actor
in the character and the make-believe or contrived nature of theatre. He also claims that such dissonance is never
fully divested for an actor and that it might have creative potential in performance.
43
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that it is a key constraint in and a catalyst for how actors’ experience performance. Training
is generally a highly focused, specialised and systematic process that can be differentiated
from broader systems of education. This process incorporates fresh information and
perspectives to reinforce existing understanding and skills towards the end of creating a
specific embodied state and capability. It also involves innovation and change. The goal of
training is to create lasting impact or a ‘sedimented state’ beyond the conclusion of the
training itself. In my experience of working with actors, training is a permanent and deeply
grounded state within an actor that becomes emergent in all theatre experiences that follow it.
The history of actor training, method and acting theory in the West in the last one hundred
and fifty years has tended towards an idealised state of actor preparedness or readiness 44,
even though most practitioners would acknowledge an inner psychodynamic dimension to an
actor and concern with the well-being of actors on a personal level. My contention is that
training is a movement towards such an ideal state of readiness that then becomes embedded
in practice and shapes experience.
Particular actor training methods and their consequent sedimentation in an actor’s practice
can be positioned broadly on a set of continuums, ranging from the somatic to the
contemplative, from the meditative to the affective, as shown in Illustration 2.11 below. I am
proposing that all actor training methods and actor practices can be positioned on these
continuums, as can the pedagogical approach of most acting schools. What follows is a
discussion about this notion of ‘continuums’ in terms of a small selection of influential actor
trainers and training regimes. This section is also an elaboration of some training methods
and platforms to illustrate the diversity of approaches. Many of the actors that I interviewed
for this study either implied or explicitly mentioned their training and its significant impact
on their practice and experiences as actors. Thus, my elaborations of actor training methods
also serve to contextualise the experiences of actors who undergo such training, and they
position my analyses in Chapters Five and Six.
44
One notable example is the aesthetics of Gordon Craig in which the actor is subsumed as an instrument of a
symbolic theatrical ideal. See in this regard Lyons (1964).
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Illustration 2.11
Continuums of training method
In the influential work of François Delsarte in the Nineteenth Century, the concept of an
external expression of an internal impulse is central, albeit highly codified in Delsartian
thinking, evolving from European classical acting (See Porte, 2004/2005; Taylor & Whyman,
2004/2005; Ruyter, 1999). For Delsarte an actor learns and embodies a set of discrete
physicalisations that are linked to an array of emotional states. An audience interprets the
bodily codes to garner emotional states. Delsarte’s system was a neat and precise mechanism
for linking physical action to audience reception. While Delsarte’s work has been labelled as
“an essentially mechanical one” (Taylor & Whyman, 2004/2005, 99), a more rigorous
analysis of his work would suggest that he conceived an inner (even spiritual) life for an
actor, juxtaposed to external codifications in performance. Indeed, passion and drive to
extend performance were integral to Delsarte’s method, so that while the focus was on the
somatic, there was dialectic with other features on the continuums depicted in Illustration
2.11. For Delsarte, the inner life of an actor was co-extensive with rigorous and disciplined
outward expression. Stylisation of physical action was practiced for hundreds of years in
European theatre and expressed in such traditions as Commedia Dell’arte, where familiar
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characters were recognised through a repertoire of gestures and movements 45 . However,
Delsarte’s ideas were, arguably, the first fully developed and conceptualised method of acting
where internality and externality were engaged in acting practice and training.
Though the approach to acting by Delsarte and Stanislavski can be said to be stylistically
divergent, in that Delsarte codified and extended classical European acting while Stanislavski
developed what could be called a naturalistic mode, both viewed the body as the prime source
of emotional communication with an audience. Moreover, both actor-training practitioners
conceived that the inner life of an actor is integral to and mirrored in physicality. For
Stanislavski, physical action comes out of and gives rise to an ordered inner state or impulse,
perpetuated by a set of objectives, which are constructed through the technical and habitual
discipline of an actor’s body (Whyman, 2007; Moore, 1968). It is certainly the case, as seen
in An Actor Prepares (Stanislavski, 1967), that Stanislavski valued the emotional state of the
actor, but it would be a misunderstanding of Stanislavski’s method to conceive it as being
centred just in an emotional state, and contrived around ‘emotion memory’ or affective
memory. Indeed, in his late thought and practice, physical action was clearly more to the fore
(see Benedetti, 1998: Richards 1995).
Meyerhold, a contemporary of Stanislavski, arguably placed greater emphasis on the place of
body (of soma) in performance expression than did Stanislavski, so his practice on the
continuum could be viewed as resolutely more visceral. For Meyerhold, performance and
acting centre on a set of processes that equip the body for expression.
Gestures and
movement, in fact physical states, create emotion and mood, and this must be taught overtly
to actors (Meyerhold, 1969; Pitches 2003). More recently, a psychophysical approach for
actors by Bloch, in her Alba Emoting (Bloch, 2006), also makes the connection between
physical states and emotions explicit. It is not just conjured up in internal affective states but
generated holistically through the body. For Meyerhold, much akin to Asian traditions,
experience for an actor is generated through the disciplined application of a body and linked
to breath (see Eaton, 1985; Hoover, 1974). Emotions are thus expressed outwardly. While for
Stanislavski, imagination and truth (this inner spiritual or meditative life) were part of the
processes of creating role and then forming character through the body, for Meyerhold an
impulse to create and its attendant emotions are embodied with significant awareness of
45
See, for example, John Rudlin’s comprehensive work, Commedia Dell'arte: An Actor's Handbook. (1994)
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bodily states. This notion of the primacy of body may have influenced the highly physically
based and rigorous approach to bodily action by Jerzy Grotowski (Grotowski, 1968; Wolford
& Schechner, 1997). In terms of this research about actor experiences, I am interested in
ascertaining how actors experienced their bodies and examining the ontology of these
embodied experiences during performance. If an actor, for instance, was trained in a method
orientated to the somatic, then what perception of his or her body does this actor have
compared to actors trained in another methodology?
As argued above, body was highly significant for Stanislavski; in fact, its importance in his
method became more of a feature in the latter part of his career (See, Coger, 1964; Norvelle,
1962; Carnicke, 2000; Carnicke 2009). Possibly, Stanislavski’s method, on the continuum
proposed in Illustration 2.10, could be viewed as more inclined to the centre, with a
disposition towards a psychological approach (see Bentley, 1968). However, the thread of
soma, action and habitus is still overt in all his writing, especially in his late career but also in
his early ideas about practice. His work might thus be termed a psychophysical approach to
actor training (see Merlin, 2001). In the work of his disciple, Michael Chekhov, a focus on
the physical centre of a character and on the power of gesture was certainly evident (Chekhov
& Gordon, 1991; Petit, 2010).
British director/trainer Joan Littlewood seems to have been significantly influenced by
Stanislavski, as shown in her training, dramaturgy and approaches to directing (Harding &
Rosenthal, 2006). Her workshops and strategies of directing were part of a radical left-wing
movement in British theatre of the 1950s and 1960s (Littlewood, 2003; Leach, 2006; ZarhyLevo, 2001). In her company, Theatre Workshop, her life’s work was given over to the
innovative and the strikingly different: not fitting in with mainstream theatre (see Strachan,
2002). This approach of innovation was taken in her work with her actors, with whom she
employed a thoroughgoing collaborative mode of working (Holdsworth, 2006). This model
was based on improvisation, confrontation (often in her colourful language) and radical
approaches to text, all geared towards a definite political agenda. Her Oh, What a Lovely
War, produced as a satirical musical in 1963, was imbued with this transgressive sensibility.
Her improvisational approach to training her actors tended to be based in the somatic, as she
also had a particular liking for the methods of Laban (see Newlove, 1993; Littlewood, 2003).
In sum, Littlewood combined a radical sense of co-presence, inter-subjective creation and
transgressive inquiry, with a particular focus on the bodies of actors. Her method is thus not
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easy to classify in terms of the model articulated in Illustration 2.11 above, but it certainly
reflects the dialectic between soma and the contemplative implied in the model.
By contrast, the work of Lee Strasberg (in the same era) in the USA, in his Group Theatre
and later his Actor’s Workshop in New York and Los Angeles, was much more inclined
towards a contemplative, psychological and character-based approach to acting. This was
particularly orientated to the needs of cinema (and Hollywood) in the 1940s and 1950s and
beyond (Strasberg, 1996; Frome, 2001; Bartow, 2006; Cole, 1955). His approach has often
been labelled ‘method acting’, and its links with and interpretation of the work of
Stanislavski have been much debated (see Gray, 1964; Krasner, 2000). A key goal of this
method is to create particular emotional or affective states that can be perceived in the body
of an actor, especially the face, and are generated through an interiority akin to Stanislvski’s
emotion memory (Strasburg, 1965, 1987; Vineberg, 1991).
On the scaling conceived in Illustration 2.11, Strasberg’s approach could be interpreted as
orientated to the affective, though this cannot be said to be typical of other so-called method
acting approaches, since Strasberg’s contemporaries such as Stella Adler (Adler, 1988) and
Sanford Meisner (Meisner & Longwell, 1987) were more given to physical techniques for
actors and especially the place of the imagination in acting practice. However, in his last
book, A Dream of Passion (Strasberg & Morphos, 1987), Strasberg claims that he did not
want to be associated with one method at all and that he was open to using a range of
physically based approaches in his workshops. Eric Morris, a disciple of Strasberg, has
developed Strasberg’s psychological and affective approach further, and focuses in his work
on the transformational overcoming of the ‘blocks’ in an actor through truth, obligations,
imaging, sense memory and the role of the subconscious (Morris, 1985, 1988).
The influence of so-called method acting approaches on actors’ experiences while performing
is likely to vary because of the diversity of approaches and emphases within this rather broad
and over-generalized category. Of interest to me is how actors themselves conceive this
category called ‘method acting’, and what, if any, they perceive to be its influences on their
actions and experiences while in a performance space. In the case of one actor that I
interviewed, an influence from method acting appeared to be quite explicit in his approach to
creating role, though he emphatically denied that he was using such an approach.
In this section, actor-training approaches are conceived as divergent and are positioned on a
81
two-dimensional continuum, which is used as a descriptive and evaluative device.
Consideration of such divergence, and of the disposition of a particular training approach as
related to each actor participant, is an important aspect of the phenomenological analysis
conducted in Chapters Five and Six. It is important because of the centrality of training in the
experiences articulated by many of the actors interviewed. It is significant because actors’
approaches to creating role, deploying their bodies in space and working with others, fostered
by training, appreciably affects how theatre performance is experienced. I also suggest that
within the experience of an actor all four aspects of the continuums listed in Illustration 2.11
operate to a more-or-less extent, depending on an actor’s training and the aesthetic inclination
of a particular theatrical production.
2.5
Summary of claims
Throughout this chapter I have elaborated conceptual frameworks and proposed a set of
claims about performance and actors’ experiences of performing are evaluated in Chapters
Five, Six and Seven, using an ethno-phenomenological approach to data as described in
Chapter Three below. Such claims, extended and given specificity by relevant academic
literature and schematised in a number of concept maps, are based on my accumulated
experiences of working with theatre actors. These claims are summarised below.
Performance:
1. Performance is positioned as a particular type of western theatrical event.
2. Performance is delineated as centred on role formation.
3. Role is ascribed as being critical to experience.
Experience (internality):
1. Experience is conceived as involving complex internality of actors during
performance.
2. Experience is conceptualised using discrete ontological categories of internality.
3. Certain states of internality may be present or absence in experience.
4. Contingencies within performance are positioned as significant in experience and
possibly act as constraints to or facilitators of experience.
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Presence (externality):
1. Presence is elaborated as a state of embodiment in which internality and externality
are fluidly connected or in synergy.
2. Presence is linked in theatrical performance to an actor’s internality or specifically to
the unique set of experiences that an actor has while performing.
3. Audience reception of a performance acts as an important constraint to and a catalyst
of experience.
Time and temporality:
1. Time is theorised as being multi-layered in actors’ experiences of performance, and
acts to both constrain and enliven experience.
2. Tense elements of time (past, present and future) have significant resonance in an
actor’s experience.
3. Four qualities or constructs of time are proposed as a means of understanding the
temporality of an actor’s experience while performing.
Space and place:
1. The notions of ‘space’ and ‘place’ are conceived as having distinct functions in an
actors’ experience, with ‘place’ positioned transcendentally.
2. Actors engage with and experience at least four categories of space during
performance.
3. Actors both shape and are shaped by performance spaces.
Sedimentation:
1. The metaphor of sedimentation is employed as a frame for understanding the
accumulation of knowledge, skills and experience of an actor.
2. Training is positioned as a critical core of sedimentation for an actor.
3. Sedimentation is designated as an essential ground for experience.
4. Sedimentation is theorised as both constraining and fostering experience.
Life frame of an actor:
1. The notion of a ‘life frame’ is theorised as a useful construct for understanding the
self of an actor and what an actor inputs into performance.
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2. Four ontological features of an actor’s life frame are proposed.
3. An actor’s life frame is conceived to be a key constituent element of performance and
experience.
Artistic ‘filters’:
1. The notion of ‘filters’ is constructed as a set of expectations that regulate and
constrain what an actor can do in theatrical performance.
2. ‘Filters’ are presented as an important aspect of the readiness of an actor for
performance.
3. The operation of ‘filters’ within performance is conceived as a significant influence
on what is experienced by actors while performing.
4. ‘Filters’ and an actor’s life frame can be in creative or destructive collision.
Continuum of training methods:
1. Actor training methods can be schematised on a two dimensional continuum or
sliding scale.
2. Actor training is privileged as a central sedimenting experience in the practice of an
actor.
3. Training and other sedimenting experiences of acting are present or active within the
temporal experiences of performing.
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CHAPTER THREE
Research Methodology
Section 3.1
Introduction
This research is a phenomenological inquiry into actors’ experiences of performing. The
inquiry includes the role of sedimentation in such experiences, and is framed by an
ethnographic and naturalistic approach to data collection. The purpose of this inquiry is to
ascertain the veracity of a number of claims made in Chapter Two about such experiences
within their performance contexts.
In Chapter Three, the framework of the research methodology is detailed. The concepts of
phenomenology and ethnography are examined with the aim of constructing a syncretism that
could be termed ‘ethno-phenomenology’. This is followed by a description of the specific
research tools utilised, including semi-structured interviews, field observations and journal
writing. These research tools were constructed with reference to selected ethnographic and
social research literature and chosen to suit the case-study based focus of the inquiry. Finally,
the techniques and processes of textual production and analysis are considered. These include
categories of content encoding, which provide an entry point into an interpretation of the
transcribed texts produced from interviews with actors and from the journals of actors.
Section 3.2
An ethno-phenomenological Approach
This study has been conceived to fit within two distinct traditions of research, which are not
mutually exclusive but, rather, have common approaches and areas of focus. The first of
these emerges out of the philosophical traditions of phenomenology (discussed in Section
3.2.1 below). As phenomenology concerns an understanding of discrete manifestations, it is
useful for the particularities of dramatic events and experiences within such events. The
second approach (discussed in 3.2.2 below) is based on the practices of ethnography and the
traditions of social research. Essentially, this tradition of research is concerned with the
positioning of phenomena within a broader social and cultural context. I have selected both
traditions to form a distinctly ethno-phenomenological approach 46 to dramatic phenomena
46
This term and its implied method have been used in a range of social and cultural research, from research in
ethnomusicology (Solomon, 2000) to nursing practice and issues (Khalil, 2009). The two key elements in these
85
that is especially useful for understanding performance and experiences of performance.
Section 3.2.1 Tradition 1: Phenomenology
The first of the research traditions employed is phenomenological research. Developed out of
the ideas and methods of Edmund Husserl (Lauer, 1965; Pettit, 1969; Smith, 2009), this
approach involves the identification and constitution of a phenomenon as experienced and
manifested as an event, object or process. According to Pettit (1969, 9) the termed is derived
from two Greek words: phainesthai which means ‘to appear’ and logos or ‘word’ (more
correctly, the word spoken). Literally, this means an event, object or process appears as
‘word’ in consciousness. The researcher examines both the whole and the parts of a
phenomenon, describing the constituency of its existence (its ontology) before bringing an
analytical framework to bear on the phenomenon as it occurs in consciousness. Within this
investigative process, it is important to separate that which is contingent from that which is
essential to the phenomenon. It is finding the essentiality of a phenomenon (its eidetic
qualities), through a process of phenomenological reduction, which is at the heart of the
phenomenological method. Husserl describes the reduction this way, in Logical
Investigations (2001): “Phenomenological reduction yields the really self-enclosed,
temporally growing unity of the stream of experience” (208).
Properly, we should speak of phenomenological methods and ask the question: ‘Whose
phenomenology?’ While all phenomenologies share a common approach and have the goals
of understanding and describing phenomena, there are, nevertheless, distinct approaches that
have emerged, and continue to emerge, in phenomenological studies and in their application
in a variety of fields. In order to locate a phenomenological approach for this research, I want
to succinctly overview some of the key phenomenological positions that were represented in
the twentieth century and then position my phenomenological practice within this landscape,
noting the influences that have wrought my methodological practice.
In Illustration 3.1 below, three distinct types of phenomenology are suggested 47. The first,
and other studies are the combination of a focus on culture with human experience.
47
I am certainly not suggesting that phenomenologists and phemomenologies fall neatly into one group or the
other. What Illustration 3.1 is meant to suggest is a set of orientations, towards which philosophers are inclined
to a greater or a lesser extent.
86
perhaps an antecedent to the other two, is transcendental phenomenology as advocated by
Edmund Husserl. This appears to have links back to Hegel’s dialectical phenomenology. For
Husserl a phenomenon is given through essential intuitive structures in consciousness and is
encountered via ‘pure seeing’ (see, Pettit, 1969, 16-26). As Husserl states:
If higher, theoretical cognition is to begin at all, objects belonging to the sphere in
question must be intuited. Natural objects, for example, must be experienced before
any theorizing about them can occur. Experiencing is consciousness that intuits
something and values it to be actual. (Moran & Mooney, 2002, 125)
As objects are ‘given’ in consciousness through intentional encounter, through experiencing
them they can then take form and be intuited in “pure consciousness” (129). In Ideas:
General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, Husserl (1969) introduces the ideas of noema
and noesis to give form to this intentional encounter. The noema represents the ‘I’ or ego of
an intentional act, and the noesis is the object of that act. Noetic content is the meaning
generated in the exchange between noema and noesis. For Husserl, a phenomenon is not
directly knowable apart from its presentation as structures in consciousness and its noetic
content, or at least there is incredulity about epistemologies generated from the natural world
that separate the world from our conscious apprehension of it.
Only as the pure transcendental ego encounters a phenomenon in the world through action (as
intentionality, or the possessing of a thing or Selbsthabe) and interaction do the true essences
of that phenomenon emerge in consciousness (see Macann, 1993, 1-54).
87
Illustration 3.1
Phenomenology(ies)
However, a researcher cannot apprehend a transcendental ego, only an empirical ego with its
empirical content. Husserl writes:
The only thing I can take note of, and therefore perceive, are the empirical ego and its
empirical relations to its own experiences, or to such external objects as are receiving
special attention at the moment (2001, 209)
This notion of “at the moment” suggests the primacy of the present or the present of things in
the approach of Husserl (see Staiti, 2010). While I have argued for the traction of past, present
and futures in the experience of actors (see Section 2.3.2), what is apprehended in a
Husserlian reduction are immediate temporal experiences in consciousness.
Schmitt (1959) gets to the heart of Husserl’s method when he writes:
The transcendental-phenomenological reduction is called “transcendental” because it
uncovers the ego for which everything has meaning and existence. It is called
88
“phenomenological” because it transforms the world into mere phenomenon. It is
called "reduction" because it leads us back (Lat. reducer) to the source of the
meaning of the experienced world, in so far as it is experienced, by uncovering
intentionality (240).
While there is supposed to be a reduction to pure essences 48 (as sources of meaning),
juxtaposed with central features of a phenomenon, the reduction should not be taken to mean
that the whole of a phenomenon is jettisoned for eidetic analysis; indeed, reduction is a
technique to isolate essence but then to see its place in relationship to the whole 49 . This
notion of transcendence should also not be taken to mean a ‘distancing’ from a phenomenon;
indeed, Husserl was adamant about the closeness of an encounter with a phenomenon:
through its ‘givenness’ because this is how ‘pure seeing’ in consciousness emerges.
According to Landgrebe (1973), an implication of Husserlian thinking is that a philosophical
distinction between inner and outer in terms of experience has to be questioned. For Husserl,
in Ideas, there is a full apprehension of the world in consciousness, in a mind that is tuned to
the sensory data of the world.
Secondly, there is a group of realist or empirical phenomenologies. The genesis of these
phenomenologies was a reaction both to the notion of a transcendental ego and against a
movement by Husserl himself away from the more realist position of his early Logical
Investigations I (1970), in which he reflected many of the ideas of the early British
empiricists such as Locke (1995) and Hume (2007). The so-called Munich Group, and
especially Adolf Reinach, believed in an overt materiality and empiricism: that substantial a
priori states, substances and essences exist independently of the minds that perceive them or
the consciousness that constructs them. For Reinach there is distinct a priori that exists in all
spheres of knowledge, and this knowledge does not depend on human consciousness for
existence (see Reinach, 1968). Reinach’s conviction was that Husserlian reduction merely
served to separate one from the object under investigation, and did not bring ever-clearer
approximations to it. What Reinach, and those philosophers who followed him, propounded
was a thoroughgoing materiality in the universe as the basis for experience, while not
48
In the context of discussing the relationship between sociology and phenomenology, Heap & Roth (1973)
clarify the meaning of using the Husserlian term ‘essence’. According to them, ‘essence’ is part of the a priori
world of possibilities, and is a quality intuited from an object as experienced. Therefore, importantly, essence is
not part of the characteristics of an object.
49
See, for example, Houghton Hadreas’, A Phenomenology of Love and Hate (Hadreas, 2007).
89
denying the importance of experience in itself. The significance of the materiality of
phenomena has certainly influenced my thinking about the constitution of performance
phenomena and the empirical basis for understanding such phenomena.
Finally, the most complex and diverse group is that of the existential phenomenologies.
Existential phenomenologies share a common view that phenomenology should begin with
human identity, experience and embodiment in the world. This differs from transcendental
phenomenology where a phenomenon, as structured in consciousness, is the central concern,
and human experiences and identity are contingent to this focus. Merleau-Ponty’s pervasive
view of body-in-the-world is thoroughly dealt with in the next chapter, and its place in the
method adopted in this study is discussed. Included in this group of existential
phenomenologies is Jean Paul Sartre (2003) and his potent examination of the human
condition, Martin Heidegger (1996) and his notion of Being and the ground of Being, Paul
Ricoeur (1984, 1991) and his focus on symbolism in his hermeneutical phenomenology,
Hannah Arendt (1977) and her political phenomenology, Hans-Georg Gadamer and his
phenomenological hermeneutics (Gadamer & Silverman, 1991), Simone de Beauvoir and her
feminist phenomenology (Beauvoir, 2010) and Immanuel Levinas, perhaps also an existential
phenomenologist50, whose notion of an ethics of encounter with the other is elaborated in the
next chapter.
In locating the phenomenological method of this research, it should be stated that throughout
the history of twentieth century phenomenology there has never been one phenomenology or
a privileged phenomenological approach. The field is diverse, even idiosyncratic. What
Husserl began was a universal approach to ‘knowing’, not a delineated philosophy, with none
of his followers appearing to pursue his specific method. Indeed, even his closest disciples
moved significantly away from his specific approach and had concerns and interests that
were distinctly theirs. What they did take from Husserl was “the philosophical attempt”
(Pettit, 1969, 10). It is for this reason that I adopt a distinctly hybrid phenomenological
approach in this study, drawn from the various perspectives discussed above. The approach is
geared to the needs of performance analysis and experiences of performing.
50
Strictly speaking, Levinas also embodied transcendentalist notions such as intuition, greatly admired Husserl,
of whom he was a close disciple, and could be seen as mediating between the transcendental and the
existentialist positions. See, for example, De Boer (1997).
90
Husserlian return to the world and data from the world refutes the idea that phenomenology
becomes anything that you want it to be, even amorphous and indulgent. In investigating
narratives and experiences of performing, I have been driven by the experiences in and of
themselves, and these are used to evaluate existing claims and theories. Kupers (2005)
suggests
that
part
of
a
phenomenological
approach
involves
this:
“Knowing
phenomenologically includes not only ‘bodies of knowledge’ but also knowledgeable bodies,
not only enacted ‘knowledge’ but also knowing that is already action” (125). So a
phenomenon resides in action or in doing, in the process of being embodied, as much as in
what is done, completed, signified or theorised. In my phenomenological practice, therefore,
action and embodied knowing that is anchored in the world is a central pillar.
Section 3.2.2 Tradition 2: Ethnography
Grounded phenomenological research shares similar concerns with the other main research
tradition adopted in this study, that of ethnographic research. According to Hammersley and
Atkinson (2007) ‘ethnography’ does not have a “standard, well-defined meaning” (2), rather
it plays a “complex and shifting role in the dynamic tapestry that the social sciences have
become in the twenty-first century” (2). In this sense we should properly speak about
ethnographies and about what ethnographers do, rather than give positivist definitions (see
Crang & Cook, 2007). Nevertheless, Denzin (1997) attempts such a definition when he
writes, “Ethnography is that form of inquiry and writing that produces descriptions and
accounts about the ways of life of the writer and those written about.” (xi). However, he too
recognises the complex and multifaceted journey of ethnography from its modernist and
positivist beginnings (and its overt adherence to the ‘scientific method’) to more localised
and circumspect accounts of social phenomena from the ‘inside’. Denzin recognises that
ethnography is not only about a state of doing but it is also about writing, and thus about
interpretative practices. Writing, according to Denzin, reflects as much the concerns of the
person of the writer as research as it does the actual social context. Indeed, ethnography can
be viewed as a writing strategy within the broader social sciences.
Using a grounded approach, in actual situations, ethnographers gather data that reflect
everyday contexts but with an awareness of political and economic processes that are “always
‘in here’, constituted by variously connected ‘localities’ ” (Crang & Cook, 2007, 16).
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Ethnographic research is therefore concerned with both the social, cultural, political and
economic embeddedness of a human phenomenon and with gathering experiences or data that
describe actual or functional human contexts. This reflects the social science and
anthropological background of the genesis of this research method. It is then about writing
and finding meaning through sets of interpretive practices that can be influenced by a variety
of theoretical positions, including phenomenology.
Given that performance and actor experiences are constituted within such human contexts,
and are contingent to social, cultural, political and economic processes, such a method seems
suitable for this study. In privileging ethnographic approaches and methods in this research, it
should be noted that contingencies that accompany performance phenomena and performance
experience occupy a more significant place in description and analysis in this study than
would be typical of purely phenomenological research or an Husserlian method.
The tools of ethnographic practice, be they field work or participant observation, surveys, and
interviews, focus as much on the social and political context of a phenomenon as on the
performance phenomenon itself. In terms of this research, this means that those contingencies
or social parameters that affect an actor, and are not essentially a part of a performance event,
are still, by implication, important because of their influence on experience.
Section 3.2.3 Conceiving the approach
To sum up the preceding discussion, the methodology of this study is a phenomenological
inquiry, recognising that actors’ experiences of performing are discrete phenomena and part
of a broader set of performance phenomena (including the materiality of a performance
phenomenon in event). It is also an ethnographic study, using methods of data collection
drawn from social research and recognising the centrality of the researcher within the
research process. The resulting amalgam of research perspectives is suggested in Illustration
3.2 below. In the diagram, the ethnographic tradition brings to the ethno-phenomenological
approach a concern for the localisation of inquiry with more global factors that may impinge
on a local phenomenon. This sense of being close and distant to a social phenomenon is
important for an examination of performance, because no performance can be fully
understood without an understanding of those societal forces and those institutional
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discourses that are part of contingencies to and the construction of performance. What
ethnography also affords for this methodology is a set of well-rehearsed research tools that
are backed by an extensive literature (as shown in the discussion and bibliography of
Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). The diagram also focuses on key phenomenological
concepts that seem especially suited for description and analysis of performance phenomena.
While not absent from the concerns of this study, theatre semiotics (see Elam, 2002; Eco,
1976) is certainly not a central method. This is because the focus of this study is not on what
is signified for an audience but what participants experience; indeed, ethnographic research is
about first-hand accounts of experience within a socio-political context. The reading and
critique of performance is exhaustively covered in the theatre, drama and performance studies
literature, but there is not as much concern with or research about the affective dimensions of
acting performance and the phenomenology and ontology of experience. A semiotic approach
does, however, become important in an examination of the contingencies that may affect an
actor’s experience. This approach is also significant for analysis of how an actor moves in
and utilizes space while performing.
Conceiving an ethno-phenomenological approach presents a potential problem. This concerns
the potential divide between naturalism on the one hand and Husserl’s philosophical ‘seeing’
on the other. Husserl’s misgivings about ‘natural’ ways of seeing the world would appear to
create an incongruity between naturalism in the guise of ethnography and a reductionist
phenomenological method51.
51
I point the reader to Glendinning’s (2008) article “What is Phenomenology?” In the article Glendinning is
disparaging of the connection between naturalism (and by extension the sciences) and phenomenology, seeing
this as part of modernism. He views the phenomenologist’s vision as encompassing several theses. 1. That
phenomenology should be divested of theory. 2. That phenomenology is about description not analysis. 3. That
phenomenology cannot be done with blinkers on since it is pure seeing. 4. That phenomenology is not about
creating objective points of view. My view is that phenomenology is not one entity, nor is it as delineated or
circumscribed as Glendinning claims. I would rather speak about phenomenologies and syncretisms between
phenomenologies and other approaches, including ones derived from the social sciences (see Morse & Richards,
2002). The social science and performance studies literature has significant number of such syncetisms (some of
which are referred to in this study). Husserl himself pre-empted such a disposition to phenomenological
research, and his own students differed significantly from his approach. Phenomenological approaches are
inherently about analysis since they concern the constitution of consciousness in apprehending the world, which
is an analytic approach. Moreover, analysis is a necessary precondition to any exposition of meaning.
93
Illustration 3.2
Conceiving an ethno-phenomenological approach
My response is that this possible incongruity would indeed amount to a contrary position if
my ethnographic approach were positivist in intent. The thought and practice of Alfred
Schutz (1967), who worked closely with Husserl, demonstrated that a thoroughgoing
phenomenology of the social world is entirely possible and that there is indeed continuity
between social science and a phenomenology that moves beyond positivism (see, for
example, Petitot, 1999). O’Reilly (2005) points out the diversity and complexity of
94
ethnographic approaches: a particular ethnography can be informed by Marxism, modernism,
postmodernism, feminism, realism, ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism, to name
but a few (see Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Ehrich, 2003). It is what undergirds one’s
ethnography that seems most pertinent. My ethnography begins with a grounded and
inductive approach that moves to an interpretive position (in evaluating the claims that I
make in Chapter Two) based on what the data reveals, and also shows awareness of the social
constructedness of phenomena (see O’Reilly, 2005, 54, 55). I incorporate ontological
elaborations as well as attempting to understand the whole of a social context and the
narratives that operate to construct a performance (see Denzin, 1997, 90-123). Such a method
is not about objectifying the world (an anti-Husserlian position) but being immersive and
encountering a phenomenon and the narratives within it, while at the same time seeing the
potential in reductions derived from close textual explorations. These explorations are given
in detail in Chapters Five and Six.
Section 3.3.
Developing research tools
In order to facilitate what might be termed an ethno-phenomenology of performance (see, for
example, Jones, 2002) and grounded research, three tools of data collection are used in this
study. I offer a summary here, with more detailed material to follow later in this chapter.
First, as a way of accessing the immediacy of experiences of performance, experiences
perhaps not fully sedimented in memory, actor participants wrote a reflective journal up to
three hours after a single performance (See Appendix Two for suggested parameters given to
participants). The journal was intended to access internal subjective experiences of each actor
and to identify key volitional, emotional, somatic and perceptual characteristics of that actor’s
experiences. Actors were briefed to write as little or as much as they liked, but there was an
expectation that a reasonable number of their performances would be identified in the journal.
In addition, actors were encouraged to be creative, using imaginative forms such as poetry or
drawing if they so wished.
Second, following the completion of the journal entries and within a reasonable period after a
season of performances, a semi-structured interview (see Appendix One) with each actor was
undertaken to bring an exchange about memories of performance between actor and
researcher. These interviews were digitally recorded and transcripts produced. As part of this
95
series of interviews, there were also interviews with actor educators to establish the training
base of actors in training programs and to allow an alternative view of actors’ experiences to
emerge (see Appendix Three). Selections of this interview material with actor educators are
used as part of the analyses of Chapter Five.
Finally, I witnessed a range of theatrical performances involving actor participants and
created field notes. These field observations complemented the internal experiences of the
actors and the perspectives of actor educators as expressed in interviews and journals. In
these field notes it was my intention to:

Record what the performance was about,

Note the use of space and the stage design,

Describe the performance text and its meaning,

Describe the work of the actors, including characterisation, role and the effect of
performance on the audience or observers,

Identify the style and/or genre of the performance and the possible implications of this
choice for experiences of acting,

Note the interactions between actors, the space, props and audience,

Document my affective responses to the dramatic work and suggest possible factors
that fashioned such reception.
It is not my intention in this study to offer any formal critical review of a particular show or
performance. What the field notes are designed to reveal is the context of performance, the
reception of the audience (including the researcher) and the possible contingencies that are
operating in a performance space. Thus, a phenomenon can be examined in a more holistic
way and field notes can be used to supplement analysis of the individual experiences of
actors interviewed. Essentially, field notes function to provide a perspective on the
circumstances in which an actor’s experiences took place.
All three tools lead the researcher to narratives of performance experience and
interpretations of performance. Essentially actors told me their performance stories with
candour and focus, and then further understandings of what happened in a performance were
ascertained with the aid of their journals and from field observation. Thus, there is
96
triangulation of data collection52 made possible by a range of points-of-view.
Section 3.3.1 Semi-structured Interviews
The qualitative ethnographic interview has an extensive history as a well-established
technique in social research (see Spradley, 1979; Mishler, 1986; O’Reilly, 2005; Crang &
Cook, 2007; King & Horrocks, 2009). I draw on such a history and set of techniques in order
to construct an approach to interviewing participants that best fits phenomenological
performance research. The approach of many ethnographic researchers is to remain relatively
unobtrusive in research contexts in order to facilitate openness to, and ingenuousness by,
participants. Of primary importance in this regard is that interviewees feel comfortable with,
and not impeded by, the interviewer. It is self-evident that any sense of threat or judgement,
no matter how implicit, needs to be reduced as far as possible in order to foster introspectivity
and engage a participant fully so as to evoke willingness for self-disclosure. One goal of
phenomenological research is to establish the particularities or essences of a phenomenon.
Participant openness and a willingness to be candid are crucial to this research goal. How
does one engender such trust and create a sense of ease with a participant? The following
conditions for conducting interviews were employed throughout the research process:
1. Contacting a participant with a friendly tone and without any language of demand;
2. Avoiding the use of any language or tone of coercion, even if a participant fails to
follow through on set dates for interviews;
3. Conducting the interview at a venue in which the participant is most comfortable, such
as their home or office;
4. Avoiding offering a judgement of an actor’s or actor educator’s work, but rather
emphasising one’s gratitude for a participant’s openness about his or her experiences;
5. Using techniques of listening and reflective questioning that foster a self-reflexive state;
6. Engendering the co-participatory nature of interviews, such that the researcher is
learning from and enjoying actor narratives;
7. Truthfulness about who the researcher is and what is required from the participant, such
52
As Hammersley and Atkinson (2007, 183-188) point out, there are many approaches to triangulation. I refer
to this term in the sense of creating different perspectives from which to encounter a phenomenon. Undoubtedly,
social researchers whose objects of research and methodology are different would use the term another way.
97
that roles in the interview process are understood;
8. Avoidance of interpretative categories and contextual reinterpretations, including the
imposition of academic discourses and jargon.
The central value that underlies these parameters is the importance of a participant’s voice
being heard in all its passion and truthfulness53. This implies, as suggested earlier, that trust
and confidentiality form the core of the exchange, such that a participant is able to speak with
ingenuousness. An interview should be emancipatory for the participant and promote a strong
notion of positive agency54, and the researcher needs to be curious and facilitative. What I
have attempted to create is a situation of expectation but one not imbued with the sense of a
distant researcher. In fact, I purposefully constructed myself as a fellow practitioner, as
insider, co-present, and not as an academic listening without emotion, ‘objectively’, to their
narratives, experiences and ideas. It occurs to me that when actors and actor educators are
allowed to share their stories and discuss their practice and just be heard that there is a
significant directness and exuberance (of joy) that develops: a sense of momentum that
fosters agency. Roulston (2010) calls for quality in qualitative interviewing. I believe that that
is best achieved in this research through interviewing processes that promote agency and
participant reflexivity.
These broad parameters for the semi-structured interview could be conceived as representing
one point on a continuum of interview styles, as represented in Illustration 3.3 below.
53
Marvasti (2004) suggests that the nature, conditions and structures of interactional exchanges in interviews
can construct what is taken as the ‘truths’ of the occasion. Highly structured interviews thus tend to shift the
momentum to the truth that the interviewer wants. The possibility of ‘shaping’ an interview is noted by Van Enk
(2009).
54
Relevant here are the ideas of Hohwy (2007). He takes Husserl’s notions of a minimal self (mineness) and a
narrative self (self stories across particular experiences) to the extent of suggesting that they reside as critical
cognitive mechanisms that are instrumental for how an individual acts or finds agency in the world. The
implication for interviewing participants is that a focus on agency and an awareness of the selfhood of an actor
or actor educator participant would seem to be critical to the successful performance of an interview. Moreover,
if Hohwy’s theory is correct, bringing a more overt focus on narrative into interviews should promote efficacy.
98
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Illustration 3.3
Interview styles
In this diagram, four interview styles are identified, though the notion of a continuum means
that that any particular interview style tends to fall between one or other of the categories.
The idea of a ‘passive facilitator’ is that an interviewer offers questions only and a basic
introduction, which includes an encouragement for the participant to speak with honesty and
detail. Inevitably, of course, the questions themselves imply that an interview is being
constructed and that what is said about experiences by a participant is filtered through a set of
pre-theorised epistemological classes.
The second style, ‘active facilitator’, suggests that there is a more overt interaction between
researcher and participant throughout the interview. Not only are defined questions offered
but statements of clarification and restatements of a participant’s perceived position are given
in a form such as ‘You stated that’. In this style the interviewer more actively shapes the
interview and intervenes to pursue a particular emphasis or reorientate the participant towards
data that is relevant for the research.
In the third style, termed ‘Interpretative’, the interviewer actively takes what the interviewee
is stating and positions it within an interpretative frame. There is an explicit hermeneutics
that guides the interview, perhaps also infused with inter-textual references. The interview is
framed more overtly and the responses of participants are positioned in terms of other ideas
and opposing positions.
Finally, the highest confrontational interview style is that of the ‘protagonist’. In this style the
participant’s responses to questions are actively challenged and critiqued by the interviewer.
This approach to the interview relationship is often seen in media interviews with politicians,
but it may also have a place in ethnographic research if there is a clear goal that is understood
by participants. It is likely that the more confrontational and interpretative the style, the more
the interviewee could become defensive and threatened, effectively closing off candour.
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For this study, the interview style adopted was mostly that of an active facilitator. A key goal
in my interviews was to facilitate a participant toward speaking about experiences while
performing without undue feedback and reflection from the interviewer. Interpretation was
conceived to be a post-interview textual process. I avoided overt statements of interpretation
with interviewees, even though, as researcher, I was undeniably processing data during the
interview. Moreover, I drew quite explicitly from a predetermined set of questions, so that
there was consistency as well as defined boundaries. I also allowed considerable scope for
interviewee-directed discussion. At times some clarification was needed for an effective and
smooth interview. Some directing of any interview is required for efficacy, especially given
the limitation of approximately 60 minutes that I placed on individual interviews. Overall, an
open, warm, focussed and cooperative interviewing environment characterised the approach
in this study55.
The essential performative and formal nature of an interview is an important aspect of its
functionality. The fact that some directedness was used in interviews and that these
interviews had an ordered structure and set of expectations suggests they are a type of
performance. An interview has an established time and place, as well as specific roles and a
participant observer who records the exchange. The dialogic discourse of an interview and its
meta-narrative approach imply the dramatic. The interviewer and the interviewee enter into
role-formations that appear performative and seem permeated even with the theatrical.
According to Mishler (1986) interviews are speech events in which shared meaning is
generated. There is an intensity and formality of exchange that appears quite distinct from
pre-interview and post-interview conversations. In part this could be periodised by the
existence of a recording method itself.
There are two issues about an ethnographic research process that are important. The first
concerns the nature of an ethnographer’s relationship with context. Most ethnographic
literature conceives the researcher as embedded and embodied in a context, often as
55
Kvale (2006) questions so-called empowering, caring and warm interviews, suggesting that asymmetric
power relationships implicitly exist and determine the outcome of all interviews. I recognise that power
dynamics are intrinsically a part of all relationships, but I also contend that it is possible to obviate the
dominance of the researcher in such relationships through openness about the role that each participant should
play in the interview.
100
practitioner, as well as observer and researcher56. The typical ethnographic or anthropological
researcher would most likely reflect on themes and ideas from a context fully in situ.
However, as an ethnographic researcher of actors and actor educators in this study, I chose
not to fully enter the social context and life situations of the actors. As a researcher, I was not
positioned as a part of the compositional, performance-making, community that created the
theatrical productions in which each actor participated (that is a quite different study). I was
only privy to that which was said to me and that which I observed. So, this research does not
claim to be an ethnographic inquiry in the sense of having an embeddedness and participatory
function of the researcher in the social context. Rather it is a study of the embedded and
embodied experiences of actors as revealed in their own narrative reports. The focus is on the
individual, with recognition that he or she is still part of a contextualised performance
community. This is where the phenomenological aspect of the research is particularly
significant. This study attempts to isolate or bracket phenomena of experience and identify
contingencies to such experience, and in this sense some distance may provide a distinct
research advantage. Being ‘distant’ from a phenomenon does not necessarily mean loss of
immanence. Indeed, for Husserl immanence comes through an encounter with a phenomenon
and finds shape in a ‘seeing’ that structures consciousness. So, my method of being
somewhat removed from a first-hand encounter with a phenomenon is perfectly consistent
with phenomenological practice as I have elucidated it in this study. Indeed, I would consider
this study phenomenologically inflected ethnography.
Second, in regard to an actor’s recall of his or her experiences of performance and what
happened in a performance, there is not necessarily a direct connection between the content
of an interview and the materiality of a performance event. However, it is likely that such an
event has evoked cognitive, somatic and affective states in any actor, leading to experiences
that would be expressed in an interview. It is questionable whether an actor could give a
detached, methodical and objective account of a performance, because actors have lived
bodily within a performance and this living is imbued with rich and complex experiences.
Furthermore, there is likely to be constructedness and processing (indeed sedimentation) that
56
There is a growing literature of ethnographies of performance. See especially, Hammersley & Atkinson,
2007, 108—117, for a detailed consideration of the general role of a researcher in a social context. For specific
consideration of performance and ethnography, see Mienczakowski (2001, 2005) and the earlier work of Turner
(1986). See, also, Offen (2010) and her ethnographic study of a female circus performer.
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accompanies reflections as presented in interviews. Such processing and constructedness
(hermeneutical loops) occur during performance and in the period after performance. What is
identified and investigated in this inquiry are memories of experiences within performance,
as well as perceptions about a performance as an event and the constructions that ensue from
both.
Actors’ memories of performance may constitute a series of representations and
reconstructions created in their sedimented state of memories in the post-performance period.
Such memories, representations and reconstructions form constructions in consciousness,
which are at least partially articulated in interviews and written in journals. In Chapters Five
and Six, such memories and corollary constructions are synthesised as a series of concept
maps. What an actor recalls is unique. It reflects an idiosyncratic selectivity and perception of
what happened, and the states that accompanied this happening in performance. It may well
include repositioning memories into meaningful categories, developing an understanding of
what was absent and making sense of memories as they are illuminated by an actor’s life
frame. However, though there is awareness of the possibility of constructedness from
memories, I maintain there is a core of authentic and essential experiences. Indeed, it is my
contention that such a core forms the basis for layers of reconstructions and interpretations, as
an actor makes sense of experience (see Illustration 3.6 below). Ultimately, a phenomenology
of actor experiences of performance should account for and differentiate between core
experiences and interpretative reconstructions of such experiences, since both are part of the
whole.
This core of authentic experiences amounts to a truth. I take Levinas’ position that truth is
emergent from obligation in a localized, I-Other, encounter (see Section 4.4.3), one that I
experienced in
interviewing, meeting and
engaging with
actors. Criticisms
of
phenomenological approaches that they are subjective and that we get a version of experience
and an interpretation of a phenomenon are acknowledged 57 , but this criticism does not
57
It is not within the scope of this study to offer a thoroughgoing critique of a phenomenology. This study is an
attempt to utilize and apply phenomenological ideas to performance contexts. Suffice to suggest that critics of
phenomenology have been active since Husserl’s ideas emerged in the early twentieth century (see Osborn,
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necessarily diminish the sincerity or authenticity58 of what was experienced by each actor and
the potency of experience as a truth for a particular actor as expressed in language.
Experience is, after all, the basis for knowing and for volition, which then extends into
intentionality and language.
As mentioned, in addition to the interviews and journals of actors, interviews were also
conducted with actor educators. One purpose of including perspectives from these educators
is to discover what training brings to the sedimented state of actors-in-training and ultimately
what shapes beginning actors’ experiences of performing. In essence, what is an actor
educator’s pedagogical practice, and what informs such a practice? Part of this consideration
is about how actors learn and what it is that fosters accumulation of established practices of
acting. Another purpose is to determine the range of methods that could possibly have
influenced development of an actor’s approach to his or her art, and the specific influences of
such methods on an actor’s experience of performing. Finally, having worked with actors on
a close and intimate level, actor educators are uniquely placed to see inside the experiences of
an actor and analyse the strategies and complexities of embodied experiences. In their
studios, through their embodied practices, actor educators see actors without the lights and
the contingent constructions of theatre that can mask feelings and experience. They see the
vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies of actors, as well as narratives that construct an actor’s
sense of self.
1934), and that fierce debate about phenomenology typifies its history (see Spiegelberg & Schuhmann, 1982).
58
I find the notion of authenticity important. For me authenticity has being in and of itself and can be readily
identified and then lived because it emerges from felt experience. We often speak of authentic performance or
authentic living or authentic art. We can also refer to authenticity as faithfulness to some condition or value, or
truthfulness in being fully human in the Heideggerian sense (see Guignon, 2008). Sartre intimated, in his plays
especially, that authenticity is located in that liminal territory that surrounds in-authenticity (see Taylor, 1991).
Marx identified this territory as more or less a state of alienation (see Miller, 1984; James, 1980). It is
interesting that Brecht (1990) picks up this notion and uses the liminal territory of authenticity/in-authenticity as
a dramaturgical device. In other words we know authenticity only as we recognise its negation. And we
understand negation because it does not ring true from what we know of experience. So, authentic performance
is performance in which that which is in-authentic is acknowledged and through this recognition that which is
true is privileged. So it can be with encountering actors and asking them about their experiences. I believe that
authenticity, meaning and truth are closely linked and one is an extension of and gives substance to the others.
This usually connects to that which we know to be authentically human and comes out of what we share
existentially. However, I also acknowledge that authenticity can be understood as a cultural category imbued
with notions of status, so that it becomes a powerful device of inclusion/exclusion built on being authentic/inauthentic as a binary. When it comes to representation there is also a debate about constructed authenticity
versus objective authenticity. I argue for an authenticity that is relational, experiential and emergent from
encounter in the Levinasian sense.
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Section 3.3.2 Production of texts
All interviews (of both actors and actor educators) were recorded 59 on a laptop computer,
using the proprietary software, “Express Scribe” 60 . The companion software, “Express
Dictate” enabled the transcriber to play back the proprietary file produced in Express Scribe
at varying speeds to facilitate accurate typing into a text window within the software. Once a
particular interview was transcribed in draft form, it was copied to a Microsoft Word file and
saved for further editing. Each file could then be printed and used for coding and analysis as
is described in Section 3.4 below. In order to deal with the possibility of errors and to
promote the accuracy of transcripts, a problem noted by Poland (2003), places of ambiguity
or lack of clarity in transcripts were linked back to the original sound file by a time signature
in brackets in the draft transcript.
This process of reproduction constructs a text for analysis that is bracketed from the
phenomena that it comes to represent, or, in phenomenological discourse, there is a reduction
to spoken language and then to digitised text itself. In Illustration 3.4 below, this is
represented as a three-fold process. First, there is a level one reduction of a holistic
performance phenomenon to one actor’s experience of a performance phenomenon. Second,
there is a level two reduction implicit in the recording technology itself, which, being an
audio recording, removes part of the bodily materiality of the interview: gestures,
interactions, facial expressions and bodily positioning.
A critical question could be this: Why not videotape the interviews so that this bodily
materiality remains? After all, is not this materiality an indisputably essential part of the
gathering process? Apart from the issue that the use of this technology makes transcription
more cumbersome, there is the more pressing concern about ambiguity. Interpreting the
visual ‘language’ of an actor or an actor educator in an interview has a profound ambiguity
59
Tape recording of interviews has a history as a method in social research since the 1950s (see Bucher, 1956).
60
Software produced by NCH Software available at http://www.nch.com.au/express/index.html.
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that would appear to run counter to the method of phenomenological reduction61.
Illustration 3.4
Phenomenological reductions in interview transcript production
Moreover, what I am concerned with in this study are the structures of consciousness created
in the wake of an experience of performance. I believe that these structures are best
ascertained in spoken language because of the precision possible in recording a voice and the
direct causal link between language and consciousness62.
Finally, a level three reduction involves digitising spoken text so that it can be printed or
analysed. This reduction may remove emotive and tonal features of the spoken language,
features that have a more significant ambiguity than the text alone; though, to be fair, such
61
Though this present study focuses on text, consciousness, and the internality of actors, a phenomenological
study of embodiment-as-witnessed, with a painstaking close eye to the detail of what an actor’s body does in
performance, is certainly legitimate and perhaps complementary to what I am doing.
62
See in this regard, Carpenter (1991), who argues for a direct and overt connection between language and
consciousness. However, Stamenov (2008) suggests that language is inaccessible to consciousness, at least at
the linguistic level, in syntactic structures. While Stamenov might well be right, what Carpenter is arguing for is
that language becomes the prime mechanism for expressing the existential, the affective and the meanings
ascribed to self. I am of course not doing justice to the extensive literature and debate about this issue, but this
will suffice for my argument.
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features are still resonant from interviews and are referred to in Chapters Five and Six. While
phenomenological reduction may go to the particular, the whole of a phenomenon is still
present in analysis.
The issue of what a printed or digitized text can disclose about a phenomenon is a vexed one.
It could be argued that in the process of reduction (to plain text in this study) many features
of a performance phenomenon are potentially jettisoned. While not denying this possibility, I
believe that the traces of internality of actors from performance are given with more precision
in text. Moreover, text is more apposite for hermeneutical, ethnographic and
phenomenological analysis. Because this research is about unseen states of internality, which
can only be revealed as reported by those who experienced them, then such reports need to be
documented as archival material. Textual archival material facilitates ease of annotation and
mark-up, which are critical techniques for ethno-phenomenological analysis of texts.
However, there are issues that emerge when considering the arguments above. First, there is
an assumption about the accuracy of a reproduction, namely that this reproduction will
capture the nuances of meaning possible from an interview. This is why the transcription and
editing of interviews and other texts need to be especially precise. Second, and perhaps most
importantly, the role of the researcher as a reader of texts is a pivotal one in this research.
Spiegelberg (1975) suggests that “texts are not always self-explanatory. Even if they were so
at the time of writing, they no longer will be for a different readership” (21). The meaning
‘in a text’ is not solely transmitted by the text itself, so it is not self-explanatory in an
objectivist sense; nor is the meaning entirely recreated by the reader in a subjective
interpretation, for this would be to deny the connection of the text with the experiential world
of the subject. I argue that in the dialogue between reader and text, informed by knowledge of
the context of its production, a meaning could be negotiated63. Such a negotiation is about
understanding the human dimension that forms a background to the texts, vis-à-vis the actors
and actor educators, and the communities of practice to which they belong (see Wenger,
1998).
63
What is presented is a social constructivist model for reading and textual analysis. See, for example, the work
of Flower (1994) and Zimmerman (1998). Fairclough (2003) views “texts as elements of social events” (8), so
that texts can affect and be affected by the social world and exchanges within that world. The ideas of Bakhtin
(1993) are also relevant for this discussion, since for Bakhtin meaning is generated within the dialogue of a
community of others and between different utterances.
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Particularly influential in this regard is the work of Gadamer and his phenomenological
hermeneutics of text (Gadamer & Silverman, 1991). In Truth and Method (1982) and
Philosophical Hermeneutics (1976), Gadamer argues that our consciousness is historically
contingent and is rooted in a defined history and culture that forms it. Thus, interpreting a text
involves a synthesis of perspectives, as a text’s historicity is in process with the life,
background and experiences of a reader. Therefore an objective position of critique is not
possible. In sum, mine is a constructed and negotiated hermeneutics that examines traces of a
phenomenon within texts, accounts for my own life frame and experiences, and considers the
social, historical and human contexts from which the texts emerged. Meaning emerges in
dialogue between all three.
Section 3.3.3 The Journal
Actor participants in this research were asked to write a journal reflecting their thoughts,
feelings and bodily states after each of a series of dramatic performances. Suggested content
areas for reflections were given to participants as a written document some time before the
performances under investigation (see Appendix Two). However, each participant was
encouraged to make their journal distinctly personal, such that in style, structure and
approach it should be indelibly idiosyncratic, and participants were instructed to write as
much or a little as they chose. Participants were recommended to write each journal entry
within three hours of a performance in order to facilitate specific recall and to minimise the
possibility of experiences being reinterpreted in the light of opinions of others or reconceived
because of further performance experiences. The immediacy of recall was important in order
to identify specific experiences and embodied states64.
In this research, a journal is taken to mean an informal written autobiographical document,
often in the form of a diary, which focuses on states of experience that emerge from a
localised performance event and includes personal and anecdotal references as they relate to
this localised set of experiences (see Dewalt & Dewalt, 2002). Journals, as reflective pieces
of personal or autobiographical writing, are used as personal, research and therapeutic tools,
64
There is some evidence in the psychology literature that over time there is a greater tendency to recall
pleasant, rather than unpleasant, events, feelings and states. See, for example, Wagenaar (1986).
107
and are employed across a range of disciplines. They could be viewed as a form of
autobiographical self-study (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001). What I have devised for this
research is no different, albeit having more specificity and a dedicated purpose. Thus, it is a
form of specialised ethnographic writing from within a specific performance context in order
to provide a perspective on performance phenomena (see Mienczakowski, 2001; O’Reilly,
2005). It could also be viewed as reflexive writing from within a research process: a
practitioner reflecting about practice and experiences of practice, using metanarratives, or
even as a heuristic device for self-appraisal and critique. In both these senses the process
could be construed as not only generating research data but also producing benefit for the
participants.
The ethnographic tool of journal writing is designed to complement the more extensive scope
of interviews. Whilst interviews are tailored to capture inner states of an actor across a series
of performances, journal writing is included to reflect the propinquity of an actor to a
particular performance. Within an interview an actor is provided with a forum for reflecting
on and interpreting experience. An interview also enables an actor to frame experience
within a larger existential narrative. The use of a journal, on the other hand, may place more
emphasis on particularities of experience attached to a specific event.
Section 3.3.4 Field observations
Field observations are taken to mean reflections, descriptions and notations (often in written
form) about a phenomenon, taken within the natural context of participants, with an overt
positioning of a researcher in the contextual frame of a phenomenon under investigation.
Field observation as an ethnographic technique has an extended tradition in social and
anthropological research (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007; Flick, 2006; OReilly, 2005). It
provides a useful means of triangulation with other research tools, and is a tool that allows a
researcher to connect more definitively with the social context of a phenomenon, and
encounter agents within a phenomenon. Whereas interviews, surveys, focus groups, journals
and other means of data collection could be seen as removed from the essential context of a
phenomenon under investigation, field observation allow the researcher to experience more
directly that which is being investigated.
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There are two basic types of field observation or two ways to observe: engaging and
watching. The first is what could be termed ‘participant observation’ (see DeWalt, 1998). In
this type of observation, the researcher actively participates in and even becomes part of the
phenomenon being examined. The researcher can then write about a phenomenon and a
social context as a virtual insider who has experienced and fully encountered that which is
being researched. The second type of observation is what might be called ‘detached’ or
‘clinical’ observation. In this case the researcher does not participate within a phenomenon
and a social context but is still physically within the frame of both. Where it is not possible or
expedient to fully participate, this approach is a feasible option (see Section 3.3.1 above).
While it may not be a fully embodied encounter, it is, nevertheless, a viable form of limited
encounter.
For this study, I have taken a more detached role as researcher in field observations (see
Section 3.3.1 above). This was necessary because this study concerns experiences during
performance. Rehearsals and other processes that lead to performance are not in the scope of
the research. Thus, participating at the level of ‘participant observation’ is neither feasible nor
appropriate. I attended and viewed a number of performances by actor participants, and
participated to the extent that an audience is allowed to participate. These viewings
constituted and were the extent of my field observations. The observations were essentially
descriptive but also included reception at an affective level. The goal was to record a detailed
sense of the performance phenomenon, including specific cultural, aesthetic and historical
factors that appear to impinge on the performance. Field notes based on observations are
incorporated into discussions of the interviews themselves and are not given a separate
section. This decision was taken so that all field observations were placed with appropriate
contextual references.
Section 3.4
Approach to textual analysis
The approach of this study to textual analysis is ethno-phenomenological, as described in
earlier sections of this chapter. The texts under investigation, the interview recordings, field
observations, actor journals and interview transcripts, embody a qualitative and holistic
approach to understanding actors and their experiences, but also contain within them traces of
performance phenomena and experiences that have to be extracted from and coded in the
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text. The ethno-phenomenological approach to textual analysis in schematised in Illustration
3.5 below. The diagram is a highly interwoven semantic or conceptual map that is meant to
suggest that the research is evolving, and organic, and that each aspect of the study is
inextricably connected.
As an epistemological overview of the research, the diagram is constructed as a series of
categories that are inter-linked and co-extensive. The first category concerns phenomena that
form the experiential basis of the research. Included in this category are live theatrical
performances, interviews with actors and actor educators, and the lived praxis of actor
educators as recalled in hands-on experiences of working with actors. Obviously, live
dramatic performances have primacy as phenomena because it is these phenomena that are
principally examined in this study.
Second, there are texts that are captured from or manufactured out of phenomena. Such texts
can be reconstructions of ‘bits’ of phenomena or interpretations of phenomena, meta-level,
post-factorial reinterpretations of experiences, though I am of the opinion, as suggested
earlier in this chapter, that a residual core of authentic experiences of phenomena is likely to
be encountered in a text65.
Third, the method of textual analysis is explicitly outlined as a process in the diagram, and
involves a four-step process from description to evaluation. This process is discussed in detail
below. What is important to emphasise is that this process is both linear and non-linear. For
example, the exercise of reading a transcription for the first time contains within it not just a
movement to description but the beginnings of evaluation. All four steps to textual analysis
could be said to operate interactively at all stages of the analysis process. So, formally I
worked in a linear fashion, but informally there was considerable movement and shifting
from one analysis emphasis to another.
Fourth, the theoretical constructs of this study are positioned as influencing or shaping textual
65
I am aware of the argument that all recollections and memories of events, phenomena or experiences could be
conceived as meta-retellings that have been processed and repositioned. Indeed it could well be that our
memories are constructed discursively and framed within the prevailing discourses of a particular disclosure
event, such as an interview. However, as above, I maintain that an authentic core of memories of lived
experiences that are inextricably linked to performance phenomena still exists.
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analysis of interview transcripts and journals, and viewed as pivotal to the formation of the
categories used for such analysis (such as in Illustration 3.6 below). These theoretical
constructs, such as ‘framing’, ‘embodiment’, ‘relation’, ‘reduction’, ‘composition’,
‘internality’, ‘externality’, ‘presence’, ‘sedimentation’ and ‘process’ are based on readings of
theorists such as Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Gadamer, and Whitehead, and practitioner
theorists such as Zarrilli and others. The constructs are also formed with regard to reflections
on my own praxis as a ground for the research. All these constructs are part of a
phenomenological approach to textual analysis.
Finally, in the diagram, positioned strategically in the centre, are the research foci. The first
focus is to understand actor experiences while performing and to ascertain the significant of
the ground of such experiences. The second focus is to evaluate my claims about
performance phenomena and experiences discussed in Chapter Two, and to assess the extent
to which these claims are supported by analysis of the data.
While the key focus of this research is on experience and what sponsors experience, the hub
of the research, obviously, is deconstruction and analysis of discrete texts. The written
documents, including the transcripts of interviews, journal entries and field observation notes,
need to be collected, labelled, analysed and interpreted using my designated ethnophenomenological process. This four-step process, which moves from description to
evaluation, is described below.
Step 1.
Description
First, there is a level of the thick description of textual data66. This is a detailed and inclusive
description and explanation of performance experiences of each actor participant, noting the
context of performance and relating the narratives and range of experiences of each actor.
This broad description functions to establish a unique frame of each actor and the particular
parameters that undergird this frame. It is important that this description be comprehensive in
scope while still containing close detail.
66
On the use of thick description in social and anthropological research see Geertz (1973), who employed the
term in his anthropological investigations and in his theory of culture. Since his work the term has come to be
used in a range of fields.
111
Illustration 3.5
Process of textual analysis
Step 2.
Content analysis
Secondly, in consonance with thick description, it is important to establish ontologically the
112
parts that constitute the whole; in other words, the content that constructs the whole. Content
analysis functions, alongside thick description, to identify ‘parts’ and to establish trends and
patterns in the textual data collected. Content analysis is a diverse and growing technique in
the social sciences that has been growing in popularity (see Krippendorff, 2004; Weber,
1990). Neuendorf (2002) identifies the complexity and range of approaches to content
analysis, from rhetorical to critical content analysis. It appears that the approach adopted in
regard to content is significantly driven by the nature of the content itself. Just so, in this
study I am adopting a partially inductive typological content analysis67, one that especially
focuses on a range of actor experiences and includes the role of memory and sedimentation in
the understanding accorded to such experiences.
A typological content analysis of an actor’s experiences while performing requires
identifying and labelling specific ontological features of such experiences, and noting
relevant themes, issues and experiential states. This, in effect, is a codification of different
experiences and sedimented states, a sorting of the elements, a reduction and a finding of that
which is essential and that which is contingent. In Illustration 3.6 below, categories for a
typology of actor internality are offered, based on material presented in Chapter Two. These
categories are used as a heuristic for analysis for both the interview transcripts and journals,
since both are primarily orientated to ‘experiences’.
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Illustration 3.6
Content coding categories for actors’ experiences
The typological content coding categories in Illustrations 3.6 were formed as a result of the
following ethno-phenomenological research processes. First, categories were developed
through reflexivity on my own praxis as a theatre maker, director and drama teacher. The
67
Typological content analysis is used in a diverse range of fields and research traditions. One interesting
example of typological coding is Hirsch (1993) and her study of teacher life histories and identity. If one is to
surmise that typological content analysis is a species of thematic analysis, then Roberts (1997) argues that it
intrinsically leads to gaps or aspects of a phenomenon that are missing from analysis.
113
categories were not totally pre-theorised but based on embodied practices, observation and
anecdotal experiences with a range of actors and theatre makers. Second, reading, reflection
and theorization from the research literature has led to an overarching set of theoretical
perspectives which have been instrumental in the wording and linguistic shape of the
categories. Finally, the first one or two interviews conducted for this research were used as
trial data collection tools in order to test draft categories and revise them in the light of the
content of the interviews. Admittedly, the questions used for semi-structured interviews
preempted at least some of the categories, while the trial interviews clarified the efficacy of
using this set of coding concepts.
Step 3.
Interpretation
Once global descriptions have been undertaken and texts are analysed for content patterns, it
is important to make sense of data. This ‘making sense’ is the process of interpretation or
hermeneutics. ‘Interpretation’ can be understood as an explanation or elucidation of the
meaning of an object of investigation within its socio-cultural context; in the case of this
study, the objects are a series of performance phenomena and the human agents whose
experiences were inextricably interwoven with such phenomena. In reference to philosophers
and theorists presented in this study, and moderated by the views of actor educators, a
sequence of interpretations of the performance experiences of actors is offered.
Tacit interpretation is fostered, dialectically, at the interview stage, where an actor or actor
educator has an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the acting experiences or method in
exchange with the interviewer. More systematic textual interpretation is conducted at the
level of language and discourse. It is at this level that the aforementioned philosophers and
theorists come into play. I especially refer to the work of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and
Whitehead (whose ideas are explicated in the next chapter) as being important in framing my
hermeneutics and establishing reference points for interpretation. However, it should not be
forgotten that interpretation is not a linear process, not does it belong wholly to the
researcher. Indeed, a key approach in this study, based on interviews and journals, is to
examine interpretations that participants made of their own experiences and practice and of
their own self-reflexivity. Interpretations become, then, a series of interplays or negotiations
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of meaning between participants, researcher and text, just as this study is an interplay
between theoretical constructs and bottom-up, inductive knowing. Certainly, in this regard
the researcher becomes an arbiter of the variety of claims about experience and performance
made by participants, not in the sense of critique or judgement but to discern the relative
significance and value of claims by one actor in comparison to another.
Step 4.
Evaluation
Finally, conclusions about the value, import and implications for performance studies of
analyses of actors’ experiences while performing, in juxtaposition with actor educators’ ideas
about actors and actor training, are offered. Put simply, what is the worth of what each
participant in this research has experienced or articulated about experience? What do such
experiences illuminate in terms of understanding the nature and constitution of performance
phenomena? This is indeed bringing localised phenomena and individual experiences and
practices into a larger academic frame and assessing their merit, applicability and usefulness.
Ultimately, these evaluations centre on my own claims as a researcher and the extent to
which such claims are corroborated with what actors utter about their experiences.
Section 3.5
Conclusion about method
The methodology of this study has been located as ethno-phenomenological research. The
research draws on two distinct traditions of thinking and practice, namely, ethnography and
phenomenology. Thus, it is a syncretism. It is at once a methodology of phenomenological
‘reduction’ and textual analysis (the deep and narrow thread) together with significant
consideration of social, cultural and political forces that shape human experience (the wide
thread). This research considers both discrete performance phenomena and internal and
embodied human states that accompany such phenomena, as well as contingencies that are
part of the constitution of such phenomena. The tools of research are distinctly ethnographic,
but they are tools imbued with a phenomenological turn. The research is also dialectic in
character with a transaction between a grounded inductive approach to data and its analysis
and a set of theorised claims about acting, performance, experience and pedagogy. It is the
contiguity between these two approaches that is the pivot of this study.
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CHAPTER FOUR
Lenses
Section 4.1
Introduction
Chapter Four explores selected ideas derived from the work of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and
Whitehead. The purpose of these explorations is to provide further frames of references,
perspectives or ways of looking at experience and performance in regard to what actors said
and wrote in response to my queries. I label such interpretive frames of reference, ‘lenses’,
since the image implies looking, seeing and examining through the mediation of a lens, and
echoes Husserl’s notion of ‘pure seeing’. These lenses are cogent for understanding
phenomena since they focus on performance experiences, embodiments, creation, otherness
and co-presence.
Section 4.2
Merleau-Ponty
As a researcher in drama and performance, I have come to realise the importance of a
phenomenology of embodiment in understanding actor experiences of performing. If I am to
appreciate what happens in performance for an actor, then I need to speak about what
happens in an actor’s body as a set of lived and situated experiences. Therefore, body is an
absolute in a phenomenology of performance 68 . I take it as a given in discussion of
performance and in analysis of how performance is experienced. Whatever can be written
68
I would not want the reader to think that this constitutes some Neo-Platonic ideal. By ‘absolute’ I am
suggesting that there is no doubt about being-in-the-world (corporeally), but there is ambiguity about the
constitution of this being (subjectivity). This distinction, I believe, is very clear in Merleau-Ponty’s writings.
116
about body as sign (and a lot has been written), a body in performance necessarily exists and
is present, temporally and spatially, as flesh.
The writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty address especially this fleshly nature of bodies.
Though Merleau-Ponty did not write specifically about performance, theatre or drama, his
ideas are, nevertheless, highly pertinent to a field of practice and research in which the
corporeality of body is momentous. Merleau-Ponty’s ideas illuminate vistas of performance
that are critical to my understanding of thoughts, feelings and awarenesses in performance. In
the discussion that follows, I engage with, encounter and critique some of his ideas as they
relate to my concerns about actors’ bodies and actors’ experiences. The implications of
Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of embodiment are also explored as they appear to inform analysis
about how actors experience performance. Given the extensive corpus of his writing (not to
mention the scholarly output about his ideas), the discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s
phenomenology is limited to those ideas most pertinent to the phenomenological analysis
offered in this study.
I begin with the mind-body aphorism, since not only is it an interesting philosophical debate
but it is also pivotal to developing a phenomenology about what it is that is experienced by
actors while performing. In the writings of Merleau-Ponty, especially in The Phenomenology
of Perception (1962, PP hereafter), there is a tendency towards repudiation of rationalist
Cartesian ontology that affirms the philosophical dichotomies between immanence and
transcendence, subject and object, as well as mind and body. Merleau-Ponty enters these ongoing debates in Western philosophy 69 by claiming that the perception of the subject is
situated, rather than abstracted as spectator. This places Merleau-Ponty at the forefront of
critiques of rationalism. Low (2002) claims that rationalism tends to “falsify experience by
intellectually constructing it rather than by simply describing it as it is lived through” (60).
He thus positions Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology as oppositional to rationalism, or at least
as an attempt to bring philosophical debate back to discussion about bodies.
Building on the ideas of earlier phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl (1969, 1999),
Merleau-Ponty attempted to argue that the body should not be simply dismissed as object and
the mind as transcendent experience. Instead, he conceives the idea of a body-subject, one
69
See Campbell (1984), Warner & Szubk (1994), Wright & Potter (2000) and Almog (2002).
117
that acts, that is flesh, and that exists in time. He claims that we are our bodies and points to
“the fact of my subjectivity” (PP, 219). This fleshly and sentient body, the body-subject, is
the same unified body that acts, thinks and feels. There are two implications: first, that a
body-subject is co-extensive with the world, not separate from it; and second, that a bodysubject operates within the boundaries and horizons of the world. Merleau-Ponty reminds
philosophers that philosophy must be based in experience, not supra-experience. He argues
that perceiving and what is being perceived are not separate. We cannot conceive ourselves
as object, because to be object suggests that there is the possibility of absence, and such
absence is not possible because each of our bodies is always with us by definition.
He concludes that “the permanence of my body is entirely different in kind” (PP, 90) from
other objects in the world. Indeed, unlike the dualistic Cartesian70 and rationalistic paradigm
of either-or and self-other, the relationship of a body with the world is more ambiguous,
paradoxical and complex (or at least this is his later thinking about embodiment). It has a
rootedness in the interpersonal, in interaction and in being-in-the-world. For Merleau-Ponty,
all we can know of ourselves in the world is located in the visceral and perceptual
experiences of being a body. These experiences tend to emphasise difference and
heterogeneity, rather than sameness. Cohen Shabot (2006) interprets this notion of MerleauPonty as suggesting that our differences are predicated on the idea that we are a body-amongbodies.
This return to body, with its fleshly and sentient nature and the unity of body-subject, has
been extensively discussed in recent post-Merleau-Ponty literature. Bermudez (2005), for
example, suggests that an implication of Merleau-Ponty’s repositioning of body and
subjectivity in a non-Cartesian metaphysics is that we experience our bodies differently from
nonbodily objects through awareness of self-as-body and its spatiality. Howell (2006) points
to the apparent tension between Descartes’ certainty of “I am thinking” therefore I can know
of myself (an affirmation of the cogito and therefore of mind over body71) and the empirical
position of Hume (2003) in which all one can say is that when one thinks about self there
70
See Baker & Morris (1996).
71
Almog (2005) argues that this position is simplistic. He positions Descartes as promoting scepticism and
inquiry rather than a rigid maxim of “I think therefore I am”. According to Almog, Descartes asks the question
about what it means to be thinkers in the world, and his separation of mind and body should be balanced by his
view that both are essentially inter-connected in human beings.
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were some impressions (and that is all) and that self-referentiality is indirect at best. MerleauPonty enters this debate by affirming the certainty of selfhood in body. Moving from
philosophy to social theory, the same watershed in thinking can be located in MerleauPonty’s work. Vivian Sobchack (2004), in her provocative book, Carnal Thoughts:
Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, argues for the “carnal, fleshly, objective
foundations of subjective consciousness as it engages and is transformed by and in the world”
(2). Varela (2004) rues “the absence of the moving body in contemporary social theory that
claims to be embodied” (67). He goes on to suggest that
Instead of regarding the body as an organism behaving—a deterministic entity—
such embodied social theory [as derived from the ideas of Merleau-Ponty] regards
the body as a phenomenal process—the perceptual experience or feeling of a subject.
(67)
This implies a rather different, more fluid, way of constructing how we interact with others,
form groups and engage as a society (see Morris, 2004). It is more fluid because we are
bodies that live, experience and adapt in unique patterns and forms. Indeed, Cohen Shabot
(2006) extends Merleau-Ponty’s idea of being-in-itself (as a body in the world) to a more
inter-corporeal notion of being-with-others (as unique bodies in dialectic relationship). These
are different but highly interwoven concepts. Cohen Shabot writes:
The new subject that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology tries to present is above all
created as a consequence of its being-with-others. This subject, then, must be
understood as constantly re-emerging from its intersection with the world outside
itself and with others: no monolithic, closed, immutable and well defined Cartesian
subjectivity is available any more. (285)
In theatre and performance studies, this may imply a shift away from textual to embodied
notions of theatre practice. In Bodied Spaces: Phenomenology and Performance in
Contemporary Drama, Garner (2004) explores the central preoccupation with ‘body’ that
comes out of a phenomenological study of drama, even though theatre itself is much larger in
scope than the bodies that occupy dramatic spaces. In attempting to understand embodiments
within performance, Merleau-Ponty’s ideas seem especially efficacious because he positions
‘body’ as the necessary ground for all engagements with the world and with others. The
centrality of ‘body’ accords with my own experiences of theatre performance. Indeed, I
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conceive bodies as being fundamental to the processes of formation within theatre
performance. Dramatic performance contains within it a unified experience of immanence
and transcendence, of attachment and connection in tension with detachment, of being-initself and being-with-others, emergent from and experienced within our bodies.
One implication of Merleau-Ponty’s concepts for performance studies is that performance
could be conceived as co-constituted in a set of creative relationships that shape, and to an
extent determine, its dynamics. This set of relationships, this communal existence, includes a
physical setting in proximity to the bodies of actors. It also includes interaction with the
audience and with the ensemble. This set of relationships and embodiments can be theorised
as intercorporeality72.
Reflexivity finds its scope within this set of relationships because in embodied encounters
within a space, and within a temporal frame, reflexive discourses with self and with others
emerge. The nature of intersubjective73 dynamics during performance can thus be changed or
intimately affected by the disposition of a performance context with its inimitable collection
of relationships. We could thus say that a dramatic or theatrical space becomes a situated
place or a unique place of co-presence that is alive with expectations and replete with
meaning formation. This place also contains contingent objects that are part of its essentially
relational character. These objects (such as props) are perceived as connected to bodysubjects, in this case actors, as they create characters on stage or in other performance spaces.
In sum, dramatic performance involves an embodied engagement with the world and objects
72
See especially, in regard to this terminology, Weiss & Haber (1999), who construct a comprehensive notion
of the use of the term in contemporary theory, media studies and cultural studies, albeit one that focuses mainly
on text. For discussion about intercorporeality in terms of body, social interaction and text, see Snow (2002,
2010) and Williams & Bendelow (1998).
73
The term ‘intersubjective’ is one that has elicited much debate in the literature. Csordas (2008) decries a
notion of intersubjectivity in which subjects are isolated as egos and have to bridge the gap. He is equally
suspicious of notions, based on Hegelian idealism, that egos share a subjective substance. Rather, using concepts
drawn from Husserl (1977), Ricoeur’s (1991) reading of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty (1975) and Haney (1994), he
proposes a model of intersubjectivity based on a community of egos that are with each other or share through
analogy/similarity (I am like you) and reciprocity. Intersubjectivity is positioned as a broad, primary category of
relation, not abstracted but about being together as egos and bodies. Furthermore, he defines intercorporeality as
a non-verbal subset of intersubjectivity: that mute world that often precedes or is co-extensive with language.
The intercorporeal becomes the other to language (including speaking) such that what might be called the
interdiscursive and the intercorporeal are in reciprocal relationship. Schutz (Schutz, 1967; Schutz & Luckmann,
1973) proposes a notion of intersubjectivity related to experiences. He suggests that a community develops in
space and time and this community shares a flow of experiences. Schutz proposes the intersubjective category of
we-relationship for this shared experiential basis to the intersubjective.
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in the world. This set of formative relationships is pivotal to the disposition of a performance.
Embodiment, in light of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas, is both a felt and a conscious state of beingin-the-world. It is more than just a juxtaposition of a body with the world but involves
connection and interaction to the point of giving the body to others (be it fellow actors or
audience) through touch, presence and tactile expression (see Perricone, 2007).
One consequence for performance of Merleau-Ponty’s repudiation of the immanencetranscendence dichotomy, discussed above, is that there is an ambiguity, even a paradox,
between inner and outer, between ‘subject’ and ‘other’, public and private, and performance
and its reception, all of which are lived, experienced and situated with bodies. Proprioception
is a physiological term not actually used by Merleau-Ponty. However, it is one that I employ
because of its precision in suggesting a bodily sense of orientation, awareness and perception
in space, with objects in that space. I use ‘proprioception’ to represent one phenomenological
aspect of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of body or his thoroughgoing notion of a body schema
and intentionality (see Carman, 1999; Gallagher, 1998). Recent thought about proprioception
has stressed its centrality in the formation of subjectivity and embodiment. One example is
Salamon (2006), who privileges this concept when she writes:
A phenomenological view of subjectivity understands the self to be formed
proprioceptively, through our daily, and mostly mundane, encounters with the world
around us. Proprioception is a constant movement between the inside of the self and
the outside of the world, where that movement sometimes creates a boundary
between inside and out and sometimes blurs the distinction between them
altogether…Proprioception is that process through which we apprehend and make
sense of our bodies….Proprioception creates a body from the fragmented, disjointed
chaos of the body in bits and pieces. It is the felt sense that I have of my body, both
as it relates to itself and to the world in which my body is always inescapably
situated. (98)
In the context of acting, interiority refers partially to proprioceptive states of perception,
awarenesses, and intensities within an actor’s body and felt states that are experienced in
performance. Salamon’s mention of a ‘boundary’ is fascinating because, in my experience,
this liminal state between inner and outer, between thought, intention and action is often
complex territory for an actor to negotiate. There is no doubt that such a boundary exists in
rehearsal (indeed there could be a compelling argument that it should exist), and it is
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expected that as actors move into public performance there is a seamless movement from
inner to outer.
For Merleau-Ponty, inner impulse and outer action are inter-related and intertwined through
intentionality and complex ambiguity (see Shusterman, 2005; Olkowski, 1999), yet always
anchored in the world through flesh. This focus on ambiguity is even more apparent, or
especially articulated, in his unfinished late work, The Visible and the Invisible (1975, VI
afterwards), in which Merleau-Ponty sees a body’s relationship with the world as complex,
fragile and paradoxical, and the phenomenological project as more problematic than Husserl
had conceived it.
In his later work, especially in VI, Merleau-Ponty introduces the notion of hyper-dialectic.
By this he refers to an existential striving to find embodiment in the world from our “private
world” (VI, 10), actuated in perception. This state suggests a more uncertain sense of
certitude in the world because the world is in flux and thus we strive for “what the being of
the world means.” (VI, 6). Indeed, Merleau-Ponty writes:
The world is what I perceive, but as soon we examine and express its absolute
proximity, it also becomes, inexplicably, irremediable distance. The “natural” man
holds on to both ends of the chain, thinks at the same time that his perception enters
into the things and that it is formed this side of his body. Yet coexist as the two
convictions do without difficulty in the exercise of life, once reduced to theses and to
propositions they destroy one another and leave us in confusion. (VI, 8)
Therefore, there is always a grappling or a self-debate about existence in the world and a
questioning of our perception of the world, or, to put it as Merleau-Ponty did, the world
“remains absolutely obscure” (VI, 11). The ‘dialectic’ suggests this existential struggle
between “proximity” and “distance”, and the ‘hyper’ implies that there is an awareness of the
struggle of the body in the world because the body is perceived as apart. In awareness, and
then in thought, our experience of the world appears to proffer a doubleness (but not duality),
which takes shape and form in language. We are self-aware in thought in so far as we
perceive the world separately as body and question that perception, but in a person’s
“sensible world” (VI, 12) there is no such separation because it is experienced as one thing—
unified, co-existing and in “synergy” (VI, 11). For Merleau-Ponty “the true [this unified
sense of being in the world] dawns through an emotional and almost carnal experience” (VI,
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12), which is different from thought about our “private world” in relation to the world. This
doubleness exists as an enigma in experience. Merleau-Ponty writes: “we try to break them
[all that constitutes the unity of experience] apart in our thought, [and] we come to realize
that all that for us is called thought requires that distance from oneself “ (VI, 12).
A significant aspect of hyper-dialectic is interrogation. For Merleau-Ponty, this “interrogative
mode” (VI, 103) is about questioning our perceptions of and existence in the world, to the
point of doubt in an on-going series of approximations. However, it is this fleshly contact
with the world, in its perceptual and sentient forms, which makes interrogation possible, and
interrogation is never to the point of negation or denying the world in a neo-Platonic sense.
Scholarly interest in this concept has grown of late. Berman (2003), for example,
characterises Merleau-Ponty’s hyper-dialectic as “a point of departure into his indirect
ontology of the flesh as characterised by the interrogation of perceptual faith, as well as by
temporality and reversibility” (404). By ‘reversibility’ Berman is implying that meaning, in
Merleau-Ponty’s paradigm, cannot be found totally in one subject or object but is always
deferred to another in a flux or dialectic.
Let me now apply this idea of ‘hyper-dialectic’ to concepts of performance. In dramatic
performance, the externality of an actor (as perceived in bodily orientation, gesture, voice,
eyes, and action) is closely aligned to an actor’s intentionality and internality. But, there is a
potential ambiguity and tension between what an actor wants to deliver through volition and
the actual expression (or exterior embodied function) as received by an audience in a
performance space. There is a questioning and interrogation of both, and an uncertain
juxtaposition.
Typically, in rehearsal, and especially in improvisation, an actor is interrogating not only
various written texts but also space, and his or her proprioceptive sense of being a body in
space. I would contend that this state of ambiguity, and this mode of hyper-dialectic, exists
beyond rehearsal and is experienced even in performance. Merleau-Ponty would have us
believe that internal states and outer expression are part of the one embodied experience:
possibly paradoxical but definitely unified. We are in the world and we can only know
ourselves as subject or as subject-body, so that abstractions such as ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ reflect
aspects of a unitary embodied experience in hyper-dialectic.
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However, I am not convinced that Merleau-Ponty has dealt adequately with the sense of
movement from self to other that is often palpable in experiences of subjectivity. Let me
illustrate this concept with reference to an anecdote. This comes from an interview with the
video artist Bill Viola, whose interactive and theatricalised video installations have
challenged conceptions of the interface between art and performance (Svich, 2004). He states
in an interview:
When I work I am aware of the presence of someone else other than me. I know the
end result of this process, this inner, internal encounter I’ve had with something, is
going to come out in some kind of material form and exists independently of me in
the world. That’s the goal of the whole thing. (Svich, 2004, 75)
What is apparent from Viola’s reflection is the sense of a complex self that is not entirely
unified, and is perhaps partly transcendental and fragmented. There is me and there is another
me, and both exist or find form in the one body. Low (2001) suggests that there is an
awareness of ‘other’ in Merleau-Ponty’s thought, and this is given through his idea of the
“reflexivity of the human body” as “embodied consciousness opens to a public space” (75).
But this hardly accounts for the complex division of ‘self’ sometimes ostensible in
experience, though in VI he does offer the idea that “my private world…is now the
instrument which another plays” (VI 11). Perhaps Merleau-Ponty is inferring that we
experience ourselves as both ‘subject’ and ‘other’. While our experiences are embodied and
situated, there is also awareness of self as an agent who acts and thinks. This awareness
creates a potential experience of dis-embodiment because the agential self is experienced as
other. There is also possible dissonance between ‘self’ and ‘other’ that is not solvable by
conceptualising our experience as unified and fully embodied. We are capable of abstracting
a ‘self’ made by beliefs about who we are or based on the constructions of others.
In VI, there is a discernable movement to seeing a world of possible interactions and a body
that is more complex and divided, built on paradox and ambiguity. Merleau-Ponty describes
it this way:
But what is strange about this faith [in our place in the world] is that if we ask
ourselves what is this we, what seeing is, and what thing or world is, we enter a
labyrinth of difficulties and contradictions (VI, 3).
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Still, arguably, despite shifts of thinking throughout his life, body-as-essence-in-the-world
remains a salient feature of his metaphysics.
This notion of the essence of body in the world has sponsored debate in feminist literature.
Judith Butler has expressed an ambivalent position about Merleau-Ponty, suggesting that
much is to be lost and much to be gained in his work (see Vasterling, 2003). Butler’s view of
the body as created in discourse does seem at odds with Merleau-Ponty’s more substantive
view of body. In my view, Butler provides a world-to-the-body perspective and a discussion
of how body is created in culture and the world, which is in counterpoint to Merleau-Ponty’s
body-in-the-world model. Sullivan (1997) has suggested that by postulating a non-gendered
body, Merleau-Ponty has effectively denied the feminist critique of body. Stoller (2000), in
her criticism of Sullivan, and by implication Butler, affirms the differentiation of body in
Merleau-Ponty’s writing. She suggests that his theoretical perspectives have a lot to offer
feminist thinking.
The preceding discussion may seem extraneous, given that the thrust of my argument is about
Merleau-Ponty’s notion of embodiment and its implications for understanding actor
experiences. Such is not the case. What this debate points to is the issue of what constitutes
‘body’, or what is a phenomenology of body that accounts for difference, including concepts
of gender. Is there a danger in Merleau-Ponty’s work of seeing ‘body’ as indivisible? In terms
of acting performance, my view is that an actor’s body is ipso facto a differentiated body, a
body that can take on many subjectivities and physicalities. I would suggest that in
performance an actor’s body is a complex sexualised body created in performance. While a
body is always a body of flesh, a corporeal body, it also becomes a body that can signify. An
actor’s body becomes the fluid territory of multiple bodies and many possibilities that appear
to defy notions of a unified subject-body. Perhaps it is better to speak not of a unified subjectbody but about an adaptive subject-body or about “the ambiguity and variability of the
body’s modes of givenness” (Garner, 1994, 5).
A second issue with Merleau-Ponty’s ideas has to do with the liminal state (or boundary
consciousness) between thinking and acting, or feeling and expressing, one that contains
points of crossover or transition. If indeed experience is embodied and unified, how then can
such liminal experiences and moments of transition and ambiguity be accounted for? For
both these issues, that of otherness and liminality, there are implications for an examination
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of how bodies are constituted and formed in theatrical performance. In Merleau-Ponty’s later
work he did acknowledge the possibility of dialectic, paradox and flux in embodied states (as
discussed above), and a recognition that ‘body’ is more complex and transitory than he
allowed in his earlier writing.
Part of Merleau-Ponty’s explanation for ambiguity and ambivalence, and the dialectic
between inner states and outer expression, has to do with his insistence that bodies are always
present and all experience is constituted within them. A body is always there as subject, so it
cannot be treated as object. We cannot view a body in the same way as other objects because
we move in our bodies: we live, we breathe, and we feel and think in our bodies. Our bodies
are incarnate in the temporality of being here-and-now and in the dynamics of engaging with
space, as well as in shared corporeality with others. In writing about this central premise in all
of Merleau-Ponty’s work, Berman (2003) puts it this way: “The flesh as an incarnate
principle resists totalisation” (417). In the state of incarnation there lies, according to
Merleau-Ponty, an inherent ambiguity because how each subject-body comes to be in the
world is different.
We see a similar notion of the unified quality of embodiment in the ideas of Eugenio Barba
(see Turner, 2004; Gordon, 2006). Barba (1985) introduces the notion of the dilated body, a
state of presence before an audience in which a fully open body-mind is created. Barba, under
the influence of Grotowski (Grotowski, 1968), suggests that such a state is regulated through
the operation of two diverse forms of energy: animus (strong energy) and anima (soft
energy). An actor moves to a state of readiness in a pre-expressive phase of increasing
dilation. Certainly, Barba’s notion of ‘body-mind’ presents a theory of acting embodiment
that seems to resolve the mind-body problem. However, for an actor, I would argue that this
interaction of mind and body is more paradoxical, divided and problematic than Barba
acknowledges. Driven by anthropological concerns, including ritual, Barber has a tendency to
idealise or totalise the pre-expressive in performance and not perceive the multifarious nature
of embodiment in acting performance.
In Illustration 4.1 below, Merleau-Ponty’s notion of embodiment is schematised, with an
overlay of some concerns about his phenomenology. In the diagram, a body-subject is
embedded within the world (and cannot be detached from the world). This world includes
space, temporality and intercorporeality. A body-subject is regulated through an exchange or
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self-dialectic between internal (not observed) and external (can be observed) embodied states.
A body-subject interrogates the world, across its horizons, through intentional action in order
to negotiate embodiment. Also, between the two states of embodiment (internal and external)
there is the possibility of a boundary and thus liminality. There is also the paradox of
otherness, in other words of that experience of reflecting on self that has a transcendent
quality.
Illustration 4.1
Schema of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of embodiment
In my view, incarnation is at the heart of theatrical performance. The incarnate presence of an
actor in a theatre space brings to that space an embodied sense of place, albeit one that can
contain complexity, ambiguity and paradox. Moreover, this incarnation is more than a series
of images of a body that are seen and then interpreted. Incarnation also exists as co-presence
between actors and an audience, mediated through the implicit authority of the gaze (of both
audience and performer). All an audience can know of an actor is through his or her incarnate
embodied presence as it adapts to and interrogates the world that both share.
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The centrality of embodiment and incarnation in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy could be
conceptualised as an embodied intelligence, or an incarnate poetics. If indeed we move
directly and in union with our bodies, and our subjectivity is intimately tied to our bodies, as
is our consciousness, then we can speak of an intelligence that is embodied, which MerleauPonty refers to as “knowledge in the hands” (PP, 144). Berman (2003) suggests that there is
“level of praxis” and a “pragmatic vein” (408) involved in Merleau-Ponty’s thought and
conceptualisation of body. The implication of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of body is that there
is a ‘knowing’ that is located bodily and only emerges in moving and in acting, out of
intention followed by action (see Johnson, 1987). According to Varela (2004) “we are also
moving beings—human persons in movement” (68). In terms of dramatic performance this
‘knowing’ or intelligence emerges in the situated space of performance. It is an embodied
experience often characterised by the serendipity of the chaos of a body in space or an
encounter of a body with space. Essentially, this amounts to a dialectic of body-space.
However, an actor’s body not only responds to the serendipitous potential of space but also to
the notion of formation through repetition and disciplined action. Merleau-Ponty proposes
that in embodiment actions and perceptions are largely habitual and learnt in response to the
environment in which a body is embedded. There is a tendency in a body to find a point of
equilibrium, which demonstrates a capacity to cope (see Reynolds, 2004). Merleau-Ponty
describes this process of habituating and adapting as giving “our life the form of generality”
and turning “our personal acts into stable dispositions.” (PP, 146). In The Structure of
Behaviour, Merleau-Ponty (1965) uses an example of a football player on a football field. He
writes: “The field itself is not given to him [the football player], but present as the immanent
term of his practical intentions; the player becomes one with it and feels the direction of the
goal…” (168). It is as if the sense of the field is sedimented in a player’s body through
disciplined practice such that the player is free to pursue an intention—to kick a goal—
through immersion in the environment. Perhaps this is also a solution to the conundrum of
liminality discussed above. As the body is increasingly habituated, there is more of a
tendency towards transparency such that the problem of liminality is obviated. There is
another possibility: that the very existence of liminality is itself an expression of hyperdialectic, since it is an existential experience of attempting to deal with the world and
interrogate the possibilities for embodiment. In this sense it is reasonable to conclude that
even actors in performance have liminal experiences because the world is not static and must
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be constantly interrogated.
Acting performance is a process of habituating through repetition and improvisation, mistake
and correction, juxtaposition and association within a rehearsal or performance space, in
which body becomes co-joined with space and with objects in the space. The paradox is that
only in this habituation can a body be fully adaptive and fluid within a performance
milieu. Substantially, a body is freed through habituation to the point of new responses and
subjectivities that are often termed improvisation. This process of habit formation is as much
a bodily process as it is a cognitive process. We can thus speak of an actor’s habituated body
(or bodies) or habituated subjectivity in tension with the potential for volatility or chaos. This
tension may create new possibilities and structures. This aspect of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking
has parallels with that of Alfred North Whitehead’s (see 3.4 below) in that in the coming
together of disparate elements, new and unique formations are possible. An interesting
interpretation is offered by Van der Veken (2000), who argues that this movement of
Merleau-Ponty
to
a
philosophy
of
‘becoming’
echoes
Whitehead’s
emergent
conceptualisation of nature, in that for both theorists there is never a bifurcation between an
objective world of nature and experiencing it—there is but one phenomenon.
Habituation is a compelling concept in terms of a consideration of some processes of
preparation for, and then unfolding expression within, acting performance. In performance
for the stage, actors are asked to learn lines. In many ways this is an anticipatory phase that
leads to expression in performance. The script begins as a disembodied object bifurcated
from the experience of an actor and the actor’s connection with the world. Through
habituation, the script becomes embodied and subsumed in consciousness such that a new
phenomenon emerges. Many actors that I have worked with have articulated to me the sense
of the disappearance of the text and the emergence of themselves as performer during
performance. What emerges is a dramatic body, not words, for the words now inhabit the
body and are no longer disconnected from body. They exist as action in a body.
The assertion that action is inextricably an outworking of embodiment is taken further by
Merleau-Ponty with the suggestion that there is a consciousness through action. For MerleauPonty, consciousness is primarily not a matter of “I think that” but of “I can”. It is a
consciousness linked to action such that there is a tacit cogito centred in the body, which
implies, according to Stenstad (1993), a perceptual logos. This pre-reflective basis to action is
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correlated explicitly by Merleau-Ponty with learning and perception. Action and
consciousness, embodiment and intentionality are, for him, constituent elements of learning.
But they are more than this: consciousness is directly related to action in the world, to change
in the world and its constituent elements. Merleau-Ponty makes this explicit when he writes,
“Consciousness can, in the course of time, modify the structures of its surroundings” (PP,
25). Thus, this intentionality of the body in the world is not a passive intentionality but one
imbued with the political—with an actioning for effective change. If we accept this political
interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s embodiment, then an actor not only deploys an embodied
intelligence in a space but also potentially engages in political discourse through intentional
action.
Arguably, an actor’s internality finds its fullest expression through embodied performance.
As an ideal, there is a continuity of mind and body (a transparency) demonstrated in the
actions and experiences of an actor while performing. It is almost as if the intent of the
psyche is fully realised in the body as action, and that learning occurs in this conscious
action. Merleau-Ponty states: “To understand is to experience harmony between what we aim
at and what is given, between the intention and the performance—and the body is our
anchorage in the world.” (PP, 144). There is, then, necessary connection between intent (and
by extension, thought) and action in Merleau-Ponty, which appears to support performance
concepts such as presence. According to Stenstad (1993), this perceptual logos at the heart of
Merleau-Ponty’s late thinking can be thought of as a “style” (54), as a unified unfolding of
bodily movement that comes to be recognised in its unique wholeness.
However, this notion of an actor’s awareness through action may be only one among a
number of states of consciousness. There may also be meditative states in which
consciousness is not necessarily related to embodied action. Meditative states, such as those
espoused by Buddhist practitioners, position a body as subsumed by a meditative state in
which the mind envelops the condition of the body, with its desires and potentiality for
suffering (see Austin, 1998; Fasching, 2008; Pagis, 2010). It is body and mind that suffer and
there is an eternal quality in consciousness that appears to reside outside body. Most
probably, Merleau-Ponty would deny this form of consciousness as being too Kantian. It
could be argued that meditative states are really body states, but this could be conceived as a
form of reductionism, in which consciousness is considered merely a biological state that is
the product of biochemical interactions. I mention meditative states only because a number of
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actors that I interviewed reported such heightened experiences during actual performance
(not just in pre-performative exercises) and used the label ‘meditative’ in their description of
the state. Such reports may be examples of “flow”. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) considers “flow”
to be a set of experiences related to diminution of a sense of the physical body or of
conscious control of bodily action during an activity. Or meditative states might be particular
examples of openness or synergy between internality and externality for an actor.
So far I have discussed states of consciousness and experiences of embodiment in light of the
thinking of Merleau-Ponty and his use of the term ‘body-subject’. However it is self-evident
that embodiment must also be located within a social context and a set of discourses, within
social constructs and language. For Merleau-Ponty, despite his arguments about the place of
body in philosophical debate, there is also recognition of the formation of human subjectivity
in public discourses, through language. In PP he writes: “I begin to understand the meaning
of words through their place in a context of action, and by taking part in communal life” (PP,
208). Human subjectivity, including embodied states, is more than a private embodied
experience. It is also a product of the public sphere and public discourses. Indeed any
phenomenology of experience must also include a phenomenology of language in a social
setting. It could be said that language, at all levels of human development, is a key
constitutive element of embodiment. Merleau-Ponty states:
I do not need to visualize the word in order to know and pronounce it. It is enough
that I possess its articulatory and acoustic style as one of the modulations, one of the
possible uses of my body. I reach back for the word as my hand reaches towards the
part of my body that is being pricked; the word has a certain location in my linguistic
world and is part of my equipment. I have only one means of representing it, which is
uttering it, just as the artist has only one means of work on which he is engaged: by
doing it. (PP, 210)
Indeed, Merleau-Ponty positions the physical act of “uttering it” to be the primary language
action that is as natural as a body moving in the world. He considers that language is done,
not thought.
Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment and his view that language is actioned are
useful concepts to elucidate practices, experiences and thinking in theatre and performance.
Dramatic subjectivities may well be formed in a performance space through the use of
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language associated with embodied action, but there is also potent affective meaning
generated with an audience who are interacting with these dramatic subjectivities. Moreover,
even beyond the immediacy of performance, there are subjectivities for an actor that form in
the media, and in other public modes of representation, that have affective ramifications for
the actor after performance.
The subjective ontologies of actors’ bodies are thus manifold, and all depend for expression
on constructions within broader social discourse74, together with individual embodied states.
This is not to say, however, that Merleau-Ponty has dealt satisfactorily with the notion of
collectivity, social discourse and institutionalism. His discourse of body may well be more
about the individual than about the embodied sense of the collective or even about copresence and social setting. Acting performance and the embodied experiences of actors exist
within a large cultural frame, which may engender objectification and systems of cultural
representation that disembowel and disembody75. An audience experiences and interprets a
performance from within this cultural frame. What an actor is perceived to embody within a
performance space could be as much a reflection of this frame as it is of the processes of
formation that preceded it.
Essentially, for Merleau-Ponty, our bodies are our expression in the world. It is our only way
of connecting with and making meaning in the world that is even beyond volition. There is
the potential for a poetics of space, a sensibility, mediated by the movement and kinetics of
our bodies, which establish our meaning and identity within the many frames of society and
within specialised contexts, including theatre contexts. Merleau-Ponty describes this as a
“grouping of lived-through meanings” (PP, 153) or “the sensory life which I live from
74
Particularly influential in my thinking here is Jonathon Potter’s (1996) book, Representing Reality:
Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction, in which he explores theories of social construction, realism and
discourse analysis. The thread of the book concerns the supposed manufacture of reality and culture through
discourse.
75
Disembodied in the sense that, as the media and other systems of communication represent ‘body’, there is a
tendency to view it as object for analysis, or consumption or manipulation, which is distant from the sort of
embodied state that Merleau-Ponty describes. Disembowelled because, as ‘body’ becomes represented and
communicated, it loses its visceral and fleshly quality.
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within” (PP, 220), which in his later work was conceptualised as “the cohesion of my body in
the world” (VI, 152) and more in keeping with notions of the socialisation of the individual.
Stenstad (1993) interprets this notion as “the bond of flesh and idea” (53), suggesting that our
living in and thinking about the world are so interwoven as to be almost indistinguishable.
An actor on stage creates through his or her body a ‘meaning space’, as well as a space with
objects. The meaning manufactured in a space is intimately connected with the bodily
expression of an actor and reflects tacit embodied practices. It is a space of intentional and
imaginative meanings created by the integrated body-subject. The body-subject of an actor
implies a particular coding of a space such that this space is established as an imagined place
of action and being (as suggested in 2.2.3 above). It is in this regard that I find MerleauPonty’s metaphysics most compelling, since it accounts for the deep synchronicity of
‘knowing’ with the kinaesthetics of expression so often experienced in a dramatic space.
Finally, for Merleau-Ponty, wholeness should be taken as an a priori. The ‘whole’ of
experience and perception is prior to recognition of the ‘parts’. To apply this premise to
performance is to suggest that performance begins with a totality, the gestalt. An actor is
embedded in the whole of a theatrical work and in the undivided being of a performance, and
only after experiencing this totality do the constituent parts emerge from reflexivity or
analysis for agents in the process or for a researcher. An actor, and an actor’s body-subject, is
woven into the tapestry of this holism. In terms of an actor’s sense of a performance, I argue
that one can speak of an ‘experience’ that is tacitly more than ‘experiences’, just as a person
can be said to have an experience of their body, as well as experiences in their body. An actor
is present in the gestalt of performance and transcendent in the particularities of performance
experiences. Moreover, an actor can be said to have one unified body in performance,
composed of many potential ‘bodies’ and subjectivities. While I concur with Merleau-Ponty
in recognising embodied holism, this sense of the whole contains more than just the subjectbody. An actor, for example, is part of a larger corporeal and technological whole that is
essentially constitutive of an extended socio-cultural body. Consequently, to the gestalt of
performance and the holism of an actor’s body must also be added those constitutive
elements taken from a performance milieu.
Given the tendency in theatre, literature and performance discourses to adopt the perspective
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of critic in regard to the phenomenon of performance76, I find Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of
embodiment useful because it begins ab intra or from the primacy of experience in a body as
phenomenon. While acknowledging the limitations of conceiving a holistic body-subject, the
notion of indivisibility for example, the intimate link between embodiment, consciousness
and thought is compelling in terms of conceptualising what it is that happens to an actor in
performance and what a performer experiences of that happening. Anyone who has
experienced theatre or performance understands the place of body in performance, so
Merleau-Ponty’s incarnate metaphysics is especially apt for studying such a phenomenon. I
find Merleau-Ponty’s concept of hyper-dialectic, in his unfinished The Visible and the
Invisible, particularly important, as it resonates with my own praxis and research experiences
of how actors adapt to spaces and find place and identity through an improvisational
dialectic.
Section 4.3
Levinas
As a survivor of the Nazi death camps and a victim of the pervasive philosophy of race that
undergirded the Nazi Final Solution, Levinas was understandably derisive of totalising
philosophies of being, especially that of Heidegger77. He wanted to go beyond being to an
ethics that avoided the neutrality of some Western thinking and phenomenologies, and
instead posited the relational as having primacy in his philosophy78. As Larochelle (1999)
points out, Levinas disputed being as a reference point or ground for conscience, a premise in
his thinking that ran counter to both Heidegger and Husserl, and instead asserted otherness as
his metaphysical a priori. Perpich (2008) argues, in the preface to her recent book, that
Levinas’ ethics is no systematic set of responsibilities but “a demand for ethics in the face of
the failure of ethics.”(xv). Indeed, Levinas points out in his seminal work, Totality and
Infinity, that a truly human metaphysics comes out of an unquenchable “desire for the
absolutely other” (Levinas, 1991, 34, hereafter TI). Levinas defines this desire as a movement
“toward an alien outside-of-oneself…toward a yonder” (TI, 33). This otherness is always
76
In this regard, see Acherman (2007), Worthen (2006), Carlson (1993, 2001), Madison & Hamera (2006), and
Campbell (1996) among a large body of literature.
77
See, for example, Visker (2004) and Schürmann (1987).
78
This is especially articulated in his later work, Otherness than Being, Beyond Essence (Levinas, 1998),
though it is implied in Totality and Infinity. See also Larochelle (1999). Also see Peperzak, 1995.
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beyond, never capable of possession, always sought but never fully found. Or, it could be
about, as John Heaton puts it, “desires beyond anything that can complete it...for deepening.”
(Heaton, 1988, 5).
Levinas’ core idea is that there is within us a “desire without satisfaction…[for] the
remoteness, the alterity, and the exteriority of the other.” (TI, 34). This is no esoteric
metaphysics, however. It is a metaphysics borne out of what he calls an “animality”, an
“instant of inhumanity” (TI, 35). It is driven by the realities of our being in a world that is
capable of genocide and sponsored by forces that “prevail over every human resistance and
every freedom” (TI, 35). Levinas understood these forces all too well because of his own
personal encounter with the tragedy of Nazism. He builds his prima facie case on an
immediate apprehension of otherness in face-to-face encounter. Transcendence for Levinas is
about encounter with others, not with objects, and it is from this premise that his ethics
emerges. It also underscores Levinas’ elevation of the dialogic, the dynamics and morality of
human communication and inter-subjective life, to the status of having precedence or a
groundedness.
To Husserl’s ‘pure consciousness’, Levinas incorporates encounter with the other as a
necessary condition of a phenomenon, perhaps even prior to it. Being a devout Jew, Levinas
was no doubt significantly influenced by his knowledge of the Talmud and its focus on
relational moral imperatives for humankind (see Eskin, 2000; Purcell, 2006), as well as by
Jewish mystical traditions (Kosky, 2001). He weaves his theology into a phenomenology of
encounter and obligation that I find particularly helpful in understanding the highly
interactive nature of performance phenomena and the relationships of human agents who
participate in such phenomena.
Levinas may also have drawn from the work of Martin Buber, a Jew of the Hasidic tradition,
who conceived the concept of ‘I-Thou’, or a mutual concrete encounter between one
individual and another that is imbued with an unutterable divinity (Buber, 2004; Horwitz &
Buber, 1988). As Buber writes:
We perceive no Thou, but none the less we feel we are addressed and we
answer—forming, thinking, acting. We speak the primary word with our being,
though we cannot utter Thou with our lips. (Buber, 2004, 13)
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This sense of finding transcendent encounter with the divine spark in the other appears to me
to accord with my own experience of what actors create with each other in performance.
There is an ineffability and separation, together with utterance and embodied connection.
Levinas suggests that this encounter is motivated by a desire for the infinite as a response to
the other. He writes:
The infinite is in the finite, the more in the less, which is accomplished by the idea of
Infinity, is produced as Desire—not a Desire that the possession of the Desireable
slakes, but the Desire for the Infinite which the desirable arouses rather than satisfies.
(TI, 50)
The other, the ‘Desirable’, evokes a desire for the infinite within the self. The self is also
differentiated from the other, so it cannot be totalized because it is utterly separated. The
recognition of this separation is what provokes a subjective moral response within self and
ultimately ethical awareness. So, it is both the recognition of separation and the “Desire for
the Infinite” that are engendered in the exchange between self and other, and these conditions
create the ground for ethical response.
Levinas abhorred a universal or prescriptive ethics that is imposed on context and applied
across contexts because it ignores this I-Other relation (see Peperzak, 1997). As he writes,
“the metaphysician and the other cannot be totalized. The metaphysician is absolutely
separated” (TI, 35). Levinas constructs a philosophy of responsibility, one in which universal
values are inextricably tied to and only find expression in context and in individual
relationships. The values of respect and responsibility espoused by Levinas might be
considered universal values but they do not constitute a universal ethics or a totalising moral
philosophy. They are not about virtues, utilitarian or rationalist. They find genesis in the
desire evoked by the other and in recognising the alterity of the other.
Levinas appears to understand context as a place of “identifying oneself by existing here at
home with oneself” (TI, 37). So context, for Levinas, implies a home, a site that is not a
container but a locale of free action. It is positioned as both a tangible location and a spiritual
home or place that exists in encounter. It is in this context that ethical regulation is enacted,
not in the sense of sanctions or moral codes, but through subjective encounter with the ‘other’
in radical obligation and epiphany. We are regulated, so to speak, by the unseen, by the
transcendent that evokes an ethical response and calls us to act freely for the other.
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Furthermore, the radical encounter with the face of the other unfolds the idea of infinity and
truth to the separated self. As Levinas writes:
Language as an exchange of ideas about the world, with the mental reservations it
involves, across the vicissitudes of sincerity and deceit it delineates, presupposes the
originality of the face without which, reduced to an action among actions whose
meaning would require an infinite psychoanalysis or sociology, it could not
commence…deceit and veracity already presuppose the absolute authenticity of the
face…To seek truth I have already established a relationship with the face which can
guarantee itself, whose epiphany itself is somehow a word of honor. (TI, 202)
It is in the face of the other that otherness is revealed to the self. It becomes the definitive
ethical event. Levinas suggests that the face of the other speaks to the self. According to
Sealey (2010), it is solitude as the ground for transcendence that makes alterity possible in
Levinas’ metaphysics. Solitude evokes a yearning for the other that is never completely
filled. In sum, utterance begins with the presence of the face and this leads to an ethical
encounter.
However, Levinas’ ethics is not just built on an encounter, on a sense of otherness and on an
obligation. That could never be enough for a sustainable ethics because it is not fully
grounded in experience. What I find most compelling is Levinas’ movement later in Totality
and Infinity to interiority and to a state of fulfilled being in his recourse to experience. He
introduces an existential and experiential outcome that emerges out of the I-Other relation. It
is located in what he terms a “happiness of enjoyment [that] affirms the I at home with itself”
(TI, 143) and a “qualitative plentitude of enjoyment” (TI, 144). This is an experience of joy
that comes in the encounter and it has an effect of wellbeing. It results in a “love of life” and
a “primordial positivity of enjoyment” (TI, 145). For Levinas, this ecstasy of encounter, and
generosity through encounter, brings an eye to the future (see Diprose, 2002). In response to
the uncertainty of the future, there is home whose interiority is composed “with the elements
of enjoyment with which life is nourished” (TI, 150). For Levinas, encounter and obligation
have no substance without joy. In turn, joy leads to generosity to other79.
79
However, see Tengelyi (2009), who seems to interpret Levinas as advocating such an intentional ethics, as I
do. I would argue that I-Other is an active relation, despite appearance that it is passive. See also Kunz (1998)
who views the ethical paradigm of Levinas as being a powerful and active ethical construct.
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Levinas did not write about performance, theatre or acting. However, his notions of
otherness, ethical responsibility, generosity and joy are useful concepts for a
phenomenological analysis of the highly contextualised, politicised and embodied world of
theatre and performance. Because spaces of performance are constructed so essentially on
subjectivity and encounter, then, in my view, Levinas’ ideas might be fruitful for
performance studies. He discusses the import of the relationship between I as egoistic self
and the other, perhaps suggesting a dramatic dimension to his ideas. For instance, this
relationship between I and Other could be construed as a species of dialogue in which there
are active agents who discourse and are compelled to be together, face-to-face. Furthermore,
it could be argued that Levinas’ ethical language has the potential to be performed. There is
an invocatory stance within his writing: a call to a radical focus on otherness that is infused
with his own passion for what is good and impelled by his belief in the power of the call to
the other. It is a call to act out and tell. Levinas overtly suggests this when he writes:
The person with whom I am in relation I call being, but in so calling him, I call to
him. I do not only think that he is. I speak to him. He is my partner in the heart of a
relation…A human being is the sole being which I am unable to encounter without
expressing this very encounter to him. It is precisely in this that the encounter
distinguishes itself from knowledge. (Levinas, 1987, 7)
There is both a sense of ascribing being in encounter (“I call being”), which I take to mean a
putting on of being within encounter, and communication from being through utterances of
encounter (“I call to him”), which has the shape of dialogue and exchange, and perhaps also
radical empathy. Both these nuances of the I-Other relationship suggest the dramatic, which
is also encompassed in the use of the term ‘encounter’. Marsh (2005) interprets this encounter
this way:
What is “said” by the other, the content of her expression, is already the domain of
representation and the conscious, intentional subject, already subject to verification,
measurement, and so forth. With the other’s saying, however, passes a trace of the
disturbing and irrecusable responsibility that is the condition for separation and
respect. Though the self is always separate and unique in its separation in sensible
enjoyment, the event of the face and its expression is shown to have always already
opened the self to the other. Sensibility is still the fundamental region of this drama.
(4)
For Marsh, this drama of encounter is composed of a coming to representation of a
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subject, with an implied responsibility and a sensibility in the face of the other.
I now apply some of Levinas’ ideas to theatrical performance in order to elucidate and
illuminate relational issues within theatrical contexts. Within the serendipity of theatre and
dramatic performance, there is an emergence of various states of embodiment by actors. How
these embodiments emerge and interact can be said to be both highly regulated but also open
to random outcomes. The nature of how embodied performers relate one-with-another could
be conceptualised as hyper-contextual80. There are two elements to this concept. First, there is
an awareness of the other and ethical obligations that emerge from a recognition of otherness.
Second, there is an obligation to dramatic texts that are part of the constitution of a theatrical
work. Such texts are often derived from and sustained in creative relationships within theatre.
My application to performance of Levinas’ transcendent notion of radical concern for the
other (within context) is schematised in Illustration 4.2 below. In the diagram the hypercontextual ethical regulation of dramatic performance contexts begin with the transcendent
values of respect, and by extension, responsibility for the other. These values apply both to
the otherness of bodies and subjectivities as they exist in a specific dramatic site and also to
the otherness of dramatic texts that are used in that context. The ways that actors relate to,
experience and conduct acts of performance are thus governed by an often unspoken
atmosphere of respect that is provoked through the alterity of others. This respect is mediated
through body and text and is often motivated through a happiness of being and a joy afforded
through performance with fellow actors.
Alterity emerges through recognition of each unique embodied state engaged by an actor
within a theatre space and each distinctive textual expression. It is interesting that the face
(the seeing of an embodied state), what Levinas calls “terrestrial” (TI, 203), is of central
concern in Levinas’s notion of inter-subjectivity81. This sense of grounded practicality based
80
By 'hyper-contextual' I mean a state of being transcendent in the sense of being above or over (from the
Greek word huper) but at the same time bound to context or existing only through context, and providing links
or connections to other contexts. This usage of the term can be seen in words such as hypertext, in which
marked text is designated as being transcendent to other text, yet intimately tied to the context of that text. While
this is not a term used by Levinas, I believe it does help to conceptualise his metaphysics. In sum, hypercontextual implies both above and within.
81
See Levinas’ Collected Philosophical Papers (1987) in which this concept is central.
139
on perception of the face of the other can be used to understand or examine performance in
theatre. Within a performance context there appears to be a duty to protect and embrace such
alterity, including interpretations of performance texts. This amounts to a thoroughgoing
sense of equity within fraternity that is often contained by performance and is self-evident to
those who participate with enjoyment.
Illustration 4.2
Application of Levinas’ ideas to experience within performance contexts
This equity is experienced inter-subjectively under the gaze of others and with the obligations
that are suggested by that gaze. It is tangible because each actor and each body in space
cannot be possessed, since, as other, they are transcendent.
This ethics of worldly context but transcendent values (which I have conceptualized as hyper140
contextual) has specificity in encounter, in a face-to-face coming together, where self
becomes a unique being and sameness gives way to alterity through encounter with other.
According to Levinas this encounter is “primordially enacted as conversation” (TI, 39) and
the other always remains transcendent such that “he is not wholly within my sight” (TI, 39).
Levinas states this connection of alterity with recognition of otherness and respect for the
other most explicitly when he writes:
Conversation, from the very fact that it maintains the distance between me and the
Other, the radical separation asserted in transcendence which prevents the
reconstitution of totality, cannot renounce the egoism of its existence; but the very
fact of being in conversation consists in recognizing in the Other a right over this
egoism, and hence in justifying one-self (TI, 40).
There is conjunction but the other as stranger always remains “the free one”, over whom “I
have no power” (TI, 39) because of existence in exteriority (thus my notion of equity above).
This recognition of difference through encounter, the centrality of other in interlocution,
brings into dispute discourses of sameness and neutrality, a point that I develop below. This
encounter is not about some disembodied rationalist or legislative agenda but concerns
immediacy, immanence, human existential experience as it is constantly lived with the other
who is transcendent. In Levinas’ On Escape (OE) (2003), he sketches out the nature of this
ever-present and permanent lived experience of the moment, characterized by pleasure and
pain, lack and a wish to escape. The human search for fullness is found in the transcendent
other. Being is located in this looking out to the other, who is always present and always
absent, as opposed to the independent “I” of “the bourgeois spirit” (OE, 50). In our looking,
according to Levinas, we stare into the infinite, as if into the face of god. As Marsh (2005)
observes, about this notion in Levinas: “My encounter with the face opens upon the infinite”
(3). In this looking to the infinite there is a longing that is never fulfilled.
The theory of encounter and recognition of alterity, this radical de-powering of relationships
and its joyful implications, has considerable import for ethical awarenesses in theatre and
performance. Because we can never possess the transcendent other, the other is not, as I have
suggested above, under our power. There is in dramatic performance with an audience and
with other actors in a space, emerging embodiments and corporeal states that constitute
variegate dramatic selves for actors. These selves (as emergent subjectivities) only exist
through the encounter of performance and what has become corporeal melts at the end of
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performance. Such emergent states have an intrinsic alterity and an ephemeral quality, which
challenges sameness and any tendency towards possession. The transcendent others of
performance serve to question neutrality, as well as totalising discourses that regulate from
without. There is a challenge because a dramatic encounter becomes other than the world and
yet reflects, critically and ethically, on that world. In theatre, the discourses of sameness that
often constitute institutional and personal life give way to discourses of contestation and
difference as audience and actors enter a world of alterity in which they have permission to
encounter through laughter, tears, interjections or even boos. Audience and actors cross the
threshold into a construed and made world of possibilities that has the potentiality of
epiphany through encounter, enigma through revelation, and joy through creation.
I am going to conceptualise the encounters of dramatic performance as actor-actor and actoraudience. Actor-actor encounters emerge in performance as a series of engagements with the
othernesses of each actor, who put on roles and embody dramatic selves (personae) that have
a differentiation from themselves as actors. Moreover, actors are constituted by alterity from
one expression of role through encounter to different expressions of role in other
performances. This inherent differentiation of actor-actor encounters constitutes a formative
basis for creating dramatic works. The creative agency that drives this generation and this
desire for coherence appears to come out of a movement for-the-other in order to facilitate a
phenomenon of performance-for-all. The for-the-other is a transcendent ethical state of
obligation built out of the values of respect, responsibility and reciprocity that are so central
to Levinas’ thinking. This state of obligation also implies an inclination to hospitality and
generosity that moves to a practical care for the other and evolves to friendship (see Marsh,
2005). To put it more simply, actors work with and embrace difference in their being-together
in order to foster performance, knowing that only in such difference can engaging
performance be stimulated. Alterity thus has a critical function of utility in dramatic creation.
Performance can be described as a set of unique inter-subjective encounters, tempered by
obligation and shaped by alterity, energised through joy, and lived in each moment in order to
serve the transcendent other (which includes the audience).
There is also a set of encounters of actors with an audience. Performers and audience are
intrinsically other for each other in face-to-face ethical encounters. There is a givenness of
obligation and expectation through this otherness that provides an ethical core to the
exchanges of performance between audience and actors. Obligation and expectation are
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transcendent values that regulate the ethics of such encounters within the immediacy of
context. It might also be stated that a need-for-each-other is a core constituency in this ethics
of encounter. The audience comes to a performance space with a need, (such that, in
Levinesian terms, encounter has already taken place before encounter), whether it is to be
entertained, surprised, shocked, stimulated, filled with awe, or to experience catharsis. They
come apart from the ordinariness of life to encounter a constructed altered world of what
Grotowski (1968) characterises as holy acts, where theatre is separate (other) from “other
categories of performance and spectacle.” (15). According to Grehan (2010), in her book
about ethics and spectatorship, the ethics of otherness imbued in theatre is rich ground for
evoking responses from audiences about ethical questions, beginning in awe and shock and
ending in deep ethical reflection.
Such an encounter of audience with performers has the potential for alterity, not only in the
differentiation of audience from performer as ipso facto of their proximity in space and
through shared expectations, but also in the possibilities of subversion of audience
expectations through discourses that challenge the prevailing order, or what one might call an
ethics of resistance. Levinas presents resistance as the ground of what he calls “a breach of
totality” against an “inevitably totalizing and synoptic thought” (TI, 40). Audiences can be
called, through encounter with each actor, to participate in these breaches of totality, so that
the transcendence of the other is always radically nourished. I should state, however, that the
term ‘audience’ is a totalising concept of sameness in itself. Levinas writes that “alterity is
possible only starting with me” (TI, 40). From a Levinasian perspective, an audience is
constituted of othernesses: of individuals who are both I within an audience and other for
each actor or performer.
A group of individuals, each with a distinct face, can be rallied to enter breaches of totality
through a call to radical hospitality and a resistance to a politics of totalisation. Using
Levinas’ declaratory conception of ethics, Burvill (2008) writes about Australian theatre
examples where the face of the other as alterity framed a dramatic response of resistance to
the then Australian Government under John Howard, and its totalising policy in regard to
treatment of asylum seekers. This policy of abject refusal of entry for and hospitality to
asylum seekers was resisted in many performances by theatre makers at the time, resistance
in which audiences were incited to affective responses. Levinas’ potential to incite
vociferation demonstrates the possibility of a resurgent politics concretised in performance, a
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politics he explored in his Zionist writings82.
Finally, drawing many of the above ideas together, Levinas endeavoured to disrupt or
interrogate discourses, paradigms and propositions of sameness. Levinas defines this notion
of sameness as a “refractory to categories” (TI, 40). I take Levinas’ meaning here as an
obstinate tendency in discourses to find common or more universal characteristics and to
create epistemes that encapsulate such characteristics. Because sameness can foster states of
abjection and promulgate monolithic control, a phenomenon also examined by Foucault
(1973, 1977), Levinas’ ethics (and metaphysics) is about disparaging privilege. Privileging of
certain discourses or phenomena, and constituting them as totalising categories, is a type of
reification of the same that runs counter to the unique voice and agency of the other and has a
tendency towards hegemony.
Levinas’ notion of interrogating sameness provides an interesting perspective on experiences
of performance in theatre. First of all, texts in theatre and drama have a tendency to resist
sameness. Such texts are discursive and are experienced emergently as carved out lived
experiences that are negotiated and always in flux. The embodied processes of actors
intersect with the given or sanctioned text of a script to create a fluid set of performance texts
and embodied states that have the potential to not only subvert the given text itself but also
create a space for hermeneutic exploration between audience and embodied performers 83 .
Finally, these sets of texts, embodied experiences and hermeneutic explorations, and the
encounters between them, create a unique gestalt for each performance, one that cannot be
fully replicated and which defies sameness. There is an uncertainty in performance that
militates against equivalence and fosters alterity. Precisely put, sameness appears to be
antithetical to the living processes that fashion performance.
What I want to offer now is not so much a critique of Levinas, for which there is an
82
The disposition of Levinas’ politics is debated amongst Levinasian scholars (see Batnitzky, 2006, for
example). It is argued that Levinas’ ethics could be considered apolitical since it does not address institutional
life or political discourses. His radical Zionism thus seems at odds with his metaphysics. However, it is my view
that Levinas’ usefulness to politics emerges powerfully out of the notion of alterity. It is a sort of passive
radicalism that is fostered not in institutional discourse but personal revelation. This position is supported by
Hughes (1998), who argues that Levinas’ ethics cannot be reduced to mere politics.
83
See in this regard the work of Shelby Wolf and her colleagues (Wolf, 1997) in regard to secondary drama
teaching and the place of text and embodiment.
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exhaustive literature (see, for example, Bergo, 2007), but an evaluation of his usefulness to
the phenomenology of actor experiences that is developed in this thesis. Let me begin with
the notions of felt states and experience. Whilst Levinas uses the terms ‘desire’ and ‘need’ in
his metaphysics, they are not positioned as terms of an ontological analysis to do with felt
experience. To explicate it as such would constitute a disjunctive discourse in regard to the
transcendent other. The other is always for Levinas constructed in exteriority and not subject
to ontological analysis, such that, as Eskin (2000) points out, his metaphysics runs counter to
ontological analysis of the other. That being said, this is certainly not the case with the I.
Ontological possibilities are shown in the notions of desire, pain, pleasure and need (and the
attendant idea of suffering), for in them dwell agency and intentionality, both of which are
pivotal concepts in this research. We desire because we need to be filled and we look to the
other for this filling. Desire is also primordial: an instinctive state of precognition that
appears to fit the bringing-to experience of actors that I have worked with or encountered and
includes states of pleasure and pain, of striving and seeking. However, there seems little of
the felt and the corporeal in Levinas, at least at the level of the subjective as an actual
experience. It may be that it resides for him more at the inter-subjective level because it is
here that moral obligation lies. Concrete human existence certainly is a focus of his
philosophy, but it is always sketched out metaphorically in terms of a longing for the other as
a binary existential category, not as authentically felt and experienced states, which are the
focus of this study.
While I believe that an ethics built around alterity has import in terms of understanding copresence and co-corporeal states in performance, Levinas has a mostly abstracted view of
corporeality. This view does not appear to embrace real bodies and real flesh as empirical
realities. Indeed, one could view Levinas’ metaphysics as an idealised state that does not
include the difficulties of negotiating the I-Other relation and the complexities of
embodiment. Such complexities might also include nonhuman objects in I-It relationships, as
proposed by Buber but not taken up in Levinas’ metaphysics, which remains resolutely
human-centric. For a consideration of such corporeal realities in my phenomenological
analysis I must look to ideas from other theorists, such as Merleau-Ponty or Whitehead.
Levinas’ phenomenology (if one might call it that) is really a metaphysics of inter-personal
exchange (grounded in isolation) and radical responsibility, of hospitality, joy and longing,
despite its genesis in phenomenological ideas about being that are drawn from Husserl and
Heidegger, and theological precepts drawn from Buber and others. Levinas’ radical
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decentering of the philosophical ground of ethics from being to the relational and the alterity
of the other resonates with one of the functions of theatre: to be other and to be for the other,
and thus to challenge discourses that promulgate sameness and hegemony.
His work, while it so resolutely focuses on inter-subjectivity and the ethics of otherness, is
still, at the same time, imbued with a quiet politics that has implications for all spheres of
human exchange and institutional life. We cannot but be political when we encounter the face
of the other and the suffering that is perceived in that face. At that level, conceptually, his
ideas are useful for my methodology.
Section 4.4
Whitehead
Merleau-Ponty provides a perspective on body in the world, on intentionality and on
perception. His phenomenology conceives incarnation as a holistic amalgam of mind, person
and physical body that he terms subject-body. Levinas fosters an understanding of copresence and an ethics of relation. He provokes thinking about the ground for living as
community. Both these perspectives provide distinct possibilities for examining performance.
However, a phenomenological understanding of performance and actor experiences of
performance also involves examination of the complex inter-play of essential and contingent
elements that comprise a performance. These elements come together to form a unique, nonrepeatable whole that begins in potentiality and concludes in actuality. Theorising about this
‘coming together’ requires a comprehensive philosophical platform. I find such a compelling
and useful platform in the work of mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, Alfred North
Whitehead (Lowe, 1985). Whitehead formulated process philosophy or process ontology
about how phenomena in the universe are formed and the patterns of their ‘coming together’
(see Hosinski, 1993). It is my contention that this cosmic or universal scale of
conceptualisation about formation has direct application to other phenomena, including those
at the level of the social and cultural. The formation of complex clusters that is described by
Whitehead is useful, analogously, to complex social phenomena, including performance.
Whitehead never wrote about performance, drama or theatre. Despite this, I contend that his
ideas, which are explicated below, contain possibilities in regard to understanding the genesis
of performance phenomena. While his primary vision was the physical sciences (Epperson,
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2004), I am applying his ideas, phenomenologically, to the especially human and creative
context of performance. Whitehead’s terminology, such as “creativity”, “novelty” and the
principle of “concrescence”, is particularly useful, I argue, in theorizing processes involved in
theatrical performance. The deployment of his ideas for conceptualizing theatre and
performance appears even more apt because Whitehead conceived the universe in terms of
events rather than particles. This suggests a happening, a space and a time as integral features
of his analytics, features that are also integral to considering actors as part of performance
events.
In considering what it is that Whitehead has to say about the human existential condition,
however, such direct application may be problematic. A tenuous link between Whitehead and
existential phenomenology is supported in the literature, albeit with claims that Whitehead
does not account for consciousness and the existential place of humans in the universe.
According to Rice (1989) and Sherburne (1983) what Whitehead offers is not a philosophy of
humanity or an analysis of the character of human existence but a means of conceiving
humans as part of the universe. He could be viewed, in effect, as a bridge between the
physical sciences and mathematics on the one hand and existential phenomenology on the
other. Whitehead could be conceived as a conduit between the two perspectives, as
schematised in Illustration 4.3 below.
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Illustration 4.3
Whitehead and phenomenology
Because Whitehead saw an indelible relationship between humanity and nature, his ontology
of nature could provide a useful set of categories for shaping phenomenological analysis.
Rice argues that Whitehead provides a framework that can contain existential and
phenomenological analysis. Sherburne concurs with this position, even suggesting that
analyses of existential phenomenologists such as Heidegger and Sartre can “slip right inside
Whitehead’s categoreal scheme” (385). Nevertheless, there is in Whitehead a focus on nature
and an overt empirical connection with the world that appears to run counter to existential
concepts of experience and consciousness 84. His is a descriptive generalisation about the
nature of the universe that contains within it useful ontological categories but does not
explicitly speak to human existence and experience, including experiences of performance.
However, according to Van der Veken (2000), such a critique of Whitehead may be too
84
This is apparent in, Science and the Modern World (1930).
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simplistic. Van der Veken points especially to Whitehead’s notion of ‘prehension’, by which
he means the givenness of a something, or our ability as humans to be consciously aware of
and grasp events in the physical world. Whitehead’s concept of prehension has parallels with
ideas about perception and human action pivotal to Merleau-Ponty’s existential
phenomenology 85 . Thus, I contend that while Whitehead’s primary concern is with an
ontological understanding of the physical universe through a set of definitive categories, he
does provide a distinctive epistemological conjunction between humankind and nature. The
idea of prehension provides a means of understanding the causality that constructs nature
while at the same time accounting for human experience, but without implying a
deterministic world. Given the possibility of common ground with phenomenology 86 , the
question becomes not how close Whitehead is to phenomenology but what Whitehead can
offer phenomenology or a phenomenological analysis.
In the material that follows, I explicate a selection of concepts of Whitehead and explore
what it is I believe he can afford a phenomenological analysis of performance through his
concepts, schema and notions of process.
One of Whitehead’s most important concepts in relation to performance is “novelty”.
According to Whitehead, in Process and Reality (1978, PR hereafter), the “production of
novelty”, and creativity as the “principle of novelty”, is a category for understanding the
function of entities (objects or states of being that exist or potentially exist). Through novelty
the many become differentiated by the “one actual occasion” and creativity introduces
novelty into the unity of the many (PR, 21). By “novelty”, Whitehead is referring to the
intrinsic property of elements to form in unique patterns and be constituted in creative
formations. This is part of his category of the ultimate, where Whitehead is expounding on
universal principles about entities. Together with this “principle of novelty”, which implies
the “one actual occasion” and distinguishes the one from the disjunctive many, Whitehead
also suggests the term “togetherness” (PR, 21) to describe the conjunctive occasion in which
many entities come together or experience togetherness in what Whitehead suggests is a
85
See the application of Whitehead’s ideas to such concerns as forgiveness (Lambert, 2005) and psychology
(Eisendrath, 1971).
86
Gier (1973) provides a detailed argument that Whitehead’s ideas and approach have strong parallels and
affinity with phenomenology. As a comparison, see Schrag (1959).
149
complex unity. So, the many are unified as a whole but also differentiated by the principle of
novelty or creativity. Moreover, the unity of entities has a novel togetherness in being
uniquely together, a concept that Whitehead calls “concrescence” (PR, 21).
What an actor does in performance is become the “one actual occasion” (PR, 21) based on
novelty and difference from the ‘many’. This concept suggests that each actor’s experience of
performance and expression in performance is unique and novel, but at the same time there is
a complex unity of the ensemble that binds the many entities together and is itself unique and
novel. We could extend this complex ‘binding’ beyond the human entities of being to
inanimate objects in the theatrical space that also create the whole, the mise-en-scène. In
effect, the unique and the individual of performance are also juxtaposed and in opposition to
the composite and the whole, and both make up the idiosyncratic nature of a performance.
Any examination of the phenomenon of an actor’s performance experience should also be
described with recognition of the contingency of the whole. One of the implications of
Whitehead’s work for understanding performance is that the “one actual occasion” of an
individual actor and that which is contingent to it and part of the ‘many’ (the other human
and non-human entities in the performance space) are seen as both dependent and in a
differentiable relationship. The phenomenon of-itself and the influences that shape it can thus
be identified and described.
Whitehead establishes in his “twenty-seven categories of explanation” (PR, 22—30) another
concept that also seems to have significant application to performance. He states that “the
actual world is a process…the process is the becoming of actual entities” (PR, 22). In their
potential for unity in an actual concrescence (in the many) there is a ‘becoming’, whether or
not a particular entity is actual or not actual. However, to be ‘actual’ means that an entity
“has significance for itself” (PR, 25). It is self-functioning and has its own identity, which in
turn allows it to experience the immediacy of its own subjectivity. This process of moving to
actual identity constitutes the category of ‘becoming’. The condition that surrounds or causes
this process of becoming for an entity of itself and in concrescence (as part of the many) is
what Whitehead calls an “ontological principle” (PR, 24). Furthermore, one actual entity can
cause another actual entity to form and each can be objectified in terms of the other, not as
subject-object but as subject-subject.
When an actor creates a character and takes on a role in performance, there is a becoming (a
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bringing into perceptual existence) of a creative entity that has the potential for
transformation, change and serendipity. In theatre, the event of a performance causes a
becoming of this creative entity: a perceptual object, which we might call ‘a performance’ or
‘a character’, finds its self-identity in the performance itself because the performance is the
ground of this ‘becoming’. Rehearsal could be conceived as a preparation of this ground such
that ‘becoming’ is given its substance. Before an actor enters the space of the performance
the role of the actor is not yet ‘actual’. It only becomes such in performance, and ceases to be
actual when the performance finishes. More broadly, the actual world (the world of the stage)
is a system of entities that are ‘becoming’, and while each entity of performance finds its own
subjectivity and its own ‘becoming of itself’, there is also a ‘becoming’ of the ‘many’ (the
concrescence). The ‘becoming’ of each role and the ‘becoming’ of a performance itself are
distinctly co-dependent, yet differentiable. The process notions of actuality and potentiality
that constitute what Whitehead conceives as ‘becoming’ are thus more than useful as
categories to describe the actions of an actor juxtaposed with the constitution of an ensemble
in a performance space.
In practical terms, an ensemble (through co-presence) in performance creates a unique
existence and state of being in performance because actors (and by extension the non-human
components) combine in a process subject to novelty and unexpected combinations. The
unique existence of an ensemble is contingent on the inimitable existence of each actor as
they create the entity of a role on stage. In effect, the process of ‘becoming’ for an acting
performance leads to an idiosyncratic state of being in the actual performance both on the
level of the whole and in the case of each component (each subjective part) of the whole. One
cannot see the subjectivity of the individual without also seeing the being of the whole. In
performance we do not have a set of objects in a performance space but a set of subjectivities
that react and interact to create the new and the novel. This creation of the new and the novel
is inextricably a process of ‘becoming’.
From the previous discussion, the following possibilities of Whitehead’s analytics for
theatrical performance emerge:
1. It is the novel and unique performance and experiences of each actor as a single entity
that are essential for the formation of a novel and idiosyncratic composite entity that
is a performance of a dramatic work.
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2. The singular entities of an actor’s experiences while performing, and the work of an
ensemble in performance, are differentiable from but also in unique juxtaposition to
the composite entity of a whole performance event. Nothing exists for itself and of
itself, but it has uniqueness only as it is positioned in relation to the other.
3. There is a process of becoming in performance that implies the coming into being of a
unique set of entities in subjective relationship that creates a distinctive experience
and formation. Each entity (a role, for example) has a distinct subjectivity, but there is
a collective subjectivity especially contingent on the individual, which is prehended in
a physical space through an ensemble.
4. In considering an ontology of conditions that create performance, we must account for
the role of experience and what emanates from experience. The notion of prehension
suggests that experience is the core of the novel and the creative that are the
constitutive ground for making performance. Put simplistically performance does not
exist without experience and awareness of experience.
Whitehead’s usefulness to my phenomenological analyses is especially seen in his notion of
juxtaposition. Through an understanding of a performance as a novel event I have come to
appreciate each performance as being constituted creatively with many inter-dependent
aspects, including the formative role of human experience and the co-subjectivity of the
ensemble. While I acknowledge the differences of Whitehead’s approach with
phenomenology, existential claims must also be claims that encompass a human relationship
with nature. Indeed, much of the nomenclature of Whitehead’s naturalism implies a link
between inner human expressiveness (creativity, novelty and the like), awareness and action
(in prehension) and the external world. The contiguity of humans with the world is to me a
compelling position. Finally, Whitehead’s focus on processes as events implies a close
affinity of performance and the Arts with its natural expression in event.
Section 4.5
Three lenses, one phenomenon
In the previous sections of this chapter I elaborated three perspectives that are deployed in
Chapters Five and Six as interpretive or hermeneutic lenses for analyzing the phenomena of
actors’ experiences of while performing. Illustration 4.4 below schematises these lenses.
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Lens 1 (Embodiment): From Merleau-Ponty, I draw the notion of a person being
embodied and situated in the world and experiencing it as subject-body, as well as
forming a schema of his or her body in the world. This lens focuses on embodiment of
individuals across horizons and into the world and includes the notion of hyper-dialectic,
or a questioning of perceptions and existence in the world through interrogation because
the world is in flux.
Lens 2 (Relation): From Levinas I take the sense of a person in grounded relationship to
an other, the constitutive nature of otherness and the ethics of being together that
engenders joy as an idealised state of being. This lens focuses on the relational and the
ethical. It is built on the exteriority of the other and conceived through radical alterity and
resistance to sameness.
Lens 3 (Creation): From Whitehead I utilize the concept that humans are a part of a
material universe, part of the interaction of elements, of the constitution of things. This
lens focuses on creation in the world and the coming into being of entities from
potentiality to actuality.
By using each of these lens or perspectives I am focusing on selected key aspects of a
phenomenon. It has to be acknowledged that all that is a phenomenon cannot be fully
grasped, even with these three perspectives, so I make no claim of totality in terms of a
phenomenological approach to performance. Moreover, as was suggested in the discussion
above, while these three lenses are not necessarily complementary they do provide range in
terms of a phenomenological approach.
As can be seen in Illustration 4.4 below, the use of the lenses provides perspectives to
account for the whole of a performance phenomenon in which actors’ experiences are
embedded. Whitehead is useful in conceiving how parts or aspects of a phenomenon are
constituted together. Merleau-Ponty is valuable in positioning body and embodiments within
a phenomenon and then understanding how body is experienced. And Levinas is insightful
for conceiving how the agents in a phenomenon relate together and what obligations emerge
from this relating and within the phenomenon as a whole.
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Illustration 4.4
Interpretive Lenses
Chapter Five
Examining Data: Actors-in-training
Section 5.1
Introduction
Throughout this chapter, a series of cases studies of actors in training programs is considered.
In these case studies, the actors’ experiences of performing are presented and examined. The
analyses of actor interview transcripts (and in some cases actor journals) were conducted
according to categories outlined in Illustration 3.6 above. Transcripts were produced from
interviews, with interviews based on a set of questions designed to foster in actors reflection
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about their experiences (see Appendix One). Especially important are the eight ontological
categories of experience, which form a set of textual coding tools. The use of such tools,
together with interview transcripts, reflects the ethnographic/qualitative basis of this research
detailed in Chapter Three. Such tools are also part of an assiduously devised approach to
phenomenological analysis, which aims to identify actor experiences and reduce such
experiences to their constituent elements and essences, bracketing off such experiences for
the purpose of close interrogation. Throughout these analyses the focus is on actor interiority;
but, as in most qualitative and ethnographic research, observation, exteriority and contextual
analysis are juxtaposed with such considerations.
Critically important in the presentation of context in this chapter is the notion of
sedimentation of actors in the process of training and formation, a notion that I explicated in
Section 2.4.2 above. One of my central claims, tested in this study, is that training (as a key
form of sedimentation) is an important input into what actors experience in performance. This
is especially so in formal training programs, in which all four actors identified in this chapter
participated. As such, some of the key educators that have influenced these actors are also
identified and their views are explicated. In addition to interviews with actors, I also
interviewed the key actor educators of each of the participants. The transcripts from the
interviews with the actor educators are used judiciously throughout the analyses that follow
to illustrate the role and influence of training.
In Chapter Four I presented three extensive elaborations of the ideas of Merleau-Ponty,
Levinas and Whitehead. The purpose of the elaborations is to utilize the ideas of these
philosophers to assist in, and provide alternate perspectives for, understanding what it is that
actors experience while performing.
The distinct perspective of each philosopher is
conceived as a lens for examining the data. Throughout Chapters Five and Six these three
philosophical lenses are deployed extensively to analyse and position the content of
experience and its associated contingencies. Mostly, the utilization of the three philosophers
is implicit in the text that follows, though some of their nomenclature is conspicuous in the
following analyses. Finally, the identification of ontological categories in the analysis is
signaled by the use of capitals for each category.
Section 5.2
McGee and Bongiovanni
Miranda McGee and Dominique Bongiovanni were part of the Graduate Ensemble at Monash
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University in Melbourne, Australia, a performance initiative for graduate theatre students.
Students in the Graduate Ensemble undertook a one-year Honours program in the Centre for
Theatre and Performance at Monash. The program was designed to extend students’
capacities for theatre and performance making. It included concentrated work on performance
skills and reflexive understanding of the craft of acting, as well as on related historical and
theoretical material. Both participants were young women with a passionate interest in acting
and performance, and they both proved to be deeply reflective about the art of acting. Each
demonstrated eagerness to share her performance experiences and stories. They both came to
the interview with varying levels of performance involvement, with McGee appearing to
have had a greater range and number of performance involvements, including extensive
experience overseas in the USA. The interview was conducted in a relaxed and highly
interactive manner, with a strong emphasis on fostering a sense of co-presence in the dyad,
and, for the most part, equal opportunity was afforded for each participant to share her
experiences and stories. In addition to the interview, Bongiovanni kept a hand written journal
of her experiences throughout the whole performance season.
The immediate context of the interview was the work of both actors on a public performance
project as part of their training and assessment for the Honours program.
The public
performances were based on two works: Fragments and Dreams and an abridged version of
Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. Each performance was about 120 minutes in length.
Performances were initially undertaken at the Science Centre at Monash University and then
toured around a number of secondary schools during May, 2008, including a group of single
sex schools. The first half of the performance (Fragments and Dreams) consisted of 18
selections from traditional and classical literature performed as a series of self-contained
vignettes. The vignettes were linked thematically and visually, and focused primarily on
articulating the texts rather than developing characters. The texts ranged from a classical
repertoire to historical material, including an excerpt from autobiographical writing by Ned
Kelly. Presumably, the goal of this presentation was to place emphasis on vocal skills,
physicalisation and ability to interpret a text for performance, rather than development of
characters and a coherent narrative. There was a distinctly postdramatic emphasis in the
presentation. McGee and Bongiovanni participated in a significant number of the 18
vignettes. In the second half of the two-hour presentation, there was a performance of a
significantly abridged version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, one that appeared to have a
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strong focus on the comedy of the play87 and highlighted the idiosyncrasies of its characters.
In this performance, McGee played Vanya and Bongiovanni Dunyasha. This was an
opportunity for student actors to demonstrate their understanding of characterisation, as they
employed methods derived from Stanislavski to create engaging characters. Indeed, Peter
Oyston, the artistic director of the Graduate Ensemble and director of the abridged version of
The Cherry Orchard, said in my interview with him about his method:
I use Stanislavski’s methods because not only do they work but I’ve found a way of
condensing them into a contemporary rehearsal period. Whereas Stanislavski had six
months at the Moscow Arts Theatre and he was discovering his own “methods”, I
over the years managed to condense the methods into a realistic rehearsal period, so I
used the Stanislavski methods for The Cherry Orchard88.
This interview with McGee and Bongiovanni also took into account a performance of Ibsen’s
Hedda Gabler (see Ibsen, 2005) in which McGee played the role of Hedda, a complex, cruel,
but ultimately tragic young wife of a cloistered academic husband in provincial Norway in
the late nineteenth century. This performance was with a professional theatre company not
related to the Monash program. Performed in a small and confined space at Chapel-offChapel in Prahran (Melbourne), a small professional theatre venue in Melbourne, the play
was an intimate and compelling interpretation of Ibsen’s work. It was performed in one set,
and designed for a small audience who could be close to the dramatic action. The
scenography gave a sense of claustrophobia (close and in each other’s way) and imbued a
sparseness that sat well with its Norwegian sensibility. Certainly the heightened sense of the
vicious character of Hedda that McGee embodied appeared to be powerfully visceral and
challenging for the audience.
What was engendered most strongly in the interview with these two female actors was an
openness of each participant to sharing her performance experiences and to exploring the
embodied states that accompanied such experiences. It would not be an exaggeration to
suggest that there was a sense of release and joy that I garnered from both actors as they
87
In the post performance discussion with the audience, both the actors and the director of the play strongly
argued that The Cherry Orchard was, in fact, comedy and that this was an example of getting back to Chekhov’s
‘original intention’ for the play.
88
Please note that this view of Stanislavski’s work is entirely that of Oyston and does not reflect the view of the
researcher.
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articulated experiences that are not commonly shared. This sharing was driven by a passion
for acting that was palpable. What was also apparent was the level of self-critique that
accompanied their exposition of felt states embodied in performance.
In this regard, two broad themes about performance experiences appeared to characterise the
interview, themes that are unravelled in detail in the analysis that follows. First of all, the
embodied states of both actors were varied and complex, containing within them a
differential array of sentient, cognitive and felt states. This made the text of the transcribed
interview quite dense, multifarious and fascinating to read. Responses to performances by
each actor appeared to be affected by both the contingencies within each performance and
peripheral factors from without that weighed on these responses. Secondly, there was an
overwhelming sense of passion that characterised the interview, passion not fully
encompassed by the transcribed text of the interview. Both actors appeared to be singleminded about the significance of their performances and emotive as they spoke about their
acting and what it meant in their lives.
I now offer thick ontological description of the interview and journal writing, using the
categories for content analysis explicated in Section 3.4 and Illustration 3.6 above, with the
aim of reduction to more fundamental elements of actor experience. The category of the
Affective elicited frequent response from both actors. Expressions such as “felt”, “scared”,
“fear”, “joy” and “pleasure” figured prominently in descriptions of felt or emotional states
during performance. The example of McGee’s performance experiences of playing Hedda
Gabler is especially supportive of this point. During performances McGee described feeling
an “absolute takeover of emotions” through her conscious engagement with her character. At
points in many of the performances at Chapel-off-Chapel, she claimed to have felt “violated”,
“mentally powerless” and wanted to “cry for hours”. She described how she was “getting so
scared” and said that she had difficulty coming out of role. This formidable affective
experience appears to have unfolded out of an intentionality linked to “an action that another
character gives you”. It was sponsored in co-corporeal interactions, and in the felt states
related to the proximity of the body of the actor that played Judge Brack. This suggests that
emotional states were prominent and genuinely felt in many of the performance experiences
of McGee, amounting to a high level of affective engagement in performance. Additionally, it
appears that the affective experiences had a noetic quality due to the apparent mindfulness
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that accompanied such affective states.
By contrast, Bongiovanni confessed that, in playing the role of Dunyasha in The Cherry
Orchard, her emotional intensities were not tuned to an appropriate state. She stated:
I think, and this wasn’t something that was explained to me but something that I
began to observe when I got out into professional theatre, is that I think there’s a
misconception, or at least I was suffering under the delusion that every performance,
once you get into performance, is like rehearsal: there is that intensity of emotion and
you are completely caught up in the play - you’re not even aware of the audience and
you shouldn’t be.
Her emotional states during performances as Dunyasha, and her reflexivity about them,
become part of her developing awareness of appropriate filters that she considered should
apply during performance. At the same time, she also recalled not feeling satisfied with her
performances in The Cherry Orchard, being much more comfortable with the greater focus
on text in Fragments and Dreams. The issue of intensities and the efficacy of emotion within
performance environments were thus some key threads in my interview with McGee and
Bongiovanni.
The second category of Somatic, consisting of bodily and perceptual states, evoked
significant responses from both participants. This sense of body was especially focussed and
apparent in both actors’ descriptions of their bodily awarenesses during performance. For
instance, Bongiovanni described Fragments and Dreams as being “about my feet and my
toes” and this, she claimed, was related to “the lightness of the text”. In The Cherry Orchard
her character of Dunyasha, the peasant servant, was in “the hands, the wrists”, giving the
impression that this character was flighty and unstable. For McGee, the character of Varya,
the religious and rather controlling personality from Chekhov’s play, was centred in “the
breastbone”. She said that she felt a heaviness there, which she carried with her, and she
claimed that it never left her while she was on stage. By contrast, in Fragments and Dreams,
she felt that “the stories were more up in my shoulders and up in the sky”. According to
McGee this bodily state is “the best place” for the actor to be, and that “your body will
remember”, implying an intelligent somesthetic state or a unified body state theoried by
Merleau-Ponty. Quite explicitly, McGee spoke about “energy centres” and “your character’s
centre of energy”, alluding to the techniques of Indian yoga and the concept of seven
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chakras89 that were evidently a part of her actor training experiences in the USA. Both actors
seemed to make a direct link between compositional creation of character and somatic
experiences. Indeed, in her journal Bongiovanni wrote about a performance of Fragments
and Dreams:
I was very aware of how I was turning my body, stepping on my feet and how my
movements of waves with the chairs looked. I saw Dan [a fellow actor] out of the
corner of my eyes and remember thinking, “Wow, he looks like he is a wave and the
chair is only circumstantial.” I wondered if I was making the same impression. But
most of the body awareness things happened when I was speaking. I was very aware
of my hands and the gestures they were making.
The links between somatic awareness, spatial awareness, cognition and intentionality are
most explicit in this excerpt. Merleau-Ponty’s notion of subject-body is a useful paradigm for
conceiving the tacit unity that is implied in Bongiovanni’s writing about her body and her
sense of self.
However, there were also bodily states that appeared to attenuate performance and impede
presence. For example, during a performance of The Cherry Orchard and Fragments and
Dreams, on tour to a local secondary school, Bongiovanni suffered a severe migraine. She
spoke about how she “felt very restricted” and that there was a strong focus on “what was
happening inside my body”. Yet, despite this, she performed in this state of acute awareness
of a deleterious bodily condition. She also spoke about a “divided focus”, in which there was
a shifting between awarenesses of body, of feelings and of thoughts about character and text.
It seems that in circumstances where there was a need for constant and vigilant adjustment,
the actor actively shifted intensities and focuses in performance across a range of different
states of internality in order to negotiate the difficulties of a particularly arduous bodily
condition. Bongiovanni recalls the experience this way:
I still did the show despite the migraine, despite the fact that I couldn’t breathe,
despite the fact that I was really weak, like I would come off stage, lie down, people
would unzip me, fan me so I could get up and go back on stage. So for me the idea
that I couldn’t move around a lot, I couldn’t jump over the couch, I couldn’t walk
89
See, in this regard, The Chakra Bible: The Definitive Guide to Chakra Energy (Mercier, 2007)
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into the middle of the space, I couldn’t walk across the space because I was scared
that I would fall down again so it was constantly I’d take a few steps then I’d come
back to something solid so that if I did feel faint I’d have something to hold on to. It
was interesting because I felt like that it had to be like that but I felt very restricted by
that.
By contrast, Bongiovanni described another performance in which she was “incredibly
exhausted”, though this was not an inhibiting factor but rather sponsored a “letting go” into a
more exhilarating immersive state of performance.
The third category of Temporal Reflexivity concerns the thoughts and conscious reflections
of actors in situ. This is the cognitive of experience. This category also includes awarenesses
of strategic or intentional acts with the world related to performance. This constituted a
significant part of the overall set of recollections of both actors. Is it the case that actors do
think, plan, adjust (or demonstrate awareness of adjustment) and devise strategies during
performance? How active is the thought-life of an actor whilst performing? This category
appeared to have most clarity for both actors’ in recollections of temporal experiences when
touring to same-sex schools. Bongiovanni recalls an incident at a boys’ school when she was
saying, “I charge you, all you daughters of Jerusalem” (from “The Song of Solomon”
vignette of Fragments and Dreams) and she said that she felt “a bit funny” about saying this
to a group of boys. But then she thought, “you know what...gender doesn’t matter…this story
is what is important.” This awareness of context, and the contingencies of context, was
translated into intentional action that changed the reception of performance in that space for
that audience.
Reticence gave way to a dogged determination that led to, according to the actor’s first-hand
account, strong engagement with the all-male teenage audience. The cognitive and the
intentional action are not in binary relationship but fused into one embodied experience.
More generally, both actors commented about thoughts of seeking control and manifest selfawareness during performance. For instance, Bongiovanni recalled thinking that she felt “in
control” of her character during her performances of The Cherry Orchard, as opposed to
letting her character control her during rehearsal. This appeared to be a conscious act that
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amounted to a personal technique for Bongiovanni. Most of this temporal thinking related to
audience reactions and the adjustments needed to audience, which became the subject of both
actors’ intentionality. Thus, audiences were positioned as other; and through their alterity,
audiences affected the constitution of experiences for the two actors. Indeed, such alterity
appears to have provoked for Bongiovanni, and to a lesser extent, McGee, an obligation to
audience.
There was also mention that “the mind starts to wander”, not in the sense of disconnection
from the performance but into creativity or improvisation fostered by the contingencies
resident in the work itself. Temporal adaptive strategies appear to have been adopted during
the performances Bongiovanni and McGee describe. For example, McGee said of a
performance of Hedda Gabler: “You have to start as an actor stepping back—wow I’ve gone
to that emotional place—I know how horrible it is, now let’s really enjoy this and make the
audience feel what I felt when I first encountered Hedda.” This approach of intentionally
wanting to create a particular emotion or reaction in an audience is an example of McGee’s
strategic awareness of both acting objectives and the co-presence of an audience. For
Bongiovanni, her last performance of Fragments and Dreams, at St. Bedes Catholic School
in Melbourne, seemed to create a relaxed and self-aware state. She wrote in her journal:
I felt really relaxed, not stressed, and found that while my thoughts would randomly
enter my head and that I would be focussing on different parts of the performance,
not just story-telling…I was really tuned into everything.
Fourthly, the category of Post-reflexive, being an actor’s thoughts post situ, at a metaexperiential level, was also a prominent category in the interview transcript. This is not
surprising, since, following performances, actors do conceptualise and reposition
experiences, and sediment them into a grand narrative about their life frame as an actor.
There were two post-reflextive themes that emerged throughout the interview. The first of
these involved conceptualisations about audience and an actor’s relationship with the
audience. Bongiovanni, for example, positions performance as more about the audience than
the actor. She stated: “performance, it’s not about you, it’s about telling a story and it’s about
the audience.” That an actor’s existential experience and sense of self are determined in
relationship with audience is also clear in the thinking of McGee about performance. When
writing about a performance of Hedda Gabler in which McGee pulled the hair of another
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actor quite ferociously, she commented that “we [the actors] didn’t expect the audience
response…and we didn’t realise the affect it would have on the audience.” In effect, this
audience’s reaction created a clear post-performance impression on McGee: that acting, and
creating a role, is potent. This impression about her influence affected both her view of the
character itself and her notion of her own power and pervasiveness as an actor in role. She
recognised that she had the agency to induce an audience to hate her. Levinas’ notion of an
ethics of obligation constructed on alterity is useful for conceiving this performer-audience
relationship. McGee’s joy in performing was in response to the otherness of the audience,
whose reception created a relationship of mutual obligation.
Secondly, there was considerable post-performance reflexion about the relationship between
character, actor and person. Both actors expressed the paradox of being outside a character
and yet having the possibility of being inside the character (“possessed” by the character) at
the same time. Most interestingly, Bongiovanni articulated this concept when she said: “the
actor who is doing what the actor is doing but the person is lost because the actor is strong.”
There was also reflection on the perceived taking over of the actor by the character, and a
belief that this was tantamount to possession. Yet, paradoxically, the person, and the history
of the person, remains submerged (yet ever present) in experience. The example of
Fragments and Dreams is one in which the position of actor (not character) was foregrounded. McGee expressed the idea that “a few of us got a little frustrated” when “we
weren’t allowed to play characters and we weren’t allowed to even do storytelling.” It seems
that the delivery of text had hegemony and was prioritised in performance, and vocal skills
and movement were privileged over the character-based, Stanislavskian techniques, deployed
in The Cherry Orchard.
The fifth category, Metaphorical, consisting of references to figurative and image-based
language, constituted a small proportion of responses and did not figure heavily in the
discourse of either actor. There was use of metaphor, such as in the co-corporeal and intersubjective notion of “you had such a flow with the other actors”, and also the notion of
“possession” when discussing the taking on of a role. Substantially, though, the language
used by the actors was direct and highly literal, with some abstraction in regard to emotional
states experienced, as was analysed for the Affective category examined above. This
literalness and concreteness may suggest the authenticity of the interview transcript as
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emerging directly out of temporal experiences, without higher-level reconstruction or metaanalysis in language.
A sixth category, that of the Liminal, implies experiences of betweenness, ambiguity about
self and other, and a sense of uncertainty along boundaries of experience. There were some
references to this category in the transcript.
As cited above, Bongiovanni spoke of a
performance of The Cherry Orchard in which she felt “incredibly exhausted”, a somatic and
felt state that is not itself liminal. However, according to Bongiovanni, because she “could
not perform the way I usually did”, there was a sense of abandonment and risk-taking, of
letting the control of the actor go and being innovative. In that liminal territory between the
exhaustion of the actor and the expectations of the audience, there is much unpredictability,
and there exists also the dubiety of not being able to perform in the usual way and yet also
wanting to please an audience. There is the ‘no’ of body and the ‘yes’ of spectator
expectation. This ‘doubleness’ appeared to be the key characteristic of this liminal state. For
Bongiovanni it was a state of “experiencing it as opposed to acting it”. It was a more
immersive state in which there was not a repeat of the usual “professional states”, what I have
labelled “filters”, recommended for actors. The concrescence and novelty sponsored by this
liminality created a distinctly different performance and a heightened performance
experience. There was also liminality in regard to loss of awareness in performance. Both
performers cited anecdotes of being “swept away” or even “possessed”, such that they were
“separated” from their self and lost “connection to anything like time, place”. This is a
liminal space that exists between an experience of awareness and a sense of control and that
of a loss of a sense of an actor as actor. It is a state in which the character has control and has
taken the actor. It might also be a state in which an actor has lost focus and a sense of
presence on stage. In her journal, Bongiovanni penned the following:
I was not focussed tonight at all. I knew my mum was in the audience and so [I] was
looking for her, as well as another person who ended up being late. I was quite
thrown. I felt that I knew I was out of form and had to pull myself back in. I was
jumpy and unsettled—and slow, like it took me longer to react to things.
This struggle to find focus and presence during performance was located in the liminal
territory between being there and not being there, and being aware of both possible states.
The extrinsic input of the audience, and particular members of the audience, was a catalyst
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for this liminality. Throughout her journal Bongiovanni recalls a number of these threshold
moments.
Co-Presence represents the sixth category of ontological analysis. This sense of the other (as
observer and co-participant) in ethical relationship for the purposes of the drama is at the core
of this category of experience. As is patent in the discussion above, one of the significant
relationships in theatre performance is that between performers and audience, in which
alterity is clearly recognised, and perhaps becomes what Michael Taussig refers to in Mimesis
and Alterity (1993) as a cultural alterity. McGee speaks of an ethics of responsibility in
regard to the audience when she stated:
In performance, I can’t control how the audience feels, but I can try my damndest to
affect them by what I’m doing to other people around me. And I feel it’s my
responsibility as an actor if I’m noticing and directing to do things, to talk louder, to
talk quicker, to do something to draw [them] back in. That’s all you can really
control in a way, and of course you can control your affect on other actors and the
responsibility you have if they deliver a line and the different way you react to that,
not in a way you would always be reacting, to be present but not completely self
indulgent.
McGee identifies, in this excerpt, not only the relationship with the audience but her
awareness of her fellow actors as other in the process of dramatic creation for audience. Her
use of the word “responsibility” suggests an obligation suffusing the temporality of
performing. Further, her selection of the word “control” implies a volitional state of which
she was overtly aware during performance.
Finally, the category of Training and Sedimentation appeared paramount to the experiences
of both actors. This sense of a life journey or frame, mentioned above, was clear in the
beginning of the interview when both actors were asked about their training and their coming
to acting. Using quite emotionally heightened language, McGee conceptualised her time in an
acting apprenticeship course she undertook in the USA as having “fell in love with it
completely”. There was an especially strong idealisation of her high school drama teacher
who, McGee said, “Believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself”. Equally,
Bongiovanni spoke fondly of her drama teacher who was “always supporting, always
pushing, always going yes...”. For both McGee and Bongiovanni, there was a manifest sense
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of an unfolding personal narrative, linked to prominent individuals in their lives (as mentors).
There was also a pervasive pride in what they had done that formed a spirited self-identity
and emerged as an undercurrent in references to performance.
Overall, both actors conceived their early drama experiences as being pivotal to their current
motivation, self-concept and skill base as actors. It is apparent that they both then used these
experiences as a benchmark against which to evaluate their interactions with the directors and
educators that helped to create the Graduate Ensemble season. McGee, for example, in her
post-performance reflection about her role as Varya in The Cherry Orchard, appears to
identity the elicitation of a state of passion or emotion as her approach to conceiving and
forming her character. This passion was obviously derived from her willingness to “throw
herself in the deep end” and from her sense of the importance of “belief” and being
“passionate” in her work as an actor. She described these feelings as coming out of her early
drama formation. Yet McGee also assessed this approach in terms of the regulatory
discourses of those who directed and taught her in work with the Graduate Ensemble. She
stated: “It’s not really encouraged that actors should try and get themselves into that state
[emotional] every performance.” Here she is referring to a somewhat out-of-control and
emotionally charged felt state in an actor.
McGee’s teacher in the Graduate Ensemble and her director for The Cherry Orchard, Peter
Oyston, used a pedagogy that appears to be inspired by Stanislavski and Joan Littlewood.
Oyston also seems to focus on text and the proper rendering of text in performance. From my
interview with Oyston, it became apparent that his method could be characterised as one in
which the text assumes an almost embodied presence for actors. Based on his description of
his method, Oyston’s work with actors certainly seems to foster expressiveness built on an
impulse to action and effective vocal release, but it is release for the sake of text and
narrative. He stated in the interview that
[In the] early stage of rehearsal you do a lot of analysing and what I would call subtext development, so, for instance, one technique might be for sub-text that one
character asks another character a question about the text, about the content of the
narrative… A late stage we might be working on something called pitch tempo,
which means if you say something to me with a certain energy, I pick up your pitch
tempo and then I change it to my own, and then someone picks up my pitch tempo
and changes it to their own and that melds.
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Logocentricsm thus appears to be an imperative in his method. Indeed, to my question about
what actors should do in performance, Oyston replied, “They should give themselves to the
text.” Oyston’s approach could be described as textual hegemony in tension with states of
release and expressiveness, with the goal of finding synergy between the two in the
performance of a text. But to suggest that this is all that is operating in his processes of
working with actors would be simplistic. The phenomenon of Oyston’s acting pedagogy is
also about a coalescence of performance elements that contains discernable serendipity.
Oyston might well privilege the text, but this hegemony can be playfully resisted and
contested by actors during performance. His pedagogy allows for this, embraces it, but never
fully lets go of logos. Oyston’s approach moves inexorably between states of control and loss
of control, from honouring the text to facilitating an actor’s release and interpretive agency. It
is this equipoise between text and impulse that Oyston wants to sediment in his actors.
However, in the case of McGee such focus on logos, and on the performance filters implied
in Oyston’s pedagogy, seemed to create momentous resistance. McGee appeared to be more
focussed on internality and intense emotional states linked, in her mind, to the unfolding of a
compelling character for an audience. In the case of Bongiovanni, she appeared to be more at
ease within the bounds of performing text and less comfortable with complex
characterisation.
Having completed a descriptive ontological analysis of the content of the interviews, I want
to move onto a more interpretative or hermeneutic analysis of the interview text and examine
themes or threads of meaning that constitute an ontology of experience as they have emerged
out of the descriptive analysis above.
First of all, while reduction to essential elements of experience is useful in terms of
understanding what constitutes experience, each actor clearly spoke about the unified nature
of embodied experiences and a tacit sense of the totality of experience, of gestalt. Both actors
seemed embedded and embodied in the whole of the performances they described. In regard
to her performances as Hedda in Hedda Gabler, McGee wrote about “beautiful moments of
clarity” and a “heightened awareness”. She goes on in the interview to explicate her
performances as Hedda in terms of her internal state, her relationship with the audience, her
imagination, as well as her bodily relationship with the space and other actors. For McGee,
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performance became sensuous, felt and imagined, and all three modes of experience were
fluidly interwoven and conceived holistically. So, while there are different embodiments or
states of embodiment in performance, for both actors there was a perception of these
embodiments being one embodiment and containing one experience.
Secondly, there was a definite awareness of inter-subjectivity as both actors attempted to
assert their agency in performance in relation to other agents. Part of the assertion of agency
has to do with the public nature of human subjectivity. Both actors were overtly aware of the
audience and the power of their dramatic discourse in shaping audience. But it is also equally
so that the audiences exerted their agential influence on the actors. McGee stated that she had
to “play off the audience, so you’re not pretending to be in a room with nobody around”.
There appears to be dialectic between the actors and the audience that was a controlling
factor in how both actors experienced performance. Later, in regard to Fragments and
Dreams, McGee spoke more specifically about her conspicuous awareness of agency:
“there’s something about talking straight to an audience”. This she differentiated from the
more character-based Cherry Orchard in which her work with the other actors appeared more
important (and the Fourth Wall was more evident). Both actors spoke about the level of
“control” that is needed over performance and character, and that you needed to “adjust” to
an audience. However, according to McGee, “In performance I can’t control how the
audience feels but I can try my damndest to affect them”. In essence, there is a stark
awareness of audience and the power of the actor over an audience that no amount of “getting
caught up in the play” can allay. Bongiovanni spoke of loving “the audience, affecting them
and making them feel, making them react”. For McGee, in Hedda Gabler, there was a
perception that audience members were frightened of her, to the point that (as she claimed)
they would not even speak to her afterward. Her agency became extended to producing
emotional and even involuntary reactions in her audience. That agency is crucial for what an
actor experiences in performance is shown in another anecdote by Bongiovanni in the
interview. In a play titled “Midsummer” in which she performed, she describes being “shut
down”, “stifled” and “there being no room for creativity”. This, according to Bongiovanni,
led to a set of performances in which characters were “two dimensional”. For her, the
withdrawal of agency from actors had a negative affect on the quality of the play for the
audiences who came to see it.
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Yet it would be a misunderstanding to see such agency just in terms of the individual. This
agency was certainly situated in a set of relationships and a context that was inter-subjective
and co-corporeal. Both Bongiovanni and McGee, in their visits to schools, experienced a
greater awareness of audience and audience reaction to performance. There was a sense that
the “polite theatre” at the Science Centre of Monash University (with its regulated set of
audience responses and expectations) gave way to the immediacy and blatant expressiveness
of students who had little experience of theatre. Each actor needed to adjust to the flux of this
uncertain space. In this more potentially chaotic context, one charged with visible emotion,
not only was there a synergy with the audience but both actors spoke about being “so
comfortable with each other” and developing “trust for each other” that as an acting team
they were able to face any “challenge”. So, their ethical obligation to and for each other
became integral to, and also constitutive of, the creative adjustments needed for such variant
contexts. The actors, paradoxically, worked with a sense of co-presence without seeming to
lose their individual agency, expressed so neatly by Bongiovanni when she said, “...we are
good and that was just amazing”. The movement into an unfamiliar space, with a reactive
audience and a focussed awareness of the possibilities of change created a ‘coming together’,
a concrescence, that was unique and intimately felt. There was imbued in the work of both
actors an intra-subjective dimension that was foundational to what each actor experienced of
and in performance.
This context of performing for schools is also interesting in that it brought to the fore the link
between felt states (“pleasure”, “fun”, “scary”) and agency. In developing a performance
consciousness through intentional action, volition became intimately linked to felt
experience. McGee expressed this with great clarity when she said: “When things are
changing all the time, when you’re allowed to improvise all the time, it comes back that joy
of creating new things happening on stage”. In a sense it was the pleasure of performing that
became the most instinctive characteristic of performance, and this “joy” emerged, as Levinas
has theorised, in being together.
In the third place, there was a discernible creative tension between narrative, text and
character in the work of the actors, perhaps reflecting the partial sedimenting influence of
Peter Oyston. For McGee, the text of Fragments and Dreams was an impediment because she
could not create character through it; while for Bongiovanni the text and its explication in
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performance provided an opportunity to experience without the intrusion of character.
Indeed, in her journal this affirmation of Fragments and Dreams was implicit in the text.
Even in The Cherry Orchard the interpretations of text appeared to be prioritised over
characterisation. However, according to McGee, in Hedda Gabler, while her role as Hedda
began with a “lot of textual analysis” during rehearsals, it soon moved to an intense
exploration of character such that “rehearsals were starting to get scary”. This absorption in
character even started to intrude into McGee’s personal life. When asked the question if she
could be outside herself as her character of Hedda, McGee replied, “I couldn’t do that now”.
For McGee, text was now entirely character, and narrative was so absorbed in her own self
that, as she said, ‘I looked like a different person.” Apparently, McGee (as person and as ego)
had receded into the background of experience, and the emotion and substance of the
character had overwhelmingly taken over to the point that she could not objectify her
experience of it (though she could use it to good effect on her audience). For Bongiovanni,
the text itself never receded in consciousness to that extent and was not as present in or
actuated through her body.
Fourthly, the body, the soma, was centalised in the thinking and practice of both actors. There
was a deep intentionality that appeared to be linked to consciousness or awareness through
actions in their bodies. This sense of incarnation was present throughout the interview with
both actors. Indeed, there was an appreciation that their bodies were at once habituated, and
thus capable of moving out of conscious awareness, and also, at the same time, fully a part of
conscious awareness in their temporal experiences. The bodies of both actors were even used
strategically in performance. This experience from the two actors appears to be in
contradiction with Oyston’s perspective. He stated:
I think they should be completely unaware during performance or if there is an
awareness there it should be only a tiny part of the brain because if they’re
monitoring themselves while they’re doing it then they become literally self
conscious and self conscious actors are never interesting, you know they’re always
the uninteresting people.
This seeming dissonance between the stated position of an actor educator and the
recollections of his students about their experiences of performing appears to support my
contention that internality is more complex and awarenesses more conspicuous in experience
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than is often credited by those who teach actors.
In the fifth place, there were perceivable liminal states between internality and externality,
and a well-defined consciousness about such states, in the experience of each actor. There
appears to be an ambiguity (even a tension) between what an actor wants to deliver
(outwardly to the audience as witnesses/participants) and an inward state that exists preperformatively. McGee, for example, recalled a production in Melbourne in which she felt
this way: “like I didn’t believe what I was doing”. This retarded inner life for McGee was
evidently ruinous because the show was so “incredibly unprofessional and unorganised”. The
resultant outward expression was less than desired, leading to a situation where “the audience
wasn’t enjoying the show.” By contrast, McGee, in that liminal, almost possessive, state that
she felt in playing Hedda in Hedda Gabler, created not only dread in the audience but also
(according to McGee) in the other cast members that worked with her. Becoming intensely
aware of what this inner state of pleasure established for her, McGee was able to “actually
really enjoy it” and play the game of “How cruel can I be?” This brings me to a contention
that I have made earlier in this study: that a state of fullest presence by an actor is one in
which there is transparency between an inner pre-expressive state and an outer expressive
state. In the case of McGee, I felt the full force of this transparency as an observer of her role
as Hedda, though I also sensed that she was near the limits of her control as an actor.
Finally, concepts of space and time were important in the formation of experience for the two
actors. Bongiovanni described, in the interview, two quite contrasting experiences of space
and time. She related one experience this way: “there’s no connection to anything like time
and place; it’s like you’re right there and everything else melts into the background”. She
claimed also that she couldn’t remember anything about the performance experience. In this
instance there appears, as McGee said, to be “just living in the moment.” For Bongiovanni it
was the case that “the words come so naturally and flowing that nothing else affects you”. In
this experience there is a loss of awareness of body-in-space (the absent body) and, like in a
meditative state, the present became disconnected from a sense of the disposition of time as
past, present and future. This corresponds to a belief about actor temporal experience that
Oyston makes above. All that seemed to exist for Bongiovanni was the dramatic time
unfolding for a character in a play.
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The other experience was one that occurred in the unfamiliar and unpredictable territory of a
secondary school hall, in a performance of Fragments and Dreams and The Cherry Orchard.
Here, both actors were forced to “put theatre up in any space at all”, in a place that was “not
really conducive to theatre”. It is interesting that in this context (in the unfamiliar), each actor
showed considerable and sustained awarenesses of body, intent and felt states, as well as the
disposition of the audience. The ensemble had to create with their bodies a meaning space
and establish a new dramatic place in which the audience and the actors could reside. With
the educational dimension of “reaching people that might not have been reached”, there came
a “challenge” and an awareness that militated against ‘absent body/absent time’ states within
performance. Bongiovanni described the performance this way: “my focus was on what was
happening on stage because it was always changing”. There is implied here an acute
awareness of the passage of time and of the unfolding temporal features of the performance;
there is also awareness of change that shaped the sense of control that both performers felt in
that context. Conscious adaptation to a mutable world thus seems to characterise what both
actors experienced during this performance.
In conclusion, it appears that experiential complexity typified the recollections of both actors
about performing. Experiences while performing were indeed elaborate and it appears that for
actors, such as McGee and Bongiovanni, performance is a highly fluid and organic
‘becoming’ in which felt, perceptual, somatic and volitional states combine into a unique
gestalt, into an holistic state of complex embodiment. Having seen McGee and Bongiovanni
on stage and then having interviewed them, there appears to be correspondence between my
outer observations and the articulated recollections of internality from each actor. It is
apparent to me, for example, that Bongiovanni was more at home, more expressive, in
Fragments and Dreams than in The Cherry Orchard. It is also evident that McGee drew great
pleasure from her role as Hedda and that the audience sensed, vicariously, this dark pleasure
and the utter cruelty of the character.
There are also clearly discernible links between early drama experiences, training, and the
sedimentation of actors in the period after the performance season. These two young actors,
who were finding their feet as performers and encountering new methods that might work or
not work for them, were creating and forming identity stories about themselves as actors.
Both were constructing grand narratives of actor, subject-body and self, and positioning their
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performance experiences into this life history, including their experiences with the Graduate
Ensemble, under the leadership of Oyston. But there are also lesser narratives that emerge out
of the particularities of this season of rehearsals and performances, which also became
apparent in the interview. Each performance narrative by Bongiovanni and McGee had a life
and a truth of its own, but these narratives became situated and sedimented as part of a larger
autobiographical narrative. Yet, at the same time, it is also likely that the early and formative
experiences of each actor, so coherently recalled by each actor, were critical for both how
performance was experienced and the formation of this grand narrative about self. For
McGee, the affective and the somatic, her felt and bodily states, were an extension of what
she had experienced when she was young. In comparison, Bongiovanni was more mindful
about what was happening in her internality as an actor. For her, there was a greater recall of
strategies used on stage and increased discrimination about what worked and did not work for
her. She could stand outside herself, so to speak, whereas McGee could not, since she was
caught up in a performative state to the point almost of possession.
I have examined the consituent elements of the performance experiences of McGee and
Bongiovanni, and looked at broader themes that have emerged out of the interview and the
interview transcription. However, for McGee and Bongiovanni, what can all their experiences
of performing and their sense of life history and sedimentation be reduced to? At a deeper
level of reduction it is apparent that three sets of opposites appear to be germane as essences
for both actors. These opposites have a dialectic quality and function within experiences of
each actor to a lesser or a greater extent, depending on context and bodily state. Being in
dialectic both qualities are always present, though in varying degrees of awareness and
intensity, and remain in tension during a performance. These three primal dialectic states, or
eidos, are:
1. Fear/courage. Throughout both actors’ recollections of their performance
experiences, fear (of failure, as shown in apprehension) was suppressed or chastened
by an intentional state of courage and agency.
2. Pleasure/pain. Both actors spoke intimately about their experiences of great pleasure,
joy and satisfaction, but these feelings were often juxtaposed with discomfort (even
pain), shown as actual bodily pain, disappointment, exhaustion or tiredness within the
one performance.
3. Isolation/connection. There was often a sense of the isolation of an actor and a focus
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on each actor’s personal internal or bodily struggle with the world. This struggle was
frequently about striving towards connectivity driven by an awareness of alterity
linked to fellow actors and to audiences.
In Illustration 5.1 below, I schematise much of the discussion above. Each of the three
theatrical works had a different character, and drew different experiential responses from the
two actors, with McGee seeming to favour immersive, character-based performance, while
Bongiovanni appears to be more comfortable with the movement and text based Fragments
and Dreams.
Illustration 5.1
A phenomenology of the experiences of Bongiovanni and McGee
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There seems to be a core set of experiences that both performers had in common. However,
while similar categories of experience are evident in the interview transcript and in
Bongiovanni’s journal, McGee and Bongiovanni experienced different intensities and focuses
in regard to this sets of experiences. The set of primal dialectical states is offered as the
eidetic core of both performers.
Section 5.3
Hardie
Benedict Hardie was, at the time of my interview with him in 2007, a final year student in
acting at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), which is now part of The University of
Melbourne. His acting teacher for his third year was Tanya Gerstle, whose approach to actor
educator is discussed below as part of the context of Hardie’s experiences of performing in
The Perjured City: Or, the Awakening of the Furies (Cixous, 2004). As part of course
requirements for the three-year degree program, students at VCA are required to perform in a
number of in-house theatrical events. The Perjured City was such an event, becoming a
production by VCA third year students of an English translation of a play by French feminist
writer, Hélène Cixous, a resident playwright at the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris since the early
1980s (see Dobson, 2002).
I now offer the reader a brief exposition of the play in order to position Hardie’s role and
situate his experiences while performing. In brief, The Perjured City grapples with the 1985
scandal about the spreading of HIV via contaminated blood in the French National Centre for
Blood Transfusion. The recrimination, as a result of the fact that the contamination was
known about but not acted on, brought the heads of the centre to public scrutiny and
eventually trial. The outcome of the trial and the sentences handed down, only seemed, to
many critics at the time, to highlight the politics and injustice of the scandal.
This postmodern play, written in blank verse, has the form of a Classical Greek play,
especially of the tragic ilk, in the style of Aeschylus, with particular allusion to The Oresteia,
in which blood crimes, justice and vengeance form central themes. Throughout his
performance Hardie was confronted with the exacting structure of the play’s blank verse
juxtaposed with its emotional content. There are also stylistic features in the play parodying
Shakespeare, who, with reference to the Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth, makes an
appearance as a fictitious character in the play. The Perjured City is set in a graveyard on the
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outskirts of a city (where presumably the dead from the contaminated blood are buried). The
spirits of the dead form a new city, a collective, a group that continues to agonise over the
injustices and political duplicity that led to their deaths. They are the dead whose souls cannot
be released because of the karma that weighs on them, a weight of indifference and failure to
see suffering. The caretaker of this cornucopia of souls is none other than Aeschylus himself,
the purveyor of all things tragic, suggesting perpetuity to injustice that goes back to the
origins of Western theatre itself. As a witness to this four-hour play, it became for me
political theatre that borders on a morality tale but never falls into sentimentality or crass
proclamation. Indeed, Cixous said of her play:
Actually the blood scandal didn’t become a metaphor, it was immediately the
metaphor. I was looking for a metaphor of tragedy in our time, today, in our
civilization, and this appeared to me as the most obvious metaphor itself. It couldn’t
be stronger. I never thought of it in terms of “a case.” Ariane Mnouchkine and I took
great care, all the while we were working, in discussing and rehearsing the play, not
to say a word about it outside, contrary to our practice. Because we were afraid that
the metaphor would be recaptured by general curiosity as an anecdotal case: for us,
for me, the blood scandal was immediately the metaphor of today’s tragedy (Fort &
Cixous, 1997, 430).
The stage design was simple, symmetrical and functional in facilitating the highly episodic
performance with its just audible, eerie and compelling music that formed a backdrop to the
dialogue and copious monologues. The stage was set in a circle with marble-like covering on
the floor and a gravestone that sat, asymmetrical, to stage right. Around this circle was a
series of interlaced ropes that were hung off the lighting rig and formed swings at the bottom.
Signification of a circus ring was thus clear, and the ensemble hung in and moved from the
ropes with a strong physicality. That the stage was signified as circus is an irony given the
context of the struggle for justice by those who seem to have no voice. The space also had the
sense of a gladiatorial ring where ideas, feelings and grievances battle in an epic struggle.
Emptiness grows throughout the performance because hope is eternally sought and eternally
thwarted. The stage, while simple, appeared to be rich with possibility and rife with
ambiguities, as typically postmodern theatre is.
The delivery of blank verse by the group of young VCA actors, including Hardie, was
engaging for me. The play opened with an extended monologue, which was a soliloquy by
The Mother (Ezekiel), who had lost sons to the blood curse. The soliloquy established the
supposed despair and injustice that surrounded the death of so many in the 1985 French
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incident. Throughout the play, the plight of The Mother (who is symbolically representative
of all mothers who have lost children) is a spine around which the play revolves. The
speaking of the verse and the consequent establishment of a poetics of loss, rage and
retribution, removed, for me, the dramatic expression from the purely emotional to a more
stylised performance which could have an ‘alienating’ effect on the audience. I wanted to
empathise, wanted to identify, with the plight of the mother and the victims (those spirits
haunted the space) but I was impeded in this process through the ‘distancing’ effect of the
text itself. Blank verse is not often employed in contemporary Western theatre, with the
salient exception of productions of Shakespeare’s plays. It is usually identified with poetry
and literature (see Shaw, 2007). I was thus caused to pay particular attention to the text, to
listen to its rhythms and to its intricacies. I had to work hard as a member of the audience,
since it was quite alientating to my sensibilities about theatre texts.
The delivery of this verse, which was often long and exacting, was held in tension with the
intense physical movement of the actors. This movement seemed to emerge from different
pulses within actors, ranging from slow and tense to spring-like and explosive. Like springs
wound to the hilt, the actors emerged with stealth into the spherical space to watch, to speak,
to encounter, and to leap into action. There was a tautness that was palpable in the space.
As part of my contextualization of Hardie’s experiences while performing, and to establish
the role of training and sedimentation in such experiences, I now examine at length some of
the key pedagogical ideas of his actor training teacher, Tanya Gerstle. Such ideas emerged as
part of an interview conducted with Gerstle in 2007 and appear to be critical to an
understanding of what happened to Hardie in his performance as Aeschylus in The Perjured
City. In the first place, Gerstle certainly follows well-trodden European (or Europeanderived) traditions of acting training (discussed in Chapter 2) in conceiving actors before
training as either ‘raw’ and needing to have their metaphorical ‘instrument’ formed and
tuned, or containing encumbrances, ‘blocks’ or exigencies that that must be stripped away in
order to re-form their capacities. For Gerstle, what an actor brings to training is a certain
potentiality or openness, a commitment and passion, and a particular set of embedded skills,
but not technique. An actor, before training, is a vessel that needs both content and
fashioning. Gerstle’s notions of ‘stripping’ and re-formation, of physical action, pathways
and imagination, are also foundations for training instilled in the work of European and
American actor educators such as Meisner (Meisner & Longwell, 1987), the late Stanislavski
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(see Coger, 1964), Grotowski (Richards, 1995) and Etienne Decroux (Leabhart, 2004).
Secondly, and an extension of the previous point, Gerstle’s is a pedagogy of transformation.
She purposefully intends to liberate actors through re-formation. Gerstle becomes the
metaphorical sculptor in forming her students. She is also mentor in leading her students (or
trainees) down a specialized training path. Though overtly being the trainer is at the forefront
of her method, there is certainly also the teacherly. She conceives her students as agents of
change and transformation. In engaging with her students through critique, and in
engendering the primacy of both critique and embodiment in a student’s practice as an actor,
she purports to release an actor’s agency to perform and create. Gerstle stated:
I think they are empowered during this time here to believe in themselves
as…performers, not only that they can be an actor in someone else’s [work] but
they can initiate the ability to make it with other people.
Her goals are thus broader than those one normally associates with a training program.
Gerstle’s approach appears to encompass the life frame of a student coming to study acting,
including their vulnerabilities and life circumstances. What was caught tacitly in the
interview was her passion for and idealism about each student, and her belief in the
possibilities that the training could afford them. This passion appeared to animate Hardie in
his performance work. Gerstle positions herself as visionary teacher when she stated: “I think
they [her students] come out with a broader perspective, philosophically and ethically, and
with a vision [for] the next generations to be part of and be responsible for a theatrical
landscape that needs to keep surviving and living.” So, she is clearly a teacher interested in
more than simply training.
In the third place, because of her explicit pedagogical platform of ‘tuning’, ‘stripping back’
and transformation, Gerstle constructs herself as having a role of advocacy for the actor. She
also conceives her role as promoting acting as art, rather than just a preparation for the
profession. In removing, and in being liberated from, all that holds back an actor from his or
her art, and in tuning the instrument, an actor, according to Gerstle, finds himself or herself.
There is, in this sense, a quasi-spiritual dimension to the work she does with her actors, and
this was tacit in Hardie’s discourses about his practice as an emerging actor. Gerstle’s
students embark on a quest to discover an authentic aesthetic selfhood, almost an archetypal
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narrative of a hero’s journey. Thus training is not just about the profession, or merely about
being ready to do-what-it-takes, but about a truthfulness to self in an artistic quest. Acting
training is then a process of emergence that lays the ground for pre-expressive conditions
before performance. It is built on an ethics of being-together: a set of relational expectations
and a state of trust that necessarily accompanies the training as a core of otherness. In sum,
there is, in Gerstle’s approach, an idealism about what she believes acting students need.
Finally, according to Gerstle, this transformation and emergence comes, prima facie, from a
physical basis to acting (or perhaps a psychophysical grounding), as opposed to what might
be termed more psychological or internally generated processes such as those employed in
some method acting approaches. Gerstle’s use of the term ‘pulse’, referring to a condition of
energy that emerges out of the body and enervates the actor and prompts action, is overtly
privileged in her discourses about ‘body’. Whilst this conception of ‘pulse’ is evidently
drawn from her European encounters with physically based practitioners, it is also
fundamental to Asian notions of performance. Indeed, her understandings of internality and
externality in acting processes remind me especially of Indian theatre practices, though she
did not make such a connection in the interview. There is also, I believe, a movement away
from rationalism to romanticism90 as a presupposition for praxis because of a strong bent
towards imagination as a necessary ground for aesthetics. While there are some rational
processes in Gerstle’s work (her on-going critique of her student’s work, for instance), at the
heart of the training process are notions of awe and wonder, expression and imagination,
typical of romantic aesthetics. In addition, her understanding of how bodies encounter the
world and others echoes thinking from the work of Merleau-Ponty. Moreover, her emphasis
on a coming together of body, text and space into a unique gestalt through improvisation and
pathways resonates with ideas espoused by Whitehead. Whitehead theorises about the
collocation (or what he calls concrescence) of elements from potentiality to actuality in nonrepeatable new unities. The romantic aesthetic, emphasis on ‘pulse’ and the concrescence of
text, space and body were certainly evident in Hardie’s work in The Perjured City, as
explicated below.
Yet, there is, I argue, in Gerstle’s pedagogical framework, an essential paradox. On the one
hand, Gerstle embraces the passion, commitment and energy of her students. In fact, this very
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See, in regard to romanticism, Berlin & Hardy (1999).
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passion is the reason, according to Gerstle, that they come to the VCA. Gerstle stated:
“Nothing makes them feel alive, so they come and do it”. On the other hand, there is an overt
suppression of emotion in the internality of an actor and a focus on a ‘pulse’ drawn from an
actor’s body and embodied through pathways and disciplined routines of physical action.
Gerstle is of the opinion that emotion impedes performance. The paradox is in wanting to
strip back emotion but, at the same time, also drawing on the passion of an actor in order to
achieve engaged or “connected” performance. This stripping of emotion from performance,
and the consequent distancing of performance from the passion of an actor as an internal
state, appears to form a binary category: actor-as-performer and actor-as-person—the self and
the other self. Yet, she stated in the interview that it is “pretty impossible to separate their
work from themselves.” It would seem to me that while physical action and ‘pulse’ are
shifted to the foreground because of Gerstle’s training regime, this does not necessarily
negate the emergence of significant felt states in an actor while performing. That such felt
states are not disclosed by actors could possibility be part of the politics of some actor
training programs. Moreover, the notion of deploying imagination as part of embodiment in
performance and as the ‘engine’ of engagement with text seems at odds with what
imagination can create, emotionally, within an actor. I am interested in the extent to which
this paradox had traction in the experiences of Hardie in The Perjured City.
At the time of my interview with Hardie, he was exhausted after what he described as a long
day at the VCA. I sensed at first that he would rather I was not there for the interview, but
once the questioning began his face livened and his voice quickened. I felt drawn into the
world of the play and the experiences that he wanted to sketch for me. In speaking about his
experiences of both training and performing there was an emergent excitement, and the use of
interjections, such as “Yeah”, “No” and “Yes”, at the beginning of his responses, suggested a
particular emotional attachment to his role in The Perjured City. He said, in regard to what I
consider to be the potential for the declamatory in the play, that “if you are passionate about
this play, if you want to do this, you’re going have to rise. I love that challenge. I relish it”.
The possibility for constraint of experience that, I submit, is embodied in the text of the play
was re-positioned by Hardie as a potentiality for enhancing experience. He stated: “It [the
production] was a massive thing; it was a massive production that we worked on for a long
time and we were all very passionate about it”. This statement suggests that he recognized the
possibility of constraint, in the length and complexity of the production, but, at the same time,
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Hardie proposes that it was the passion (this core affective state) that made it work as a show.
In the interview transcript there were four direct references to the category of Affective (felt
or emotional states) during his recollection of performing in The Perjured City. However,
throughout the entire interview transcript, the tenor was emphatically about heightened
affective states that accompanied both performance and training at the VCA. The words
“exciting”, “passion” and “fun” and “enjoying” were used repeatedly throughout the
interview to form a lexical pattern of affective responsiveness to his experiences of training
and performing. In regard to references to his role in The Perjured City his discourse about
his experiences reflected this affective focus. In response to the interview question, “So, you
saw it [the play] as high art?”, Hardie responded enthusiastically:
No, no, no, the people were real; the people are real and they have real lives. It’s sort
of just life turned up… it’s very open and sort of sensitive to everything. Like, if
you’re numb and you’re dull you might sit there and talk about having a cup of tea
but as you broaden the senses and awaken the various passions that run through that
play, there becomes so much more to say, and there becomes so much more that you
feel; and you have to express and things start bouncing off each other much more.
And so I would think [it is] in the same plane of life; not being a separate form of art
or something but just being turned up, yeah, being amplified. (Emphasis mine)
For Hardie, the play and its issues evoked an affective response from him as an actor, and he
conceived that it was his responsibility to “awaken the various passions that run through that
play” for his audience. Indeed, the links between the speaking of the text and his overt
enjoyment of (or pleasure in) performing were quite explicit. For instance, he recalled the line
“the end is coming” and linked this with the enjoyment of saying that line to a particular
member of an audience and evoking laughter or some such reaction. He also spoke about his
difficulty in finding role initially. In his early performances of The Perjured City, he
remembered feeling “a bit blocked for quite a while” and having “a lot of trouble feeling
comfortable in terms of having an identity”. He stated: “I felt a bit stuck and I wasn’t having
a good time, and when I finished the show I felt very wound up, and I was knotted up and not
feeling very released”. The change came, according to Hardie, when he “latched on to the
idea of the poet and the passion.” He said that this “helped me a lot and it got me out of my
head and having more fun”. Role, and its formation, appears to be intractably linked to his
affective experience, and the location of ‘role’ became important to his identity as a
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performer in the show. However, the question of the centrality of role in his experience is
more difficult to ascertain.
In terms of the category of the Somatic, one of the key issues in terms of Hardie’s body was
the length of the performance, at four hours. For Hardie, the speaking of the blank verse
made the show “incredibly technical and vocally athletic”. This meant, “looking after your
voice twenty-four hours a day during the run of the season”. He believed he had the potential
to be “distracted, tired and fatigued” and he saw this happening “due to exhaustion”. Given
the technical difficulties of pronouncing the blank verse, there was the following possibility:
“articulation gets slack and words stumble, then focus lags”. As such, there was, for Hardie,
an acute awareness of the state of his body in the space. To the question, “How aware were
you of your body during the performance: your heart rate, the tension in your muscles, even
your guts?” he responded this way:
Very. That’s kind of my domain; that’s where I work so very much whether it’s in
terms of characterisation…or elements of the character that you know slightly
different to your usual body, and so you’re aware of maintaining them. Things like,
definitely, heart rate; you feel that sometimes when it’s good adrenalin and
sometimes when it’s distracting nerves. You’re very aware of those things. Your
breath and movement of your insides, yeah very much, very much and in the
physical way we work; it’s very deliberate and very specific sort of the way. I would
be down on this tombstone and my hand would always be in the same shape, on the
same spot because that was something my body had learnt to do and was a way to
feel comfortable and you’re not worrying about where your hand goes because
you’ve got a specific plan for it, and then you can be more engaged in the moment
you perform.
The use of the words “different to your usual body” suggests that Hardie was at least partially
aware of the changes wrought to his body while performing, and he was also attentive during
performances to those changes that were effectual and those that were not. His comments
about the position of his hand as being “in the same shape, on the same spot” and having a
“specific plan for it” also implies a sense of intentional positioning of his body in space, as
part of the poetics of the space. He became a subject-body with an awareness of the authority
of his embodiment. Indeed, there appears to have been a deliberative somatic sensibility
operating in Hardie’s performative state during his rendering of Aeschylus.
In terms of the dimension of Temporal-reflexive, there were only a small number of apparent
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references to overt reflexivity during performances. This may have been due to the
perceptible physical and technical demands of performance and the seeming absorption of
Hardie in his role as Aeschylus. One quite overt temporal reflexive reference concerned the
creation of the Aeschylus character. Hardie’s temporal thoughts about creating Aeschylus
during early performances were that he “was always me getting ready to be that [the
character]” and “it was coming from me” or “me getting ready to let that [the character] out,
so it was mine”. His personal experience was of a scripted character that became more than
just a role but was connected to and emerged out of his own ego. At the same time, Hardie
was able to reflect on the phenomenon of this emergence quite analytically. In part, this may
have been occasioned by his actor training at the VCA, where research about self, and the
journey of self in the art of acting, is stressed in training. Hardie was also reflexive during
performance in regard to his connection to the audience. In early performances as Aeschylus,
he found himself aware of not feeling released in performance because of his sense of being
behind the fourth wall. Having permission to “break the fourth wall” (through licence to have
“free reign” given by the director) provided “a kind of solution” to his problem of
disconnection with his audiences.
Hardie also recalled reflexive engagement to do with a particular incident in one of the
shows. Large puppets were used to signify children who had died because of the French
AIDS infection. Puppeteers, dressed in black, who were seen by the audience, manipulated
the puppets. During this performance one of the “puppet’s feet fell off”, so Hardie, who was
on stage at the time, recalls, “trying to fix a problem.” He remembers thinking, “when is the
opportunity to get that foot and get it off stage.” What are immediately apparent are his overt
self-conscious strategies during performance, interspersed with his engagement in role. There
was movement between immersion and de-immersion, leading to attentiveness in regard to
the temporal state of the play. He stated: “I was on stage and suddenly time changes and you
get a perception of the next six scenes, and you are thinking: when is the opportunity to get
that foot and get it off stage”. Hardie, to use a construct of time that I developed in Section
2.3.2, moved from intra-dramatic to intra-performance time: he shifted inextricably from a
moment in the drama to a broader perspective on the well-being of the production. Indeed,
given his role and the extent of his time on stage, he conceived himself as “Mr Fix it.” There
was an incident in one show when an actor completely missed a cue. Hardie improvised and
had the presence of mind to add all the important bits of information that “the audience
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needed to know”. Essentially, Hardie became the keeper of the text, just as he was the keeper
of the cemetery in his role in the play.
Hardie’s Post-reflexion about his performance experiences constituted the majority of his
references to experience in performance and suggests the level of sedimentation that was
occurring out of his performances of The Perjured City. Early in the interview, in response to
queries about his background before coming into acting training at the VCA, he spoke about
performing as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He described feeling “stagnated” and
“not enjoying himself” in the rehearsal period such that “I was not good to watch”. This lack
of enjoyment of performing transferred to performance, with the implication that the
audience would not have enjoyed his role as Oberon. Hardie was, thus, linking actor
experience with audience reception. Later, almost in contradiction, he stated, “I don’t think I
have to have fun for them [the audience] to have fun.” What Hardie broaches here is the issue
of the relationship between internality and reception. He enters this debate by saying this: “I
don’t think an actor’s experience is any way an audience experience.” Yet, the disposition of
discourse through the whole interview appears to obviate this position. He stated, for
instance, in regard to The Perjured City: “I bring myself and the things that I love about the
play…I got inspired by the play and the passion that I felt about the issues in the play”.
Hardie makes a causal link between his passion and its reception by his audience.
Another reflection by Hardie about his experiences while performing in the production
focuses on the nature of the text itself. He described the text of The Perjured City this way:
“the text was very, very demanding; it was very rich text and what they would probably refer
to as high text”. In response to the question about whether he improvised or changed his
spoken lines, he responded with an emphatic “No!” He felt that it was his responsibility “to
honour the text, to honour the author’s intentions” despite “a lot of very tricky tenses and
stuff in that play”. He suggested that “the text was so much of the world of the play” and
when “you thought of that play, you thought of the text”. This respect (almost adoration) for
the text was juxtaposed to and in tension with his overt affective reaction to the potentialities
imbued in the themes of the play. Hardie positions himself as a guardian of the integrity of
the text; while, at the same time, he is an actor caught up in its themes. He stated
categorically: “I bring myself and things that I love about the play…I got inspired by the play
and the passion that I felt about the issues in the play and the souring wonder of humanity”.
There is a sense of giving to the play and the text that Hardie links with his selfhood, volition
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and core existential experience. In sum, agency and text collocated in a creative encounter of
formation.
Not only was the text of the play held in tension with passion for Hardie, but it was also
moderated by the scenography of the stage. In response to my question, “Describe your
experience of moving in the performance space”, Hardie describes the stage in the following
way:
That space was a very interesting space, it was a circle; it was a big white circle with
the ropes going up. It was very, this might sound weird, it was a very sensitive space.
On a standard proscenium arch you don’t have to be as specific as we had to be on
that circle like it was; it’s a fine balance, where we play a game called the plateau,
where you imagine that the circle has a point in the middle and its balanced. You go
and stand in the middle and then you stand somewhere else and someone has to
balance it, and [it] becomes this sort of dance. It’s very, very sensitive and if there is
an imbalance, you as an audience, you really feel it…you couldn’t just stand
anywhere, everywhere you stood had a meaning and so you had to very alert 360
degrees, and you were very aware if someone was moving, even if they were on the
other side of the stage or you weren’t looking at them.
Hardie thus depicts his experience of the stage as an active one, such that he had to be
“kinesthetically aware of the stage”. He implies a direct relationship between perceptual
awareness, experience and movement. This relationship appears to be an intentional one, and
it also seems to involve a homeostatic sense of balance and adjustment, not only within
Hardie but the entire ensemble. Words such as “balanced”, “imbalance” and a “sort of dance”
allude to this quest for equilibrium, which, according to Hardie, “involves you as an
audience.” Across the horizon of the space to the audience, and across the horizons of each
performer to others of the ensemble, Hardie suggests that there is strategic intentional
engagement with the world of the drama that is both corporeal and involves states of
conscious awareness. In response to the question, “What did the space become for you?”,
Hardie responded this way: “It was my cemetery, so I could walk amongst it knowing that,
sort of, this is my home, this is the place I tend to and care for”. The comment “my cemetery”
appears to imply that the space has become for Hardie a place of his imagination, one that is
transcendent to the physical space: it is place now because it is invested with belonging and
ownership.
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For the fifth category, that of the Metaphorical (or figurative), there was extensive use of
metaphorical language, more than for any other actor that I interviewed for this study. In
regard to his role as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he described his experience this
way: “I’m in a desert here.” By contrast, he personified and figuratively breathed life into the
character of Aeschylus in The Perjured City. He stated:
He was very fun sometimes but the main thing that latched on to me with him was
his deep passion for poetry and for humanity. Like, he loves to hear words moving
around in space and to wield vibration but he also feels very intensely; he’s very
compassionate and empathetic to the struggles of the outcast people. That’s why he
runs this cemetery that the outcasts come and live in and is the caretaker of the
cemetery. So he’s very passionate and that’s probably what I loved most about him.
Hardie appears to conceive Aeschylus as having an embodiment apart from the text and his
portrayal of him in performance. Aeschylus becomes a structure in consciousness or an effigy
that appears to have a presence for Hardie. His experiences of portraying the character of
Aeschylus were thus characterised by passionate engagement and fulfilment built on a rich
imagination. The use of imagination seems to link to his formation as an actor in the VCA
program. In apprehending what it is that he had experienced, Hardie employed the metaphor
of a bridge in the interview. He stated: “there is the bridge between what’s in the text and
who I am, and I fill that bridge with my own path”. In Section 2.4.3, I argued for the concept
of a ‘life frame’. Perhaps Hardie is suggesting that his life frame, his “own path” or desire to
find his place as an actor, became both the impetus for and the content of his Aeschylus.
Being in his final year as an acting student, it was important for him to establish his
credentials as an independent performer, since the play was apparently seen by a large crosssection of the theatre and arts community in Melbourne.
In regard to the performance space discussed above, Hardie uses two quite distinct
metaphors. First of all, he deploys a metaphor that infers an ethereal, Platonic realm in
saying, “The space was very eternal for me, a very timeless sort of space, in its
nondescriptness.” Perhaps Hardie alludes to a shifted temporality sponsored by the space,
with its interminable circular form; but he might also be grappling with transcendence in the
Kantian sense of the possibility of knowing beyond what is known. He also uses a more
concrete image of the space: “the red ropes around it [the space] evokes sort of blood and
arteries and things [and this] gave it a bit of life to me…the floor was meant to look like flesh
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drained of blood…it had that resonance for me”. This suggests that he felt like he was part of
a larger organic whole: a tacit sense that he was, corporeally, an element of a living being.
Hardie is evoking both ethereal and material images to suggest the immanent and
transcendent experiences of working in that space. Complex and multi-faceted experiences
are not easy to articulate, so metaphor becomes Hardie’s vehicle for representing complex
internal states.
The sixth category of analysis, the Liminal, was implicit in the interview. He mentioned his
“best experience at VCA” (the show was never named) in which he was “scared of it and
excited by it”: a nether region of experience between repulsion and attraction and between the
pre-performative and the performative. Such a threshold experience also revolved around his
finding of role in the early part of the season of performances of The Perjured City. He
stated: “I, Hardie, love talking about this play and could talk about this play forever, [but] it’s
not actually helping me make a character”. There were also liminal experiences in those
moments preceding performances on stage. This liminality may have significantly impacted
what was then experienced on stage. He described a “great atmosphere” backstage and in the
entry point zones just before coming onto stage. He stated: “half an hour before the
show…all sort of conversation stopped…we all put our makeup on in silence, and did that in
a quite meditative way. It became very focused backstage, very, very focused”. For Hardie,
these instances of transitional or threshold moments were part of potent changes in his
intentionality which resulted in him being, what Tanya Gerstle regards as, “highly tuned up”
for performance.
In terms of category seven, Co-presence and awareness of the other, there was significantly
less reference to this category in Hardie’s experience compared to other actors in this study.
While he showed some awareness that he was part of an ensemble, the tenor of the interview
transcript is distinctly about his particular experience with the character of Aeschylus.
Awareness of ‘other’ and of co-presence was present, however, in regard to the audience and
its alterity. In breaking across the fourth wall to his audience (as discussed above), Hardie felt
that he “was sharing with the audience”. He stated: “when I was directly contacting people
[the audience] and I could see and feel them hearing me, I felt much more released. I felt like
I had given the message”. Hardie’s experiences included both a sense of connection at a
visceral level with his audience (“see and feel them hearing me”) and an ethics of obligation
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in bringing “the message” of the play script to his audience. He embodied a teacherly being
for his audience (for the ‘other’) through shifting of role to include a position of narrator,
which encompassed a didactic quality.
The final category, Training and Sedimentation, was a core thread for Hardie in the
interview. He described himself as “the guy who was given the play at school assemblies”.
His early experiences led him to the belief that “the world of acting and theatre [was] a
legitimate choice and a consuming lifestyle”. He said: “theatre and drama is my passion”.
Hardie described his training at the VCA as “very rigorous” with “regular voice and skills
classes incorporated with your broader acting projects”. From the perspective of a student in
his final year, his evaluation of the program was that it had “coherency”, was “a very holistic
approach”, and “everything is quite synchronized”. He described the method of teaching at
VCA as “not a psychological thing” (which he ascribes to Stanislavski) but “in your guts, in
your breath and in your pulse”. The ultimate goal, according to Hardie, is that the actor
should “react really truthfully in the moment with your body”.
When asked about the influence of his training he stated: “I’m much happier that I’m here
than I would be anywhere else”. He characterized this training as “very exciting”, “very
enlivening” and “very scary.” Thus, there is an indomitable affective reaction to training from
Hardie, which appears to belie the stated physical and personal research basis to the VCA
program. The derivation for this affective response to his training may lie, at least in part, in
his relationship with particular individuals at the VCA, especially Tanya Gerstle. He also
nominated John Bolton, Head of Acting at the VCA in his first year, as an especially
passionate influence. Hardie depicted him as “incredibly full of life and joy” and suggested,
“he loves the art” and “immerses himself completely”. For Hardie, as for his mentor, John
Bolton, there appears to be an existential engagement with theatre and acting as art forms,
which operates at an affective level. He also mentioned Lindy Davies, an acting teacher and
then Head of the VCA. From her, he claims, he gained a sense of “compassion and empathy”
in relation to a character, an aspect that appears to have framed his approach to creating
Aeschylus in The Perjured City. Hardie declared that this engagement with a character “feeds
into your life.” Consequently, he links his work as an actor to his broader life frame. Finally,
there is probable influence from the director of the production, Kirsten von Bibra. Von Bibra
and Kagan (2007), in Real Time e-zine, describe the technique of working with actors,
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including Hardie, this way:
To bring this spectacle together, the players drew on the VCA’s three-tiered rehearsal
model and extensive research into the play’s backgrounds. The tiers commence with
“dropping in”, a process of visualising individual words and meanings and
attributing personal significance to each, word by word. This is followed by an
abstracting process—a physical and imaginative improvisation of the universe of the
play. The actors then have a very strong kinaesthetic and muscle memory recall
when they finally create the “blueprint”, the shape of each scene.
The sedimentation of Hardie thus appears to be principally centred in the imagination and in
developing visceral responsiveness.
In terms of technique gained from training, Hardie made a strong connection between text,
character, and situation, and being “playful and excited”. He stated, probably echoing his
teachers at the VCA: “Let your imagination and playfulness drive you”, which implies an
improvisational focus. Also, with his “technical exercises and character building repertoire—
a tool kit” in place, there is a “kind of effortless engagement” that is associated with passion
and enjoyment. One acting technique at VCA that appears to foster such engagement is what
Hardie terms, “dual track”, or externality with/from internality. He suggested that instead of
“blocking the scene” an actor “can’t say a line until you’re ready to say it”. It emerges in “the
internal landscape and finding different impulses inside your body to say the lines and to find
the lines”. This technique is one strongly advocated by Gerstle, as discussed above. In sum,
there appears to be, for Hardie, a potent relationship between imagination, bodily impulses,
technical skills, affective engagement and existential goals sponsored, at least in part, by his
training program at the VCA. “Filters” and expectations in terms of technical delivery and
character formation are thus in “sync” with internal states. There is also a link between this
training emphasis and self-awareness of technique in performance.
In Illustration 5.2 below, I have schematized a phenomenology of Hardie’s experiences while
performing in The Perjured City, by way of a conclusion. It appears that the experiences
discussed above rest on a foundation of Hardie’s training at the VCA (his “tool kit” as he
termed it). Such references to training were evident in many of his recollections about
performance and often expressed in terms of the pedagogy of Tanya Gerstle.
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Illustration 5.2
A phenomenology of Hardie’s experiences of performing
For instance, Hardie noted the complexity of performing Cixous’s text, and he spoke of
embracing this arduousness through a fundamental focus on technique sponsored from his
training. As shown above, his focus on the sedimenting effect of his training, and its impact
on his experiences while performing, is quite explicit in the interview text. Hardie’s training
appears to shape his use and conceptualization of the performance space, foster his
development of role (with his imaginative reconstruction of the character of Aeschylus) and
promote his passionate and emphatic engagement with the text of the play, despite Gerstle’s
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reservations about the place of emotion in acting practice. In sum, Hardie’s prime
sedimentation as an actor appears to have come from his teachers at VCA. Sedimentation
may also be associated with a passion for and an enjoyment of theatre that emerged from
childhood. In listening to him articulate his performance stories, in watching him perform,
and in reading the transcript of the interview, there is a sense of liberation that explicitly
emerged in his discourse about his practice.
In terms of his encounter with the space, there are two levels of Hardie’s experience
suggested in the diagram. First, there is an awareness of the space in terms of balance:
through the collocation of actors’ bodies and the dynamics of the space. Hardie was able to
sense (or be aware of) disjunctures of equilibrium in the space and adjust accordingly. This
acuity includes both perceptual and somatic elements because of the extensive movement
through the space that I observed in a performance of The Perjured City. Secondly, the space
became a place of belonging for Hardie, over which he felt he had guardianship, even
territorialism. He became the keeper of the graveyard with responsibility for maintaining the
integrity of the place. This appears to have been driven, for Hardie, by his overt passion for
Cixous’ play and by his possession of the space, as the keeper of the graveyard, through a
deliberative intentionality that was obvious to the audience. Thus, his embodiment as an actor
was substantially located in both the materiality of the space and the imaginative frontier of
the place (the graveyard of the dead).
Role and the finding of role became critical to Hardie’s self-reception of his work. He claims
that he found this role by its amendment in regard to the fourth wall and the audience, who
became for him the substantial ‘other’. By crossing this horizon and locating himself intersubjectively with the audience, he declares that he attained consummation as a performer.
With this shift in the framing of his role, there also appears to be a re-deployment of the
boundaries of temporality. As Aeschylus, he existed in the temporality of the play’s dramatic
structure, but as narrator he was able to move into a more, let us say, eternal realm,
objectifying himself outside the play and making his role more transcendent. Hardie’s tryst
with role was also actuated in regard to the text of Cixous’s play. The blank verse, and the
demands of its delivery on stage in a four-hour production, acted as a constraint on his
enjoyment of performing. At the same time, and existing in dialectic to this constraint, is the
potential for enhancement of role fostered by his reverential attitude to the play and its social
concerns such that his stance as performer became close to polemic. One should not think,
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however, that the performance of the play was essentially logocentric. Indeed, there appears
to be a complex relationship between Cixious’ text, the work of the performer and the set as a
performative environment. As such, The Perjured City is both a conventional dramatic work,
but with postdramatic elements. The complex collision of elements became a creative
concrescence in the experience of Hardie.
Finally, Hardie’s experiences while performing demonstrate active and energetic engagement
between internality and externality. His passion for acting, love of theatre and overwhelming
affirmation of the play formed a deep (dare one say, primordial) existential affective core in
his performances as Aeschylus. This existential core made his experience on stage and his
work with Cixous’ play enervating for him and engaging for his audiences. This positive
tenor was evident throughout interview with him. Yet, paradoxically, Hardie, and his teacher
(Gerstle), want to disavow the importance of an affective substrate within the technical
practice of acting.
Section 5.4
Lai
On September 26, 2009, I attended an abridged performance of Anton Chekhov’s The Three
Sisters (See Chekhov & Ehre, 1992) in the drama theatre at The University of Exeter, in the
UK. Jessica Beck, a PhD student and an emerging director in the London theatre scene,
directed the play. The performance was essentially a demonstration or research piece (part of
Beck’s research work), with the audience consisting of academics, students and the families
of participants. One of the actors in the cast was SimSim Lai, a young woman in the second
year of a masters program in theatre and performance at the University of Exeter. Lai came to
the UK from Hong Kong with the aim of developing her acting skills and knowledge of
theatre practice. I interviewed her on September 30, 2009, following my observation of a
series of workshops by Phillip Zarrilli in which she participated. She played the character of
Irena, the youngest of the three sisters, a fiercely independent and self-willed young woman
who desires to leave dreary provincialism for Moscow.
Zarrilli’s training sessions and Lai’s work on The Three Sisters were, in my view,
considerably inter-linked; and Lai had, evidently, attended an extensive number of Zarrilli’s
workshops during her time at Exeter and achieved an advanced status. She was being used,
with a small number of others, to demonstrate technique to beginners in her class. That
Zarrilli’s approach and method influenced Lai’s experiences while performing is strongly
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evinced in my interview with her and shown in the analysis that follows. My own research
and publication about Zarrilli, in regard to his pre-performative psychophysical exercises, and
his pedagogical approach, focuses on the bridge or passage between interiority and exteriority
and the dual consciousness that he wishes to foster as a preparatory ground for performance
(Creely, 2010). My first encounter with this notion was in Zarrilli’s seminal 2004 article,
Toward a Phenomenological Model of the Actor’s Embodied Modes of Experience (Zarrilli,
2004). I recall reading this article with a sense of its revelatory view of the interiority of an
actor in juxtaposition with the exteriority of expression. In my own research, developing a
phenomenology of interiority is a key focus, so Zarrilli’s published work is of particular
interest and provides a touchstone for my own thinking about experience and acting
performance. In this article, Zarrilli proposes an emerging philosophy of acting that comes
out of praxis and contemporary application of a set of Asian performance traditions that he
personally encountered during his years in Kerala, India.
Having provided some context about Lai and theatrical work in which she performed, I now
move onto the analysis of her experiences while performing. In regard to category one,
Affective experience, Lai clearly suggested that she felt potent emotions in her role as Irina
Prozorova. She stated, for instance, in regard to her reaction to Masha, her sister in Chekov’s
play: “When I work with Masha…sometimes it’s even hatred, even on my sister, at the same
time pity”91. However, she said that she could not easily distinguish her feelings-as-actor
from her feelings-as-character:
I think it’s through the rehearsals, the feelings coming up. I think it’s from me, but
later on when I keep rehearsing these feelings [it] just comes in and [is] expressed
through my body and face. I’m still not able to distinguish feelings from character
and feelings from actor, I’m sorry I’m not an experienced actor. I find it very difficult
to distinguish because the character works through me, then inevitably I have my
own understanding and my own feelings towards certain things but through
rehearsals I explore and I find something new…which is probably from the character
and not from me, the feelings.
Lai is evoking the idea that a character has a discrete life within her, almost inhabiting her,
and she (as actor) does not experience affectively—it is the character. However, there is an
implied reticence to acknowledge a feeling state as an actor; indeed there appears to be a state
91
Source material quoted from my interview with Lai in this section is transcribed uncorrected, as it was said,
reflecting Lai’s Chinese linguistic patterns of spoken English.
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of ambivalence about affective experience92. It is possible that the filters implicit in Zarrilli’s
training may obviate against such acknowledgement.
Category two, Somatic, includes perceptual and bodily states. Lai referred to one such state
when she said:
It comes up automatically… the text that I had, the excerpts that I memorized; text
comes up, like by itself, just automatically. But I think on this level I’m open and
trying to relate to everything; therefore the character inside me wants to say
something.
This spontaneous sense of coming up (no doubt fostered in habituation), which Lai designates
as “automatically”, is a sedimented memory state that emerges in consciousness, in
awareness, while performing and affects her perception of text and the embodiment of
character. Indeed, Lai links the emergence of text in consciousness with the sense of her
metaphorical possession by the character, encapsulated in the words, “the character inside me
wants to say something.” There is, thus, a complex concrescence of character and self in the
experience of Lai. For her the character of Irina became so formed in her imagination that it
had a presence and was transformational.
The other bodily state or embodied condition discussed by Lai in her interview concerned her
gender and its connection with her body size. She stated, in reference to the way others
perceive her body:
As a female…my size is small. I’m very often…put in those vulnerable situations,
for example…you saw, I was being hold and escaped.... Actually in the other project
I did a very similar thing but with a very masculine guy pick me up and swing me
and then like kind of acrobatic thing and I feel that, I feel a bit strange, when I
analyze the whole thing as a female. But my size, and a female as well, limit some of
the maybe the possibility I don’t know to explore the movement and character; for
example…the exercise that I have someone trapping me, why can I do the opposite: I
grab the guy-why not and why can’t I try it this way…it limits sometimes I would
say. I’m really trying hard to relate everything in the exercise to my own background
and then somehow the director already has some preconception when he or she see
me like this and they will come up with some exercises that may fit…because of my
size. It limits my exploration as well me as female exploring this character of the
92
Jessica Beck, her director for The Three Sisters, appears to be significantly influenced by Alba Emoting as
one directorial approach to working with actors (Beck, 2010). Lai’s ambivalence may be due, in part, to the
dissonance of approaches between Beck and her teachers at the University of Exeter, though she did not
specifically mention Alba Emoting in my interview with her.
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other possibilities or even to break through this kind of stereotypical interpretation of
the character….
Lai appears to be acutely aware in performance of the way both her gender and her body size
have constructed what she describes as a “kind of stereotypical interpretation of the
character”, and this operates as “some preconception when he or she [the director] see me
like this”. Lai noted that this “limits my exploration”, so that the ascribing of her body as
vulnerable female appears to her to be a powerful constraint on possibilities within
performance and seems to affect her experience. In the end, for Lai, this amounts to a
perceived limitation of her agency.
For the category of Temporal-reflexive, Lai’s thoughts during performance were often
imagistic. For instance, she recalled a scene in which she worked with the actor playing
Baron Tuzenbach. Lai’s thoughts during the scene were these: “I have one image of seeing
the Baron, have a gun in his mouth; I put the gun in his mouth but keep putting cupcakes in
his mouth as well”. These images obviously functioned as a device for developing the
complexity of the feeling and the relationship between her character, Irina, and the Baron. In
another place, echoing the terminology of her teacher, Zarrilli, she said,
I am aware and I know that this is so connected to what the character feels when she
was with the Baron…but me as an actor [my goal] is to explore what she feels and
for me is very active, like keeping certain emotions coming up, images coming up or
text coming up.
Lai thus appears to be in an active volitional state, with strong agency, during performance, a
state in which she is alert and lively in shaping a character for her audience.
In terms of the category of Post-reflexive, it has to be stated that Lai’s discourse in the
interview was more about the immediacy of experience while performing rather than postperformance interpretations. However, there was one question asked that seems to have
evoked a particularly incisive post-reflexive response. To the question, “Were there moments
when you felt vulnerable?” Lai responded this way:
Vulnerable? As an actor, no. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling vulnerable because my
understanding of this English word is very negative, is meek and is not active. But
for me as an actor, for example, when you watch the film [of her performance],
there’s one position when the Baron holding me and I’m escaping. It looks very
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weak, the position, the whole thing, me as a character, or actor, anyway you see a
person whose being tortured by someone and she’s weak. But for me, as an
actor…my task is to escape but at the same time responding to my partner, but also
with the understanding of the character the background: her suffering as well from
the relationship with the Baron. Actually I’m very active in connecting those
relationships while I was doing it.
There appear to be two aspects that underscore the reflexivity of Lai about vulnerability.
First, she equates vulnerability with passivity, which seems for her to run counter to both her
training (being open, explorative and connected) and her existential concern about being
positioned as passive (discussed above). It is also possible that this attitude to being “meek”
has cultural specificity in the gender positions she has experienced within her Chinese
culture. Indeed, her use of the words “I’m very active” places particular emphasis on her wish
for insurgent agency as an actor. Second, she demonstrates an awareness of how internal
states are translated to externality. Her discussion about the internality of creating character
moves to consideration of appearance and representation. In saying, “It looks very weak”, she
demonstrates her awareness of the contrast between her internal desire for active agency and
its representation in externality. Later in the interview she said, about this moment with the
Baron, “Yeah, but it looks vulnerable.” This shows her facility to signify her body in an
almost detached, critical sense. Zarrilli’s psychophysical training appears influential in
developing her conscious awarenesses as an actor.
The category of the Metaphorical concerns the use of imagery, metaphor and figures of
speech in discourse about experience. It is intended to represent a post-performance
sedimented state of interpretation and the re-visiting of experience that is expressed in
imagistic language. For other actors interviewed in for this study, it was a means of
ascertaining the extent of sedimentation and the level of interpretation following
performance. However, in the case of Lai, this category seems to have been intensely present
as a functional thread in the temporality of her experiences while performing in The Three
Sisters. Indeed, she intimated that metaphor activates her through a fluid connection between
internal states and external expression. She said, linking her comments to her training:
Phillip [Zarrilli] talks about internalizing everything, everything is inside. You
internalize but at the same time it activates every part of your body. We internalize
and let it be there [in the body] I would say. I found the connection very strong. We
did Buto, we did image work; image to me is so strong.
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Lai, following her psychophysical training, appears to have deployed visualisations, images,
and metaphor within her internality in order to activate and energise her body. In stating that
“image to me is so strong”, she suggests an active inner life built on purposeful and directed
use of imagination. However, for Lai, metaphor and image are not simply about language;
they are embodied in conscious thought and somatic action.
For the category of the Liminal, there seem to be two ambiguities or liminalities in the
experience of Lai. Firstly, there is a cultural liminality. She stated:
When I started to do acting, or be in theatre, our culture, I don’t know but just my
experience, maybe my experience plus my personality, is living in the Chinese
culture. I’m not that open, I mean, I think we’re aware, we are sensitive, we are
calm, but we’re not so expressive or we’re not expressing sometimes.
It is possible that Lai considers herself caught in that liminal territory between being Chinese
and fulfilling expectations that come from a Western sensibility. Interestingly, she suggested
that her Chinese heritage prepares the ground for her internality but not her externality. A
second possible liminality in her experience has to do with the embodiment of character, in
this case, Irina. On the one hand, she said, “I’m working towards a goal, to be able to embody
a character” and she wants to “stay open as an actor, to be available so that the audience can
see this character”. On the other hand, she recalled, “Sometimes I find it really hard and when
people ask me is it the character’s feeling or your feelings, you have to distinguish. I don’t
know. I’m sorry.” This is obviously a powerful issue of process in her experience. There is a
sense in which she conceives that she should be the empty vessel to contain the character, but
there is also her own felt states and presence as an actor that appears (to her) to complicate
this availability. Lai thus appears to function in the border territory of consciousness between
expressing a character and expressing her self.
For the category of Co-presence and a sense of the other, there was relatively little reference,
except for a response to the question, “What were your awarenesses of others in the space?”
She stated:
I’m much highly aware of everyone, I mean not everyone, that is so good, but
highly aware of the people and very sensitive to what they are doing, their action, or
look or sound or gesture and aware of the distance as well. But [un]fortunately in
the performance or with text with traditional classical play, the text work, I’m much
weaker in my awareness to my partner. That’s what I have to learn to improve
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because when I have the text work I would very much bound by the lines and the
environment, the set and this kind of limitation that I have.
Lai claims both that she is “highly aware of everyone” and at the same time “much weaker in
my awareness to my partner”. This ambivalence seems to be indicative of Lai’s tentative
emergence as an actor and thus her understandable self-focus on technique and being
expressive, to the possible exclusion of a more co-corporeal sensibility.
Her focus on
technique and issues with her technique is shown in words such as “I’m much weaker”, “I
have to learn to improve” and “this kind of limitation that I have”. Lai positions her work and
experience as an actor as being in formation, and a trying-out or experimentation. There is
another way of conceiving her expression of otherness, however. Lai’s sense of alterity may
be constituted in the character of Irina, who seems to have an imaginative presence for Lai;
quite ironic, given that the character as written is early twentieth century Russian. There
appears to be an ethics of responsibility to fully and rightly portray the character. Curiously,
though, there was no mention of audience or relationship to audience, possibly indicating the
level of temporal absorption in her own internal processes.
Given this emphasis on training and finding her place as an actor in the performance work
and experiences of Lai, it is to be expected that the primary essence of the interview was
Sedimentation and Training. To my question concerning the influences that have shaped her,
she notes that they are Michael Chekhov, Jerzy Grotowski and Phillip Zarrilli (as discussed
above). All three practitioners belong to different eras, with different emphases in training,
but each, arguably, shares a penchant for psychophysical training. From Chekhov she claims
to have garnered the idea of imagination and linking this to the use of her body. From
Grotowski she is inspired by his idea that “we approach acting with the whole life of an
actor”. And about Zarrilli she stated: “On a technical level Phillip’s really helped me”. Lai
said that she came to Exeter because she wanted “training, real training”, perhaps indicating
the cultural expectation she had in coming to the UK. She hoped that the training would assist
“to get rid of those thinking or stereotype things that happen in our mind”. The emphasis at
Exeter that “everything starts with the body” and “physical training” seems to have appealed
to Lai. She said: “I can almost see myself moving with a strict spine”. This is a technique
strongly emphasized in Zarrilli’s training. But she also was concerned in the interview with
“what an actor should be”. The notion of stripping back, or denuding, or emptying in order to
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restore right method appears to be a pivotal concept for Lai. Indeed, she stated:
I don’t know if it is feeling, but I don’t think it is feelings, but when we do the
training there are moments that we drop in and you feel that you are so sensitive to
everything around you…most of the time when I do the training, I will focus on the
technique, very much like the posture, like it’s almost sensing yourself…am I in the
correct position, adjusted…as if there are two person I am looking at myself inside
and my body. And also when I do the breathing, particularly open breathing in Tai
Chi… I sit in my body and really not to think of anything, to be empty. It’s quite
negative, but to be empty into the blank and to be really grounded, like sit in your
body and be grounded and your feet on the ground.
For Lai, the training evokes a particular heightened embodied state of “sitting in your body”
but also seems to contain the notion of a dual consciousness in what she describes as “looking
at myself inside and my body”. Later she stated: “I think the whole training is for us to be
able to be present for what you are doing”. This is almost a consciousness without content,
without thinking. The issue for Lai, in her performance of Irina, is the self-aware struggle
between filling the mind and imagination (a particularly Chekhov technique) and emptying it.
Her anxiety (and even self-deprecation) about evoking appropriate mental and embodied
states is palpable in the interview. However, it seems to me that her ability, possibly derived
from training, to create this dual consciousness and emptying, did allow an imagistic and
emotional (possibly from Alba Emoting) filling that supported effective performance as Irina.
Illustration 5.3 below depicts what appears to me to be the phenomenological structures of
Lai’s experience of performing. In the diagram, the phenomenon of her sedimentation and
training forms a primary ground for experience, and there is no doubt that her training was a
significant factor in how she experienced performing in The Three Sisters. This is even more
plausible since the performance, as indicated in the introduction, was part of her training
program. Her training, under Zarrilli and others at the University of Exeter, seems to have
emphasized awareness of both body and processes in consciousness, openness and
availability, and the use of visualizations and imagination. With these ‘filters’ of expectation,
Lai constructed a persona—Lai-as-actor—one about which she was self-deprecating. She
appears to have measured herself against these performative expectations. As such, even
while performing, there was a ‘doubleness’: a dual consciousness containing her internality
with prehension of her externality—how she looks to an observer. The totality of this selffocus and self-exploration appears to be so potent in her consciousness during performance
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that there was little mention of other actors, the space and the larger context of her
performance. The usual markers of temporality in experiences of performing seem to be
absent in her discourse about experience, though there is the possibility of cultural constraints
that may have militated against such discourse.
In creating the character of Irina, her goal was to be open, connected and explorative in order
to create an authentic character. However, the character thus created took on, for Lai, a
presence in her imagination, such that it was, metaphorically, inhabiting or possessing her.
Consequently, in the diagram, Lai’s experience is represented as being layered with
ambiguities and liminalities about whether affective or felt states in her experience belonged
to her or to her character. I use the term placement in this regard because the liminality
revolves around where felt states are placed or orientated in her consciousness.
Of course, all embodied states belong to an actor. An actor is situated, embodied and
intentional in the world, and the voice of the character emerges from an actor’s skills and
imagination, not necessarily from the text. But, for Lai, it appeared to feel like the character
had presence and that alterity was embodied in Irina, and this relation to the character created
obligation.
Lai identified with great clarity the constraints on her experience. Her ethnicity, from a Hong
Kong Chinese family, is linked to her supposed limited ability to be expressive. Lai claims
that in her culture people are generally not overtly expressive. There may also be cultural
correspondence to notions of gender and how, according to Lai, her small body as a Chinese
woman affected how she was employed in rehearsals and then performance in the cultural
setting of the UK. She felt that a type of body and a set of behaviours had been ascribed for
her.
There is feminist social research, such as that of Cheung (1997), which points to the
intransigent disposition of Hong Kong society in regard to the status and place of women.
Perhaps this sensitized Lai to how others perceived her and within her life frame there was a
need to seek opportunities for self-development afforded by coming to the UK.
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Illustration 5.3
A phenomenology of the experiences of Lai
That these constraints operated and were present in her experience in performing Irina I have
little doubt. That they not only constrained but also enhanced certain experiences, such as her
indomitable search for creative agency, is possible.
Chapter Six
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Analysing Data: Actors post-training
Section 6.1
Introduction
In this chapter the focus is on actors who are in the post-training phase of their acting careers
and who have had considerable acting experience. First is Peter Houghton, who trained and
worked as an actor in Sydney but now predominately practices his acting and writing in
Melbourne, where he performed his one-man show, The Pitch, in 2007. Then I introduce
Andrew Williams, a community theatre actor, not formally trained, but with a significant
performance history in lead roles in community theatre. He performed as Scrooge in the 2007
production of Scrooge, CEO at Hastings in Victoria, Australia. The third case study is that of
Katherine Tonkin and Phillip McInnes, who perform as professional actors in Melbourne but
were trained in Western Australia. They were interviewed in regard to their work on the
2007 production of OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament, performed at the Malthouse
Theatre in Melbourne.
References to and analysis of the training method of specific actor educators, as it influenced
the experiences of performing for actors in training programs, was highlighted in Chapter
Five, and included material from interviews with each actor’s teacher. For actor participants
in the post-training phase considered in this chapter, however, no such privileging of specific
actor educators is undertaken. As such, I did not interview the actor educators of this group of
participants. The reason for this is that the presence of that educator in experience has
inevitably receded into memory and is denuded of its immediacy, making connection to
specific experiences of performing more problematic. This is not to say that such training
experiences lose importance. Rather, within interviews, the extent of ongoing sedimenting
effects attributed to a particular person or educator is evaluated within the confines of what
each actor participant actually offers from memory. One reason for structuring the research in
this fashion is to test the extent to which the initial training program of an actor has shaped
the life history of a particular actor after the direct influence of that training on the actor has
expired. The key question is this: what of training has lasted in practice and how are
references to training linked to current experiences of performing?
Section 6.2
Houghton
Peter Houghton was, at the time of conducting my interview with him, an emerging, midcareer, professional actor who had spent years since his initial training in Sydney finding
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acting work wherever he could find it, be it in television drama, advertising or theatre.
Houghton’s life frame as an actor could be characterized this way: that he had made a steady
living out of acting with some success, having won a Green Room award93 and performed in
original works at the Melbourne Theatre Company and at the Malthouse. I encountered
Houghton in a small, claustrophobic room at North Melbourne Town Hall, a well-know arts
precinct. In this bare space, alone with his Apple laptop computer, Houghton was still
writing and tinkering with The Pitch, even after its Melbourne season had finished. Being the
writer and sole performer of this show, he was at that time striving to prepare the show for its
unveiling at the Edinburgh Festival. Exhaustion was written across his face, and he spoke
rapidly, in a quiet tone, one that belied the animation that characterised his stage show.
As part of this research, I went to see Houghton’s one-man show at the Malthouse in
Melbourne on the evening of April 28, 2007, having read reviews and spoken to those who
had seen it. For instance, Martin Ball, in his review in The Age (Ball, 2007), wrote that
Houghton’s work “is stuffed full of running gags, one-liners, and great physical comedy.
Houghton's performance is a tour de force of acting technique”. The show was part of the
2007 Melbourne Comedy Festival. The overriding impression was that The Pitch was a most
innovative and captivating show. To a full house, on the final performance in Melbourne,
after a two-week season, Houghton brought his unique blend of monologue, stand-up,
imitation, slap-stick, critique, and biting satire to an appreciative audience who appeared to
be with him the whole way, all 70 minutes of intense, verbal but highly physicalised theatre.
As exhausting as it was for the audience, it must have been more so for the actor, whose own
body (through voice, percussion, physical presence and outrageous gesticulations) created the
whole of what seemed a turbulent atmosphere on stage. There was little in the way of
technology used: simple lighting and a set composed of a desk (and chair), a wardrobe filled
with clothes, stylised windows and a picture which was like an effigy of a famous Hollywood
actress. The stage seemed inert and a playground for an actor who brought a mountain of
energy to bear on this space. He transformed the space and the objects in this space into the
world of film, including an improvised bow-and-arrow that was used to penetrate the effigy.
Instead of seeing a film we were caused to construct it in our mind’s eye, through the
mediation of the actor.
93
The Green Room Awards are a comprehensive set of awards given for excellence in theatre, musical theatre,
opera, cabaret and dance in Melbourne. See details of the awards at http://www.greenroom.org.au/content/.
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The play (or monologue or stand-up comic routine) is a depiction of a rehearsal by a wouldbe writer for a pitch he would give to some producers about a concept for a new film. He
desperately wanted funding, funding that would lead to acclaim, satirically positioned by an
hilarious, but ultimately dark, mock Academy Award ceremony where the writer gets the
gong for the best screenplay. The one-man play unpacked the content of the new film,
deconstructed it and pulled it apart with such abandon, wit and extravagant acting-out that the
audience was taken on a roller coaster ride of multiple plots, a myriad of characters and
cornucopia of genres and styles. The actor moved from his character as a try-hard actor and
writer into the imaginary world of the film and its characters and then out again to his social
world. This latter world was replete with disappointments and lack of success, including his
personal relationship with his girlfriend. The audience was caused to work hard in keeping up
with this movement from the personal world of the writer to the imaginary and stylised world
of the film, with the actor adeptly moving through clever imitation of a range of A-list
Hollywood actors to create the landscape of a film that epitomised every clichéd, formulaic
film idea ever written. While predominately humorous and satirical, there was also a
profoundly sad note that was heard every so often, subtly, beneath the surface. In the broadest
sense, the play is a critique of the fallacious nature of much popular culture and the
hollowness of what is delivered in the mainstream.
The play was constructed in two parts. The first half, taking most of the 70 minutes, depicted
the writer in his apartment, thumbing through his screenplay as a narrative device, editing on
the run and bringing his imagination about the film to life. The precisely constructed
narrative that is used to dissect the film, together with copious cinematic sound effects
created by the actor himself, was juxtaposed with the parodic embodiment on stage of a set of
stereotypical Hollywood characters (that would supposedly be invited to be in his film). The
presentation was constructed around the form of a screenplay, including the use of titling
delivered via sound effects that more than once created laughter in the audience. The second
half began with a radical set change, facilitated via two-sided stage props and completed by
the actor himself. This half was much shorter and more sombre in mood, as the writer
presented his material to seemingly distant producers, who seemed to be political positions in
the landscape of arts funding and popular culture rather than real people. There was, for
example, the token feminist who needs to be satisfied that the film is politically correct
enough to get the nod. At the end, like Don Quixote, the writer realises his quest is futile and
fatally flawed because his ideas have fallen into the formulaic and the predictable.
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The extravagant complexity of the performance, and its mastery of a range of characters,
forms and discourses, is its most compelling quality. One has to wonder how the actor
managed to move among his characters (including their accents, British, Australian and
American) and through his plot with such fluency, all without losing a beat. The complexity
was heightened by the changes in mood and pace, from high-energy battle scenes, staged like
a James Bond film, to the reflection of the character on his social life and his struggles to find
love. Throughout, the tight and intricate writing, with its shifts in mood and form, drove the
play and never gave the audience a moment of rest or space for contemplation.
It is hard to be the observer in a play that asks you to be involved and pleads with you to
suspend reality and enter into the imaginative world that the actor creates. At no stage did the
actor address the audience; he doesn’t need to because the internal world of his imagination is
enough—it is a soliloquy of a sort, with a compulsive quality that becomes like an addictive
drug. The audience is driven to the inevitable end, one that we can see all along, but which,
nevertheless, we desperately want to live through. We wake up from the dream (or trip) at the
close of the play exhausted but ever so satisfied, willing to chat and to express what this play
created in us and made us think about. The rich internal world of the writer has spewed out to
engulf us and never let us go. Yet, at the same time, there is a Brechtian sense in that the play
also causes us to think, to critique, to question and re-imagine, for Houghton’s work also
functions as socio-cultural critique.
As observer, I did notice a number of significant qualities in Houghton’s acting and his work
as a performer on stage. Such observations suggest questions about the nature of his
experiences and technique as a performer. First of all, there was a consistent stage presence
from the actor, who appeared to invest the stage with a living and dynamic personality,
almost verging on possession of the space. What was felt and seen was apparently a real and
tangible ownership of the stage, signified through the actor’s purposeful body in the
performance space. The actor genuinely appeared to be at home and so he was full of
playfulness and ease on stage. The space became his place, so he used it fully and
dimensionally. The stage became, in effect, his semiotic playground, with many objects used
transformationally or positioned to establish the imaginative moment. Moreover, there was
always a sense that despite the array of characterisations presented, the dominant central
character of Walter, the writer, was omnipresent. The overriding questions are these: How did
the actor sustain the presence that I caught as observer? And, what awareness of his own
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presence on the stage did the actor have?
Second, the most palpable observation was the range of the actor, in terms of performance
styles and the genres of the writing presented to the audience. Throughout the 70 minutes, the
stage was dressed with mimicry, parody, monologue and soliloquy, pantomime, physical
theatre and slapstick, as well as political satire and cultural critique. In fact it is difficult to
position the work in a particular theatre tradition or performance modality. Perhaps Barry
Humphrey’s work is the closest in disposition, although not with the same range or fluidity of
change. Undergirding all this was the actor as storyteller. There was always the sense that this
was the narrative of a character, albeit in the guise of richly varied performance material.
What I would like to know, however, is at what points in the performance did the actor feel
and live a character and at what points did the characters merely become caricatures, hollow
and without dimension?
Third, there seemed to me, textually, to be significant shifts of mood, characterisation, genre
and register throughout the performance. The changes of register are most significant. There
appears to me to be a deliberative and sensitive (though at times deliberately insensitive)
framing of the language to suit the social setting of the range of characters offered. These
changes were often brisk, like the editing cuts from an action film, and sometimes more
transitional and gradual. How did the actor cope with this rapid, episodic approach to the
work? And, what strategies did he use, given this overt use of brisk change, to maintain focus
on the ‘bigger picture’ and on the central character of the writer?
Fourth, being also the writer, there may well have been issues and difficulties with the
transition from the written text to the performance text. Indeed, I wonder how the writer
adapted the written text to the stage and to what extent improvisation played a role in the
construction of the performance text. It would be interesting to assess the extent to which it is
an advantage or a disadvantage to be both writer and performer.
Finally, the embodied and visceral experiences of Houghton were partially manifested to an
observer throughout the performance of The Pitch. His body became both an object to
manipulate in space and a flexible body used to create character (or characters). By this I
mean that the actor treated his body as a prop to be transformed semiotically, and he
deployed his body to make multiple characters through a series of congruous transformations.
Houghton’s body, as much as his spoken words, was critical to the meaning that was sensed
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by his audiences. Houghton became, to use Merleau-Ponty’s term, a subject-body
encountering the world intentionally to establish his place (or his schema) in that world.
Indeed, there was a significant tension between the logos and the soma. This evident tension
appeared to work to create the habitation of the stage. In the paradox of a wordy play with a
highly physicalised stage presence, there evolved a distinctive set of embodiments with
provocative ideas that evoked a challenging experience for the audience. We, as audience,
were caught between the sense of the physical being (as in dance) and the challenge of the
ideas as presented in the dense and confronting script.
In coming to understand the experiences of Houghton in The Pitch, I want to examine first
the content of these experiences. The interview with Houghton, as represented in a transcript,
was an eclectic document of nearly 13,000 words. As well as reflections on his experiences,
there were also extensive sections that focused on his opinions about acting, the acting
industry and his life goals that were not directly related to the immediate experiences of
performing in The Pitch (though, undoubtedly, they form important exigencies to such
experiences). In addition to the extensive interview transcript, Houghton also wrote quite a
detailed journal that chronicled his experiences. Excerpts from this journal are used sparingly
throughout this analysis to complement the interview data.
The ontological category of Affective constituted a moderate response from Houghton. That
there were not more references to felt or affective experiences was surprising, given the
intensity of how he spoke about a show that he regarded as distinctly and idiosyncratically
his. He stated: “actually, no one else can actually perform it ‘cause it’s so based on your [my]
particular skill set...based in your own physical and emotional patterns in a way”. References
to felt states tended to be situated in regard to his own ability as an actor to explicate his
ideas, which he regarded as having a “degree of difficulty quite high in theatre”. Of his
performances he said that for a couple of shows he “fell off the horse a bit” and that he was
“getting into a sort of negative mindset”. In considering why two of his shows were, in his
opinion, not up to this elevated standard that he set himself he stated: “I felt a bit that it was
my fault and that’s just a belief thing”. This suggests that, for Houghton, The Pitch was a
theatrical work that was seminal for his career and also reflected an especially personal
project (as writer and actor) whose success or failure was felt acutely. Commenting about his
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feelings after one performance, following his failure to get a Barry Award94 nomination, he
stated: “So that night I just went in, and after that I felt I was a bad actor and the show wasn’t
any good”. This value judgement of his original work reflects how, for this actor, reception in
a broader artistic community impacts significantly at an affective level, both within the
temporality of a show and in the post-season period. He commented that “all this stupid sort
of doubt...came in”.
The personal and felt nature of this project is clear in Houghton’s discussion of the space and
venue, the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse. He described the room as “a more formal sort of
venue” and a “much more in the front kind of venue”, implying that he had to be more
overtly aware of direct contact with an audience. The venue and the space of the Beckett
inexorably affected ways that Houghton regarded his own performance and the reception of
such performances. Because of this perceived formality, he said that he “felt a bit naked…
walking around up there and doing my own writing”. This self-awareness and feeling of
vulnerability were not only about his own persona as performer and writer but also about the
content of the show itself. There was a constant sense of “being watched” where even the
“smallest thing becomes magnified.” He was aware, especially early in the performance
season, that in a venue renowned for works of a more experimental turn his “show started to
feel a bit tinny and a bit flat and slightly commercial”. For Houghton, it was the audience
reception, through laughter especially, that “takes away that nakedness feeling a bit, where
you feel like you’re all in it together”. This revelation about his feelings of vulnerability is
ironic in the face of my positive reception of his performance.
The other affective state mentioned by Houghton has to do with the consequences of
performing “two shows in a day”. He identified the overwhelmingly demanding physical
nature of performing the show when he stated: “with that show, after a couple of weeks I
was rooted actually”. This bodily sensation of tiredness emerged as a particularly visceral
experience. Houghton explained that for “the first 20 minutes of a show [there] would always
be aches and pains.” After that “adrenaline sort of kicks in” but “at the end it all comes back
again as soon as you walk off stage”. He recalled two examples of particular difficulty or
pain. During one performance he was “short of breath” and “needed full-on air just to get
94
The Barry Award is an annual award for the best comedy piece at the Melbourne International Comedy
Festival. It is named after Barry Humphries.
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some of my sentences out”. On another night, he ripped the top off his toenail with a door,
“leaving little bloody footprints all over the stage”, which became part of the tapestry of this
performance before an audience who were not aware of what happened. The overwhelming
physicality of performances is clearly an elemental aspect of Houghton’s experience.
Though mentioned only a few times in the interview, Somatic dimensions of experience, of
awareness of perception and the body in space, nevertheless constituted an important aspect
of Houghton’s experience. He stated that, unlike some actors who centre themselves with
activities such as yoga, he needed to “get energy right up and out and so I do a lot of dance”.
His method of engaging the most efficacious bodily or energy state for performing The Pitch
was to “put on this really loud music and just dance about for an hour beforehand”, to make
sure that he was “completely loose” and primed for performance through doing “a hell of a
good warm-up”. He recalls that he began this method when doing a Williamson play at The
Playhouse years before. So, for Houghton, bodily inertia was a tacit condition that he sought
to strategically surmount in his praxis. This awareness of body was also experienced in
regard to the “quieter moments” where “little movements become important” for how “you
are telling the story”. When asked whether he thinks about what he does during performance
or whether this was automated in him, Houghton responded that it was “a bit of both”. He
explained that for some performances he was on “auto pilot” and in an “almost meditative
state”, with an indicative loss of somatic awareness, while in other performances he became
minutely aware of each movement. The process of creating The Pitch might possibly have
engendered this state of exquisite somatic awareness. He described that at the North
Melbourne Town Hall he would “do a couple of pages, print them out and go downstairs
and…start performing them…and [see] if something felt right”. He described this
metaphorically as dance, as “working out the moves with the choreographer”. The writing
process and the structure of the work were created fluidly through a somatic process of
movement and body sensation, a state of being that appears to have brought a particular
emphasis on movement and somaesthetics, and a mindfulness of ‘body’ in performance. In
his journal, these somatic dimensions were described even more vividly. About the opening
performances of the show at The Beckett he wrote:
Euphoria and exhaustion. Both opening nights of this show have been the best
openings of my career. A real, fuck it, who cares attitude came over me as I walked
to my wing. The pre-show music is great- lots of old movie tracks that I can boogie
along to, get loose. I really jump around, punch the air etc. Most useful tracks are
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Zulu and James Bond – good high energy, silly stuff. The audience went berserk,
laughed all the way through, pin drop stuff in last speech and bonkers in curtain calls
(3) including loud foot stamping and screaming and whistling. All felt very surreal.
Spent so much energy in the first twenty minutes I was in a fog of inspired auto pilot
for the rest – but kicked arse.... I think95.
So his bodily engagement and somatic experiences, pre-performance and during
performance, were critical to the reception of the show by the audience and his own selfcritique of his work. However, after the following performance he recalled: “Fighting flatness
over post opening. Pulling up again is hard. No real energy or excitement in my body”. The
demands on his body were extensive, and the consequences of such pressure on him
personally meant that at the experiential level, and possibly at the level of reception, his work
had the potential for unevenness. Indeed, he recalled a mid-season slump in his journal:
Mid season slump – feels hard after last night’s slovenly audience. I’m losing a bit of
excitement, feeling like a job now. Need to find new thought, to re-discover. I’m
overworking, doing too much. Need to look at ways of letting the audience in more.
Need to think back to the major conceit of the piece. What is it?
A perceptual awareness of embodiment in a space was also experienced in regard to other
acting performance skills. For instance, in regard to his use of his voice, when he first
performed The Pitch in The Beckett space, he felt “it was booming” compared to the previous
venue where he performed the show in which the space was ‘really quiet”. He explained that
he liked this because it gave him more confidence and he was aware of using more of the
space and thus of being more completely embodied in the space.
The category of Temporal Reflexion represented what seems like an insubstantial group of
experiences for Houghton. Throughout the interview, it appears that he did not recall a great
number of such situated reflections, and what was recalled tended to be sketchy and lack
detail. Perhaps it may well have been the case that for Houghton reflecting about rather than
in performance was more indicative, and that the sheer busyness and physicality of the show
fostered a greater emphasis on soma, rather than cogito. Nevertheless, there were some
moments of temporal reflexion that he cited in the interview. For example, in several shows,
he recalls that in the transition from overtly fast and physical moments to “quieter moments”
95
Please note that excerpts from Houghton’s journal are quoted unedited, just as he wrote them.
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he thought about and developed strategies for “trying to get them [the audience] back under
control, getting them to focus”. These conscious strategies for shifting focus were not only
for the audience but also for Houghton himself. For instance, he mentioned that in one
performance he was distracted by “a blind woman sitting in there with a dog that was a black
Labrador”. It appeared to him that the dog “looked really weird” and was “walking around
and hovering”. For Houghton to “get back” he had to deliberatively concentrate on “starting
to work again” and he had to start focusing on “small things”, such as doing the Robert De
Niro impersonation. He described this as “resetting myself [with] some particular tasks”.
These moments of temporal reflexion appear to revolve around strategies of self-adjustment,
focus, improvisation and creating a suitable energy level at particular junctures of a
performance, so they they have an implied signature related to time in the show. The word
“resetting” suggests the seeking of equilibrium related to the aesthetic rendering of a
theatrical work. Houghton recalled a moment in a performance where he said to himself, “Oh
that’s shit, that’s terrible.” So, for him, there were moments of self-critique. He stated “You
do a bit and go I’ve got to cut that and stuff while you are doing it”. This awareness of
adjustment was even at the level of improvisation, such as in the performance where he
recalled that he broke his bow and arrow prop and was left “standing there with these bits of
string”. He remembered making up an improvised line quite deliberately; “I know bow and
arrows are not made in China”. There was also one instance that has a more meta-reflective
quality. During one performance he became aware that “there wasn’t anyone kind of
important to the show in the audience”, so he just “played with them” because they were a
preview audience that had “no preconceptions about what they were seeing”. In this instance
Houghton adjusted to his audience because of what they were, and he was able to perform,
according to him, without the overt politics of performance that he felt in other shows.
The fourth category of Post-reflexion was prolific in the interview transcript. These
ruminations about experience after performing contained post-performance reconstructions,
editorials or interpretations of experience. For instance, there were a number of references to
Houghton’s relationship to the audience and what audience reception means for his
experiences of performance. Houghton’s stated preference for comedy was because the
audience gives a “constant reminder [of their presence] via laughter”. Clearly, for him, there
is an overt awareness that an audience affects outcomes of a show. He stated: “someone in
the audience has some bearing in what you’ve invested…and no matter what you say to
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yourself it always changes the performance in some way”. The use of the word “invested’
suggests to me that for Houghton the personal experience of performing “The Pitch” was
considerably tied to how an audience would receive it. For him the alterity of the audience
seems to be intrinsically linked to his obligation to them.
In terms of techniques of achieving focus, Houghton reflected that he typically begins with
“something small, like in this first speech tonight I’m going to be a bit faster and I’m going to
be a bit louder and I’m going to get my eye level up a bit”. Thus, his introspection about the
experience of achieving focus during a performance was that focus is established in
performance by setting small goals and concentrating on those small concrete goals at
discrete moments in performance, rather than through the whole of the performance work.
The issue of focus for him was also about the demands of manipulating props and costumes
in the immediacy of a performance environment. Houghton reflected on the difficulty of
doing his fly up in the white suit he used for one scene, and that it happened on four
successive nights of the performance season. There was experience of anxiety about the use
of this one costume that affected his focus but also, ironically, led to “the audience pissing
themselves laughing” when for one performance he couldn’t get the zip up at all and so he
decided just to leave it open.
In the interview, Houghton reflected extensively on the importance of focus within the
performance season of The Pitch. When asked whether he would do stand-up, his reply was
he “would never have the courage to do it”. He argued that he needed “some kind of story
structure”. However, he admitted that “virtually about 50% of that play is about routines,
different physical sort of vocal routines”. So, in effect, the show is an interesting amalgam of
stand-up material with conventional theatrical plot and character development, centred on the
obsequious character of Walter. In performance, Houghton moved from being what he called
a “kind of frustrated stand-up” to physical theatre and the mimicry of a kaleidoscope of
famous characters. Finding a core or a centre of meaning (a focus) in this seemingly chaotic
mix of genres did not prove difficult for him, however. His focus was resolutely on the
character of Walter, the would-be screenplay writer. Houghton stated this about the character:
“to be honest, in the character of that Walter…there’s a lot of me in that character you
know…that’s me being silly really”. In sum, in the character of Walter, Houghton found a
performance nucleus that synergistically drew all the diverse and seemingly disconnected
performance elements together. This appeared to work for him because it was based in play.
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It was a character that emerged from Houghton’s own imaginative self and his playfulness on
stage. That he was scriptwriter and would change his text adaptively from performance to
performance reinforces the notion of playfulness as a key performative quality in Houghton’s
experience of performing. He also described the Hollywood caricatures developed in the
show as metaphorically “coming through the filter of another person [Walter]”. These
caricatures are ultimately Walter’s readings, and, by extension, interpretations especially
tuned to Houghton’s “skill set”.
The use of Metaphor as part of post-reflective telling (Category Five) constituted only a few
reflections. I now examine one of these reflections. In describing how he copes with
performance anxiety, Houghton used a sports metaphor, from cricket. He stated: “Sometimes
you hear batsmen saying don’t worry about the big picture, I’m just going to worry about the
ball. I’m just going to make sure my stance is right and make sure I’ve got my eye on the
ball”. The use of this sports metaphor is suggestive about his own technique and selfunderstanding as an actor on two levels. First, it evokes the idea that for Houghton The Pitch
had a game-like quality and was imbued with playfulness (as suggested above). He had to
perform before spectators and he was “being watched”. Indeed, there are key performative
elements that are shared by competitive sport and theatre. For Houghton, the competitive
‘game’ of theatre is not against an opposition but against benchmarks he formed himself as
an actor within a theatre fraternity that he perceived to be judging him. In my opinion, it is
not coincidental that Houghton’s warm-ups were akin to those used by athletes or dancers.
Secondly, the metaphor implies that just as a cricket game is structured linearly from ball-toball, over-to-over, and session-to-session, so for him The Pitch became a series of discrete
temporal moments that cumulatively formed into a show. By conceiving his performances
this way, Houghton was able to achieve focus, continuity and precise critique.
In terms of Category 6 (Liminal), there were a small number of significant reflections about
Houghton’s experiences of transition. In the interview, he mentioned the liminal territory
between experience and expression encountered in the early part of his acting career. He said
that he “didn’t know how to combat his nerves” and that he would “literally freeze and
couldn’t talk”. This is why, as an ongoing precautionary tactic, Houghton would try to get
“energy right up” so that these liminal experiences of performance dysfunction abated and he
could move beyond the threshold between action and inaction. Likewise, in terms of
remembering lines, he stated that rather than trying to run lines before a performance “I just
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trust that I’m going to remember them when I get out there.” Houghton recalled one show in
which he was trying to remember a whole passage and this voice jumped into his head
saying, “What’s happening next?” He then had to get “all hands on deck kind of trying to
work out what happens next”. In this instance he was uncomfortably caught in the liminal
movement between text and performance and between memory and its articulation, and there
was recognition of having to re-assimilate back into the flow of performance. He also stated
that when “I am self-correcting…you’re not really at the moment and you know you’re
thinking about what’s coming and you’re not focused on the moments”. These moments of
conscious temporal awareness he differentiates from less self-aware times of being “in the
moment”. Houghton appears to believe that being in the moment is the ideal state for an
actor. A third example of liminality that he recalled involved audiences. His experience of
“looking out into an audience [who are] actually sleeping” was experienced as “kind of
demoralising”. This liminality was about trying to ignite an audience, yet still maintaining the
momentum and focus required in a performance. He recalls an example of being backstage
and waiting to go on for a show and not, as usual, hearing the comforting din of an audience.
He thought that someone had forgotten to let them in, so he peeked through the side curtain to
witness a full house silently waiting for him.
Finally, liminal experiences were evident in the performance that happened just after the
Barry Award nominations came out. Houghton’s thoughts went inextricably drawn to the
lack of nomination for The Pitch. He remembers that for the next show “the only thing on my
mind was why haven’t we been nominated?”. In a self-effacing way, he recalled thinking
during this show: “It was pathetic, it was like some kid…this is egocentric”. Without doubt,
Houghton positioned the show for acceptance by critics, and this suggests his single-minded
commitment to its success in terms of his career as an actor. Indeed, as a reflection on the
journey of the performance season, and its importance in terms of his life frame as an actor,
he wrote in his journal:
A brief moment of reflection on the season – what a rollercoaster, we really took it to
them and gave it a red hot go. It’s the biggest hit they’ve had in the Beckett under the
new administration and given it’s beginnings at La Mama a surprise commercial hit.
I’ve been so caught up in it all I’m not sure I’ve actually had time to enjoy it. It’s
been stressful and exhausting with obvious moments of great joy during the show.
Need to think over the details of the tour next year in great detail. It could be as long
as 8 months and the big issues will be voice and mind. Might need gaps in the
schedule to get back to Melbourne.
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The seventh category of Co-Presence/Other could be identified several times in the interview
transcript and journal. All of the references concerned Houghton’s relationship with the
audience, not surprising given that it was a one-man show. Houghton affirmatively positions
his relationship with the audience this way:
They’re seeking some sort of human interaction and when an actor come on and
really starts chewing up the scenery and doing a great job that’s when they respond in
a really fool-hearted way and kind of stand, jump to their feet and roar with
appreciation.
Later in the interview he suggested that it was the audience that helped him to overcome the
feeling of being naked out there in the space. He said, “The audience really healed that [the
feeling of nakedness] actually.” In a one-person show where the corporeality of and copresence with other performers is absent, it is likely that a performer’s relationship with an
audience becomes all the more cogent. Indeed, Houghton’s sensitivity to his audience’s
reception and dependence on them for acceptance was palpable in the interview, and they
became unequivocally other for him. He theorised late in the interview about his notion of
audience: “the audience is such an underrated personality…it amazes me how an audience
can have a complete character”. About a matinee audience, in which the demographic of the
audience was considerably older than for shows in the evening, he wrote in his journal:
An absolute ripper. Go figure. I was dreading what I feared would be a quiet blue
rinse crowd. They were old, very old, but strangely animated. Like the cast of cocoon
had taken over the building – I want to go to their nursing home!
This sense of the audience’s presence, and their alterity for Houghton, was more than just
conveying an impression of being watched and appreciated; it was also constitutive in terms
of the evolution of the show. The “blue rinse crowd” created an air of serendipity for
Houghton that was constitutive of being “an absolute ripper.” And yet, in regard to another
audience, for the twelfth performance, he wrote:
Boring audience, virtually silent prior to the show, like walking into a graveyard.
Seriously contemplated doing a five-minute warmup with them to get them focused
on the show. Lots of latecomers and warm but stale response at end. Ho hum.
As with previous case studies, there was a clear sense of obligation to his audience. However,
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Houghton appears to have established a greater sense of self-reception and critique than other
actors in this study, possibly linked to an undeniable duty to his text (as writer) and a
responsibility that he alone had for the narrative and characters (as actor).
The final category (Sedimentation and Training) was mentioned extensively throughout the
interview. Houghton seems to have ascribed considerable significance to his training and
self-development as an actor practitioner. In substantial sections of the interview, Houghton
conveyed both what constituted his method as an actor and his emergent approach to acting.
Houghton remembered how he completed two years (of a three-year program) at The Drama
Studio in Sydney, after having a penchant for being a closet actor from his school years. His
tone about training was rather cynical and though he later taught at the Western Australian
Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), his suspicion about actor education appeared quite
pronounced. He expressed his belief that such schools can take away from an actor that which
makes them unique. This uniqueness, he argued, is critically important for an actor’s ability
to gain roles in a competitive industry. He also spoke about his “couple of years with a group
of actors and a director” doing a “European kind of Grotowski sort of experiment”. He said
that this experiment “did not work”, again suggesting suspicion of all-embracing or totalising
types of acting method. It appears to be the case that while be imbibed ideas of actor training
and theories of drama and theatre, he was at the same time resistant to any method that was
not based in the realities of doing theatre.
For example, he stated in regard to Stanislavskian method:
I mean, I still appreciated the play, the action and the objective stuff. I think that it’s
kind of a good way of getting you out of trouble if you’ve found yourself sort of in it
on a stage not knowing what to do.
His view is that the “method approach” is an “entirely valid process for film and television”
but is less useful for theatre. He expressed far more respect for doing Shakespeare, which he
believed “liberated me” in terms of “solving text” and “cranking up my language”. He found
that working with and thinking about Shakespeare and his poetic language “brought to life
more parts of me that the method stuff did”, and engaged him because “it’s physical, it’s
emotional, it’s neater”.
Added to Houghton’s proclivity for language in theatre, is his notion of a strong work ethic,
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combined with learning and growing through doing. He stated that actors should “build their
muscle and get…used to working in theatre”. His final words in the interview were these:
“So, that’s the main thing, keep working”.
It appears that the experiences of Houghton in theatre have laid down a sort of personal
acting method, which involves:
1. An overt skepticism about totalizing actor training methods, which he considers to be
limiting for work in the industry, but an openness to seeing such methods as useful in
certain contexts;
2. An affirmation of the idiosyncratic qualities of an actor and a view that these qualities
should not be suppressed;
3. A passion for language and the emotion suggested in language, no doubt contributing
to his emergence as a writer, as well as an actor;
4. A set of values about working hard, and being committed and consistent in working
on performance projects;
5. A playfulness and willingness to improvise, adapt and be outlandishly experimental.
Houghton’s early professional experiences as an actor included being “ripped off” by an inhouse commercial, which he described as “my introduction to the industry”, and various
“mainstream theatre” projects with professional theatre companies, including Sydney Theatre
Company, as well as “stacks of fringe theatre”. He did some acting work that “was very badly
reviewed”, and “lots of TV work” in which he spent most of the time just “sitting around
talking”. From 1992, he based himself more in Melbourne and located his family there. From
there, he said that he did “four or five feature films, stacks of television and guest roles and
that sort of thing”, as well as a vast range of different theatre work.
This thumbnail history of Houghton appears to characterize him as an actor who has had a
highly varied and hard-working career, who has worked on a large number of projects and
contrasting roles, but who has achieved uneven success and some recognition. What seems to
be emerging for Houghton, and was most probably always resident in his life and work as an
actor, is a striving for independence. His hard work, varied career and resistance to the
expectations of some in the industry, seem to have led to a passionate wish to find his own
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voice. Houghton stated: “If you’re going to find your voice in it [the acting work] you’ll need
to go and find your own voice…and find new ways of expressing something that can only
come out of you”. This statement seems an ideal sedimented state from which to drive a
project such as The Pitch
From analysis of the interview transcript, six threads emerge in regard to performance, text
and experience. First of all, Houghton embodies a strong reflexivity and mindfulness about
his experiences and his art. This is not only in regard to the range of visceral and felt
experiences in performance but also in placing such experiences within a critical frame that
he uses to evaluate his own work. It would not be an exaggeration to describe Houghton as an
iconic reflective actor practitioner. He proved to be a highly candid, even self-effacing,
participant in this research. He articulated his experiences of performing The Pitch with
candour, including detailed references to his fears, limitations, bodily states and intimate
dependency on audiences. Merleau-Ponty’s concept of hyper-dialectic, and the corollary
assertion of awareness through action, provides a useful frame for understanding Houghton’s
reflexivity. His interrogation of his work in a space with an audience is premised on the idea
of the world’s uncertainty and the constant need, therefore, for adjustment, improvisation and
re-positioning.
He also demonstrated an ability to distance himself from his experiences of performance and
place such experiences within a grand narrative about himself as creative reflexive agent: in
control of both writing and performing, and learning to effectively work-the-audience. This
narrative seems fashioned around the idea of wanting to cast himself as a top-shelf actor,
who, from a position of limited success, has made good through a seminal work. Thus,
Houghton’s story is one of emergence from potentiality and hard work. His strident agency
drove both his presence on stage for audiences and his experiences while performing.
Secondly, at a more technical level of performance, there seems in the work of Houghton to
be a complex and sometimes discoidal juxtaposition of his body as instrument alongside his
agency as actor/writer. He constructed a show that he acknowledged was specifically
designed for his performance skill set and was at the higher end of a scale of performance
difficulty. In the interview, he said that he challenged himself to be excellent throughout the
season of shows at the Malthouse; however, this striving for excellence was accompanied by
exhaustion and doubt. This inter-play of his body (and the limitations of his body) with his
existential determination to make The Pitch a groundbreaking work that would demonstrate
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his virtuosity as an actor, seems to be a core essence in his performance work. Within this
essence lies the genesis for much of the experience articulated in the interview. The
concrescence of body and agency was also generative of his ability to be adaptive and
maintain energy in performance. Thus, his internality and externality were always tightly
woven. It appears to be the case that while Houghton wanted his body to recede temporally
into the background of experience, it never quite did—despite his beliefs otherwise. There
was always a heightened awareness of his bodily states throughout performances, together
with acute perception of his surroundings, including the state of the audience. Perhaps this is
why Houghton’s striving to maintain focus was such an issue for him. Indeed, he wrote at the
beginning of his journal:
THE PITCH was interesting in that it was a show that always succeeded on a number
of levels, it was a popular piece, so the fluctuations are in a way isolated from any
dire commercial consequences. The show was very favourably reviewed and sold out
with an extension week on its original dates. Given this, I find it quite extraordinary
to read back over these notes to see how delicate my state of mind was. It speaks
volumes about the emotional rollercoaster, which is part and parcel of live
performance, perhaps accentuated in this case because I was also the author and my
wife directed it. The show felt very personal.
A third thread, associated with the previous, is that the life frame of Houghton, and the
positioning of his career in a wider social frame, was fundamental to the modes of experience
he had in performance and to how he embodied performance in The Pitch. This was, in
Houghton’s mind, a make-or-break show for him as a mid-career actor. For an actor with a
family to feed and bills to pay, The Pitch was a precarious show. In an industry in which he
had achieved limited or uneven success, and from a position of incredulity about actor
training and the state of the industry, this show was a striving for visibility and respect.
Indeed, he expressed considerable cynicism in the interview about what he considers the
blatant using and manipulation of actors and the “direction coming from management”. The
play itself became a metaphor for these struggles for acceptance and recognition as an
independent creative agent. In his journal he wrote:
Added to this [the show at the Malthouse] was the previous success of the show at La
Mama. The show already had excellent reviews, but those were for a season in a 40
seat theatre for 10 performances. It would now be in a 200 seat room with 25
performances. Audiences were coming with an expectation, expecting, hoping the
show would live up to its publicity. Was it an overrated fringe show or a genuine hit?
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Had they been duped by a canny marketing team or did the show actually have some
kind of wow factor that justified the transfer?
The ordinariness that is embodied in the central character of Walter, the seemingly talentless
writer trying to find fame, is collocated to the fame of the myriad of Hollywood characters
that strut across the stage. Walter never quite makes it and his pathetic attempts to put
together a Hollywood blockbuster seem ironic in the face of the actor who plays him. It
appears to me that Houghton positions himself paradoxically: laughing at and satirising his
industry, with its “engine room…of commercial rather than creative” and its hollow notions
of fame; yet, at the same time, desperately wanting the success that is so allusive in it. As
such, there is an interrogation of sameness in Houghton’s work, infused with a radical
responsibility to question accepted discourses in the theatre community, leading to his
assertion of wanting to be independent.
Fourthly, the reception and co-presence of audiences became not only critical to Houghton’s
sense of acceptance, but also became for him essential to the embodied constitution of each
performance. In a sense, each audience became a co-maker with Houghton. While this is
certainly true of most theatrical work, to a greater or lesser extent, for him it was elemental.
The absence of other actors, the fact that it was a one-man show with elements of stand-up
and slapstick, mime and mimicry, meant that Houghton conspicuously looked to the audience
to become a “personality”, even a character, in his show. It is in them that he finds alterity.
This connection, and invitation, into his dramatic world was tangible in the show that I
witnessed. One could sense that he was fully aware of his audience. Indeed, there were
moments of epiphany that appeared to have been spawned from and were sustained within
this relationship.
A fifth thread concerns the sense of play that is embodied in Houghton’s writing and
performance work. This was his script, and so he could change it ad infinitum. He was the
solo performer, so he could play the myriad of roles with considerable abandonment and
playfulness. The Pitch was also a genuine attempt to position his career in the landscape of
professional theatre in Australia, but it was certainly not safe territory for Houghton. In
performances, he often forgot lines, improvised and made up material, or went away and
rewrote sections. There was a fluidity of approach that could be viewed as atypical of what is
often seen in commercial theatre or even professional experimental theatre. This playfulness
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is also seen in the portrayal of the extraordinary list of characters in The Pitch. There was an
overt sense of mischievousness in the way Houghton presented his bevy of caricatures: he
was at once satirising them, enjoying them (almost voyeuristically), exploring them and
neatly placing them within a rambling plot, the nuances of which depended on the temporal
immediacy of his own internal states and relationship with audiences.
Finally, postmodern uncertainty about the genesis and function of texts seems to have traction
in discussing what Houghton did in The Pitch. The textual traces and influences were
multifarious and at times fostered surprising associations. The indivisibility between the
written conceived text (as composed and then explored in rehearsals by Houghton with his
partner as director) and the performative text emerged in the fluid environment of
performances at The Beckett. For Houghton, both were co-extensive and there seemed to be
no differentiation between the two. For him, logos came as much out of his corporeal
experience as it did out of his Apple laptop that sat starkly in the bare room at North
Melbourne Town Hall on the day I interviewed him.
In Illustration 6.1 below, I have schematized Houghton’s creation and performance of The
Pitch, including his experiences of a season of performances at the Malthouse. The diagram
is presented as series of embedded ovals. The Pitch is embedded within Houghton’s life
frame, a frame that also contains reception from the broader theatre community. Within this
fraternity, Houghton sought to demonstrate his virtuosity as a multi-skilled performer and as
a self-critical writer who was developing a new work. There is a distinct reflexive loop
between writer, performer and audience, which appears to have powerfully shaped how he
performed and experienced performance, and points to a distinct creative agency in his
approach.
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Illustration 6.1
A phenomenology of Houghton’s experiences of The Pitch
As a performer, Houghton had a clear emphasis on his body schema and it adaptive potential.
He seems to have a predilection for doing and action with his body, which became an
adaptive body of engagement with the world. With this somatic focus, there was also a range
of contrasting affective states that appear to have been shaped by his audiences and his
creative agency. Additionally, Houghton’s innate playfulness with text and soma fostered a
process of innovative reflexive engagement that was constitutive of The Pitch. His focus on
body and bodily states is clearly indicative of his work, but at the deepest level of reduction
his work seems to be relational, driven by his apparent need for affirmation and a place
within a fraternity.
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Section 6.3
Williams
Andrew Williams performed the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Pelican Theatre
Company’s 2008 show, Scrooge, CEO. The 150-minute show was an original community
theatre project in which the novel of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, was adapted to a
modern corporate setting, and Scrooge was portrayed as the CEO of a contemporary
multinational conglomerate involved in dubious financial dealings in third-world countries.
The play was performed as a series of loosely connected, non-naturalistic, vignettes. There
were six performances at a local community hall in Hastings (Victoria, Australia), within a
small, intimate space (configured in the semi-round), There was also one performance in a
large performance space in the Drama Theatre in the arts precinct at Monash University,
which is a conventional theatre space with tiered seating.
Williams is a mathematics teacher at a Melbourne independent school. He came across in the
interview as being meticulous, precise, earnest and affable, with an apparent commitment to a
truthful disclosure of his experiences as Scrooge. The 65-minute interview with Williams was
conducted approximately one month after the final performance at Monash University.
Throughout the seven performances of the play, Williams wrote a quite lengthy and
meticulous journal, parts of which are cited and discussed below. As a global reaction to both
the journal and the interview, I observed his candour, precision and ability to identify specific
affective and cognitive states. There was a methodical approach that he imbued, one that is
evident in reading the transcripts. In terms of his attitude to performing, Williams viewed his
acting within community theatre as a hobby, which he pursued only to the extent that it fitted
within his family life and professional responsibilities as an educator. Williams, then,
provides an interesting contrast to all the other actors in this study in not pursuing (or wanting
to pursue) his acting as a career.
It was apparent in both the interview and the journal that Williams was quite engaged with
his felt states. For the category of Affective, there were significant references to his
experiences in both the interview and the journal. These references tended to be about his
relationship to the performance space and about emotions that he felt during performance.
Williams described how he felt “very much hemmed in” in the Hastings space, compared to
the Monash space, which he felt “was a joy to be able to move more freely and extensively”.
He stated that he “tended to really restrict the moves”, implying that more intimate spaces,
with close proximity to audiences, made him feel less at ease. He described his emotional
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state during performances of the play quite extensively. He recalled in the interview his
relationship on stage with the actor who played the character of Marley, the former partner of
Scrooge. The scene of confrontation, which is a precursor to the coming of the Spirits,
evoked the following response: “I did feel the emotion. I did feel threatened; I did feel
intimidated by him”. Likewise, in a later scene, where his mistress more-or-less betrays him,
he recalls that he “felt confused and sad”. For the first performance, Williams recounted in
his journal the emotions he felt in seeing the young Scrooge with the fiancée that he
eventually lost. He wrote: “I found myself feeling more emotional”. And, “I could sense a
strong emotional connection between the two young actors”.
These emotions, linked to character portrayal and role, were juxtaposed with the felt state of
Williams apart from his execution of role. He wrote in his journal about “experiencing the
usual nerves” and in the interview he recalled being “very nervous to start”. Williams also
experienced “some anxiety” when another actor’s entrance was late. This state of anxiety
about problems in performance is a common thread in his recollections in both the interview
and the journal. He also linked bodily states to these feelings of anxiety. For example,
Williams remembers, during one performance “feeling a little bit crook” and having a “fear
of losing my voice”, an experience that had actually happened in a previous show. He also
cited an example of a performance that “was a little bit down on other performances”, and
suggested that “tiredness may have affected us”. This condition of apprehension and anxiety
during performance, and the perspicacious awareness of his emotional state, was such that, as
he stated: “I don’t enjoy performing” but I get “the pleasure when it’s all done”.
There were some references, in both the interview and the journal, to the second category of
ontological analysis, Somatic and Perceptual. Williams recalled that he was aware of the
audience during performances and that he had to “walk in a certain way” and “stand in
character” in order to depict a character. He suggested the following about his somatic
awareness: “I can’t say there’s a huge awareness of body because it’s just one of those things
that you do”. He also stated: “I was aware of my fellow performers and their relative
positions to me”. This statement suggests that there is spatial and inter-corporeal cognizance
as he performed, and an awareness of the horizons of his body within the space of the
dramatic world. In terms of his body states, there seems to be an intuitive understanding that
“something kicks in and the adrenalin” really gets you “ready and going”. He was also
attuned to bodily conditions of tiredness and sickness, conditions that may impede
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performance, and he adopted strategies to alleviate what he perceived was a threat to
performance. “I found myself to be quite tired after the previous night’s performance and was
concerned that my energy level would be a bit down,” he wrote in his journal about the
second performance. He also wrote that he “found some unusual periods where I forgot lines
in places”. Evidently, he perceived an articulation between tiredness and his loss of lines, and
memory and the disposition of his bodily states.
On the level of the imaginative or the imagistic, Williams recollected that one influence on
the physicality and the gait of his character was what he called “a vision of Scrooge from the
original Christmas Carol” (which I take to mean the novel). He stated: “When I’m in the
pyjamas I had a vision of Scrooge in the original play [I think he means novel], so I tend to
shuffle a little bit more, which I don’t normally do”. This statement reveals a layer of
imagination that was operating within his embodiment as an actor. He attempted at first to
dismiss this memory by saying, “I might be digressing a little here.” This particular
recollection suggests to me both Williams’ capacity for imaginative creation of character and
his reticence to acknowledge the significance of imaginative pathways to character. Such
pathways are a significant part of training in many acting schools in Australia and overseas.
For the third category, Temporal-Reflexive, there were significant references in the interview,
as well as the journal. Williams often made statements that implied his detachment from the
temporality of the action on stage. There appeared to be an overt reflexivity and awareness
about action, motivation and adjustments within the temporality of performance, suggesting a
sense of time that transcended the immediacy of performance. For instance, in an early
performance, one of the actors entered the stage at the wrong moment. Williams recalled
thinking to himself, “Hang on, what’s going on here? Has something else happened? Has
something changed?” This suggests an active cognitive state during performance. He also
said that his first priority is his lines and especially “the first line before you go on”. For
Williams, a conscious awareness of text was a core feature of his interiority. He remembers,
for example, “scanning through” his lines to find where he was in the sequence of the text
because “someone missed a cue”. This cognitive device was explicit in his interiority during
performance and indicates awareness of what I called “extra-dramatic” time (Section 2.3.2
above). There were also examples of self-talk during performances. Williams stated: “I had to
consciously say to myself, move out further and go closer to the audience”. Much of this talk
concerned his use of the space and his positioning relative to the audience and other
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performers. Concerns and anxieties were also part of this reflexive state of interiority in
performance.
For the fourth category, Post-Reflexive, there are a significant number of references in the
interview transcript, but not as many examples in the journal. This suggests that in the period
following each performance and the writing of journal entries, there was considerable
reflection about, and sedimentation of, performance experiences. In the interview, Williams
discussed an earlier set of performances with the amateur theatre group, The Dingley Players,
and a play titled, Eat your Heart Out. He recalled the character of Charlie, a “wannabe actor”.
He stated that the character and the play were “really sort of special for me” and that the
character “has a bit of connection with all of us as actors in a way.” What is obvious in
Williams’s discourse is the essential place of character, and the emotional exigencies of
character, in his praxis as an amateur actor. He found, for example, that in the character of
Ebenezer Scrooge, “there was an opportunity to really investigate a whole range of different
emotions” and that he was “able to do the emotional stuff’ and get inside “what’s driving the
character”. He said that one of his worries in performance was not being “aware enough of
my character”, and being involved in distractions, such as “weird audience reactions”, that
make you “pop out of character too much”. He said in his interview: “I hate it when people
are talking to me just before I go on”.
In the context of a scene in one performance of Scrooge, CEO, where the older Scrooge sees
the younger Scrooge turning away his fiancé and the older Scrooge goes across and touches
him on the shoulder in sorrow, Williams recalls that the actor playing the younger Scrooge
changed the blocking so that he was out of position. This required considerable adjustment
and a consequent loss of focus, which Williams described this way: “Those sorts of selfcorrecting things that don’t go as planned are nerve-wracking but challenging”. As a general
principle he also stated:
One of the things that terrifies me is when things don’t go to plan, but I do enjoy the
challenge of it. If lines are lost and I don’t want them to be lost, and if I’ve got to
scan and work it [out], it is a challenge. Maybe it’s the mathematician in me, the
problem solver.
Following performances, Williams was well aware of, and able to articulate, short-comings in
a performance, and he demonstrated both an attention to the detail of his adverse experiences
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as well as being able to explicate the tactics he used to problem-solve and fix issues. This not
only suggests how active was his cognition during performance but also indicates that he has
a quite static conceptualisation of performance. Williams appears to believe that performance
is a rigid phenomenon and that when things go wrong, or unexpected changes ensue, then this
needs ameliorating.
Paradoxically, in terms of technique, he emphatically disavowed connection with method
acting. He said:
Look, I don’t believe in method acting as they call it, where you become the
character. I think that’s a lot of rubbish, but I think relating to a character and saying
how the character [would] feel [is important]…I believe you can turn your character
on and should be able to go on stage, draw on your experiences, walk off stage and
become yourself again.
Despite this labelling of his acting as not based on the so-called method school, there appears
to be echoes of Lee Strasberg in Williams’s autobiographic discourse. The intensity, yet
sparseness of delivery, the complex psychology that is rooted in his interiority and in his
intimacy of expression, and fear as an attendant emotion of loss of control, all remind me of
Strasberg’s acting dynamics. Most of all, it is his insurgent wish for truthfulness that most
reminds me of Strasberg’s method. In sum, there appears to be a theory of acting that informs
his acting processes on stage, though he seems unaware of such a theory. It was clear in both
the interview and the journal that the use of affective memory was a common strategy in his
performance practice, in both his preparation before performance and in his felt states during
performance.
For Category 6, Liminal, there were only a few references in the interview and in the journal.
In the interview, Williams spoke about his need to de-role at the end of a particular
performance. He stated: “you should be able to get out of character straight away because I
would think it’s dangerous if you don’t”. This urgency to differentiate himself as actor from
character and to dispense with role promptly reveals not only the functional way in which he
conceived role (not as dissimulation but as an inviolable entity constructed in the temporality
of performance) but also suggests that disembodying from role was an issue for him in that
liminal space just after performance. Liminality was also experienced in terms of working
within the temporality of the play’s structure during performances. Williams wrote that he
found it difficult “to get a real picture of the time-wise sense, and probably this is the first
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play that I’ve looked at my script during the play…normally my book stays closed”. Finding
his place within a dramatic structure based on vignettes proved difficult for Williams, whose
previous experiences had been with conventional one-act, three-act and five-act plays. In
sum, the liminality resided in those moments of quest for coherence. He thus sought time
references outside of his temporal experiences.
Williams’s notion of time and temporality within his performance experiences demonstrated
some complexity. Within the temporality of each performance, he noted that there were a
“series of events happening, rather than a flow of time” and that he was able to delineate “an
order of events”. Temporality became, for Williams, an incremental set of changes based on
the thematic sequence of the script, rather than having the contiguity of a “time line”. Not
only was he aware of this order of sequential change but he also characterised the temporal
movements of the play in terms of salvific archetypes: “Scrooge the bastard, Scrooge the
question and Scrooge the redeemed”.
For the category of Co-Presence, there were several references in the interview, as well as the
journal. By and large, within the interview, self, including experiences of interiority, was the
emphasis. However, he mentioned that he was aware of other performers in spatial terms (as
entities in relative positions) and also where there were issues in the performance that needed
fixing. He also mentioned, with some emotion, his relationship with the actor who portrayed
the character of Marley. However, Williams’s perspective is mostly about his own interiority
and how this translates to exteriority. His connection with his audiences is positioned in terms
of what he believes an actor should not do. For example, he decried talking “directly to an
audience”, which will, according to Williams, take you “out of character”. In effect, during
the interview, there appeared to be little awareness of the other, and minimal reference to the
impact of others on what was corporeally achieved in the play. The preoccupation in the
interview appeared to be with the solipsism of Williams’s performance experiences. On the
other hand, out of the temporal immediacy that is reflected in the journal, there seemed more
engagement with otherness. Williams wrote about the “positive bonding experience” of
“enjoying a meal” together before a weekend show, and the “big difference in energy levels”
actuated by an “enthusiastic audience”. He also cited the actor who played the role of
Scrooge’s mistress as creating a particular affinity for him. He recalls one scene where he
forgot a line and the actor playing Vanessa, his mistress, came in quickly with her next line,
rescuing him from an awkward lapse. However, most of these references are to experiences
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that enabled his performance as a character and were not especially tuned to an ethics of
obligation for the other.
For the final category, Sedimentation and Training, there were several references in the
interview but none in the journal. Williams said that he had “spent off and on twenty
something years doing shows for Adelphi [Adelphi Players Theatre Company] and at some
place called Dingley [Dingley Players]”. He stated that he had no formal training, apart from
his high school drama teacher. Mentors and directors within the confines of community
theatre thus sponsored the formation of Williams as an actor. To a question about his use of
experimentation and improvisation in his technique, Williams identified some key strategies
that point to the underlying ideas that have informed his practice as an amateur actor. He
said:
Yes. Trying to relating to the characters as much as you can; sometimes that’s hard
with certain characters but trying to get a feel, you know, how this person/ or these
people react in this way, and to try and draw on your own experiences obviously,
particularly emotion situations and visualising people that you know who are a little
bit like your character. And drawing on what you know of those people which again
sometimes depending on the character is hard. Sometimes it’s just expression and
see what happens and what works.
The key words and phrases here are “relating”, “getting a feel”, “draw on your own
experience”, “emotion situations”, “visualising people” and “see what happens and what
works”. Within these terms there is implied both a bent to researching a character and an
emotional identification with a character, which suggests a method acting approach. That
Williams has also been exposed to or has a predilection for improvisation is also clear from
the phrase “see what happens and what works”.
There are five key conclusions that emerge from the interview transcript and journal of
Williams. First of all, there is an evident diffidence in regard to Williams’ relationship with
the audience. While the audience became for him essential for his performative success and
for a sense of completion that he craved as a performer, there was, nevertheless, a reticence to
engage an audience, positioned paradoxically with an acute awareness of audience reception.
This taciturnity was a factor in Williams’ anxiety about performance and a thus a key input
into his experiences while performing. The closeness of the performer to the audience in the
semi-round and intimate Hastings space appeared to create a level of personal confrontation
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that was less of an issue in the Monash space, where the audience was relatively more distant
and diffused by the lights. In sum, the dynamics of a performance space, especially the
proximity of the audience in the performance space, became for him an important
contingency to experience. His performance and portrayal of the character of Ebenezer
Scrooge was measured against, but not especially enhanced by, audience reception.
Secondly, there is an explicit tension between control and loss of control in Williams’s
interiority as an actor. In Scrooge, CEO, his penchant for control seemed to be centered on
the creation of the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He appeared to construct a hypostatized
profile of his character derived from the script and sedimented from previous performance
experiences. As a performer, he conceived that it was his obligation to construct this
concretized character for an audience, and that the creation of a set of internal emotional
states provided an optimal environment for depiction of the character. The text of the play
became for Williams a stable score for his exploration of character and often become his way
or entry point into character. In sum, strong emphasis on controlled analysis and definition of
character in the preparation for and performance of Ebenezer, juxtaposed to a state of fear
that was derived from the possibility of change and chaos, appear to be the forces creating
experience for Williams. His concrescence is thus composed of fear in tension with a search
for order.
That the text of Scrooge, CEO was a nucleus to his experiences is clear from the many
references to his “lines” in both the journal and the interview. It became for Williams a
regulatory performative implement. His ethics of obligation appears to hinge on his
relationship with the play text. Williams’ affective states were initialised and sustained from
the scaffold of text, and when this scaffold was shaky or imprecise there was a tangible
anxiety that seemed to dwell in his experiences. When there were deviations from this
scaffold, such as an erroneous entrance or a loss of lines, or the audience did not deliver an
expected reaction, anxiety and even fear was a pervasive affective state of consciousness for
the actor. There was certainly a motivation to renovate any issues within performance and
keep to the precision of the text and the constructions of character emblematised and then
embodied by Williams. In sum, Williams seems especially comfortable in defined character
roles with order, and not so much in performative environments with high entropy and
indeterminacy. His experiences of liminality in Scrooge, CEO often resided in this region of
high entropy, where Williams was caught between his need for order and his wish to embody
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a believable and engaging character.
Thirdly, despite this perceived need for control and the incursion of anxiety into his felt states
during performance, there was also an overt awareness of appropriate strategies and
adaptations needed to facilitate performance. Indeed, while focus on character development
before and during performance was foregrounded in Williams’s experiences, as he articulated
them, there was also a set of implicit awarenesses that constituted his interiority. For instance,
he showed considerable awareness of time, spacial dimensionality and the rate of completion
of each performance. Such sensibilities did indeed enable him to adapt to change, reorder
where it was needed, and position his performance quite adroitly within the temporalities of a
particular performance. These strategies and adaptations, built upon such awarenesses and
sensibilities, appeared to be motivated by his desire to create an authentic, believable and
compelling character.
Finally, while not conclusive, there is an inclination in the acting techniques of Williams
towards method acting, especially the ideas of Lee Strasberg and his adaptation of
Stanislavski (see Section 2.4.4). In my experience, the use of method acting techniques in
community and repertory theatre is quite pervasive and appears to be an undergirding
philosophy of acting in many amateur theatre groups, whose programs generally consist of
American Broadway musicals, American and English comedies and other essentially
naturalistic theatre works. Williams’s pre-occupation with the emotional states of his
character, and his gravitation toward a fairly static view of text and character, suggests this
possible connection.
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Illustration 6.2
A phenomenology of the experiences of Williams
In Illustration 6.2 above, I have represented aspects of Williams’s experiences while
performing, and identified some contingencies that appear to have shaped such experiences.
Though undoubtedly highly connected, I have separated ‘Williams in role’ from ‘Williams as
actor’. As actor, he begins with an obligation to the script, and then, by extension, to the
creation of the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. As actor he is character researcher. In role, on
stage, though he wishes to immerse himself in his character, there is an overt set of
awarenesses that are resident in his experience of performance. The logocentrism of his
deployment of the script, as corporeal object that reinforces control and certainty, was
pervasive throughout the performance season as Williams recalled it. As actor, Williams
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appears to have been influenced in his approach to acting by the method school, though there
is doubt about the exact origin of his approach, suggested by the broken lines of the box. The
one-way arrows in regard to the audience suggest that there was limited exchange between
him and his audience, such that, in role, his focus was more on internality and accurate line
delivery. This is in contrast to the experience of Houghton in Section 6.2 above, whose work
was highly constructed in exchange with audiences. In terms of his internality, Williams
offered a complex portrayal of his internal states, especially bodily and emotional states. At
the deepest level of reduction, there appears to be discordance, ever present in his experience
as a state of anxiety, between his fear of not presenting his character properly and accurately
and his need to cope with the demands of performance and working in front of an audience.
Section 6.4
Tonkin and McInnes
OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament (OT) is a new and innovative Australian theatrical
work, based on a selection of narratives from the Old Testament. This essentially secular
rendering of religious stories was told through a series of vignettes, and performed in one set,
using a range of toys and other everyday objects as illustrative tools. The work was
performed for a two-week season in the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse in Melbourne
during May 2007. It was devised and directed by Christian Leavesley and Phil Rolfe, and
made through a process of improvisation, experimentation and physical theatre techniques.
Tonkin and McInnes were two of the five actors used for the show. They played various
biblical personalities in a fast-paced and contemporary piece of mostly postdramatic or
postmodern theatre. I interviewed the two actors together (at their request) in their house. The
interview process began with a relaxed chat and cup of tea, followed by an intense 80-minute
interview, mostly driven by the participants themselves, with a few guide questions and
comments to bring focus to experience and sedimentation.
In addition to the interview, I attended a performance of the show and made extensive field
notes in which I expressed my observations, point-of-view, reading and reception of OT. In
the analyses that have been completed in Chapter Five and Six so far, some contextual
material and researcher observation is offered to position actor experiences within a broader
performative and cultural environment. In the case of the acting work of Tonkin and McInnes
in OT, the idiosyncratic and maverick nature of the work, I believe, necessitates a more
detailed review and overview in order to locate optimally their experiences within the
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particularities of the work.
From my viewing of the show, OT is high-energy piece of physical theatre, performed as a
series of short scenes, loosely based around a sequence of stories out of the Old Testament
Bible. The piece was performed as one long and integrated opus, without an intermission,
with no blackouts, and unified by the intermittent flash of a strobe light with the gesture “1”,
which appeared to signify the notion of one-god and one deity, or perhaps one-devotion (the
irony of which was not lost on the audience). Movement, gesture and grotesque elements are
juxtaposed to story telling to create an idiosyncratic production that could have been profane
but manages to avoid this possibility through a deft use of serious and comic styles that
suggest an interpretive and serious purpose to the work. For example, the Job sequence at the
end, that entered the theological debate about suffering, was genuinely moving and engaged
with the notion of god in a universe of suffering. While full of chuckles and funny moments
throughout, including a riveting rendition of one of the stories using Australian vernacular,
there was a dark underbelly to the production. As an audience member, I was overwhelmed
with a sense of the vacuous nature of faith in a community that struggles with the notion of
suffering. This was reinforced by the sense of bewilderment that the actors expressed through
what seem to be stylised facial expressions.
The work was set in one stage picture: a ramshackle room in an abandoned house apparently
used by a series of squatters; or perhaps it was a boat adrift, as McInnes suggests below.
Within this room of surreal disorder and decay, with props that were mostly children’s toys,
figurines and chairs, four young actors reinvented the well-known and highly theologised
stories with rare imagination and mischievous repositioning. The props were transformed
imaginatively into the various objects, and sometimes characters, that constitute these biblical
narratives. Also in the room was a fifth character, an older actor, who seemed, at first, like the
senile father of one of the squatters, but he quickly transmogrified into the visualisation of
Yahweh. He seemed oddly attached to, even directing, this series of stories, sometimes
through subtle turning of the head, sometimes through overt and stylised movement
(including the symbolic playing of drums in the telling of the Joseph narrative), sometimes as
puppet master, and at other times through sleepy disinterest.
At first, this Yahweh was on stage as a sometimes interested, but intimate, father figure, till
the children of Israel ‘did their own thing’ and the Judges narratives emerged. He was then
transformed into a distant but watching figure, whose increasing detachment was linked with
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judgement and a movement to purity and devotion by his followers. The god of this play
begins as lovable and fatherly, even naïve, but he increasingly moves to a transcendent
position as god of judgement, weal and woe. The play evoked, for me, significant questions
about the nature of theistic belief. Is god simply a projection of our greatest dreams and our
deadliest fears? Do we create a god in our own image?
The narrative of the play followed the chronological unfolding of the biblical stories
according to the sequence of the bible, except that the creation narrative is late in the play, as
part of the establishment of the cycles of guilt, cleansing and punishment, symbolised by the
use of water which the actors use to wash themselves (a daring act in itself on a live stage).
The writers must have some knowledge of biblical scholarship because the Jewish creation
myths were written late in the corpus of Jewish writings and reflect a post-exilic notion of
salvation96. But what is offered here is no set of salvation stories, no theology of hope. These
stories are positioned as vignettes of the sardonic kind. What the play does is strip the stories
back to their essentials. They are deconstructed and problematised. They become stories that
are used to question the veracity of our conceptualisations of god and religious practice. The
stories are more than demythologized; they are demoralised and decontextualised. They are
ripped so totally out of their religious setting and place in religious practice that the rawness
of the stories is exposed. We see their inherent violence, sexuality and arbitrariness, a feature
that the cast portrayed in a confronting but stylised way. In the religious traditions of
Christianity, Islam and Judaism, these stories are moralised, even sanitised.
If indeed you are going to detach the stories from their settings and from the grand
overarching narratives of Old Testament theology, you must provide a new context and a
fresh set of ‘containers’ to hold the stories. In this regard, the cast, using the confines of the
Beckett theatre space and a shabby set of props (that’s the point, they need to be tawdry)
constructed a highly physicalised set of parodies, ranging from Playschool, to a rock concert,
even to Australian slang story-telling (replete with copious four-letter words), each with its
unique discourse and register. Religious discourse was mixed with this set of parodies to
create a coalescence that never allowed the audience to fall into the easy world of morality
tales and comfortable religious characterisations. Indeed, this postmodern style was
heightened by the neat projection of text onto the back wall of the set, projections that
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See Yerushalmi (1982) and Brettler (1997) for scholarship on the redaction of biblical stories.
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identified the stories, but that was all—as sparse and as unnerving as the stories themselves.
The performance was also layered with contemporary allusions and the incorporation of
popular music forms.
It would be a misunderstanding, however, to think that this experimental rendering of stories
drawn from source traditions with a history of some thousands of years is just an audacious
postmodern idea. What makes the play work for the audience, what creates the ambience, the
sense of humour and the dread that compete in the play, is the virtuosity of the physicality of
the actors. Movement, mime, subtle variations of position (especially from ‘god’), mimicry
and gesture were blended into a work of physical theatre that was built as much on the
corporeal as it was on the spoken text (perhaps more so). One could hear, at the end of the
play, the heavy breath of the actors, whose bodies were thrown around the stage with
abandonment and without inhibition. The panting of the actors, and their sweat and ruddy
skin, made me feel that I was indeed witnessing theatre that had returned to Poor Theatre in
its raw form, to a place where technology served the bodies of the actors, as did the words
themselves.
The Tower of Babel vignette was particularly compelling because of its use of intricate
gesture and mime to create the sense of the ‘tower going to god’ and the ensuing judgment of
god in the form of the ‘mixing of the languages’. Gross physical movement was mixed with
this intricate and poetic use of gesture, no doubt making the complexity of the work for each
actor on stage all the more difficult. The body in space, creating shape, emotion and sign,
appeared to be the centre of the performance approach. This is ironic in that so much
religious tradition and ritual in the West (not the East) is built on a static spoken form (the
sermon, the eulogy, the rite).
I could not help thinking that there is a sense of cruelty that undergirds all the vignettes in the
play. Something of Artaud appeared to emerge and confront the audience, even to the extent
of the stylised violence and simulated sex scenes, epitomised by the rape scene in which the
ferocious physical engagement of the two actors in the scene may have been as confronting
for these actors as it was for the audience. The tribal nature of the stories is thus implied: they
are stories of survival and retribution, death and the cycles of nature. This sense of pervasive
cruelty was also suggested and heightened by the stage design, epitomized by a partly
demolished and brutalised room, one that becomes, as the play unfolds, more and more
brutalised by the actors themselves. The world that the actors create in OT is a violent and
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oppressive one, mediated by a god whose capricious nature is part of the cycle of punishment
and reward. While somewhat stylised and contrived, there was never a time in the nearly 90
minute running time of the play that the violence, implied or actual, was not believable.
To add to the postmodern aesthetic, and to the cruelty and the physicality of the play, there
was a significant flouting of theatre conventions and accepted practices. There is little doubt
that such resistance, to what may be considered proper stage etiquette, was a purposeful part
of this experimental work. The touching of, pushing against, and tearing of the stage struck a
cord of repulsion in me. How dare the actors be so irreverent in regard to the stage. Then the
water! Water on a stage! What about the safety issues? What a perplexing mess was left at
the end of the play as the actors attempted to cleanse themselves before a god who demanded
purity. We were left with a stage whose disorder and disarray was extremely confronting.
Audiences are used to completion and a sense of unity in theatrical work. We were afforded
none of that. We come to think about religious traditions as being orderly and systematic. But
in the world of OT such a notion is debunked. The rawness, the tribal reality and the violence
of the play challenge conventional religious readings of the Old Testament.
Ultimately, though, we do not have here a religious play, nor is it especially anti-religious. To
interpret it thus would be simplistic. As with many postmodern theatrical works the concern
is with form, style and convention, theatricality, repositioning and sensuality. The play wants
to create an impression and suggest an embodied state of performance that is hitherto avoided
in commercial or conventional theatrical practice. It does not want to say something as much
as do something for an audience. The fact that the play took place in a single space with the
most rudimentary of props and costumes says much about the actors’ investment in the space.
I have to wonder, though, whether the Beckett was the most appropriate space for this
confronting piece of postmodern cruel theatre. The physicality of the actors, being so
essential to the play’s reception, could have been enhanced by closer proximity to audiences.
I now shift my register from the discourse of review and field observation to
phenomenological analysis of the experiences of Tonkin and McInnes. The first category that
I want to examine is that of the Affective. In terms of affective states, McInnes described the
end of the show (taking the bows), following the physically exhausting performance, this
way:
You kind of had to take a few deep breaths and pick yourself up to do it but we used
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to walk off stage as an ensemble after taking our bow and not only the adrenalin but
just the enthusiasm for what we’d just done as a group.
Tonkin responded with a similar view of the felt states, not only pointing to the end but also to
a state of being that was embodied throughout performances:
I think there’s a really interesting kind of flip side of exhaustion and exhilaration and
fear and excitement; you know you always flirt with the two of those when you’re a
performer because that’s kind of where I think the really magic kind of spell of it
comes from…This weird kind of fear that flips into excitement and adrenalin that
you get hooked on and that’s why when you go into performance and things aren’t
quite set in stone or there’s certain variables within it, that’s frightening more so,
exciting and the same with exhaustion you can just sort of feel completely spent by
something but at the same time it just sends you into this other - you know something
else kicks in that wants you to keep going and that can be quite euphoric…and makes
you want to go out there and do it again.
For both performers these dual affective states of “exhaustion and exhilaration, and fear and
excitement” appeared to typify their emotional reactions. Such emotions (and the sensation of
“adrenaline”) were created, I argue, through a degree of uncertainty resident in the
production, what Tonkin signifies as “things aren’t set in stone.”
Part of this uncertainty (but not unpreparedness) was, according to McInnes, engendered by
the stage design. He described it as “basically a boat and a floating world” in which “it really
felt like you were in that floating existence”. He elaborated by suggesting that the stage in the
Beckett Theatre at The Malthouse was a “self-contained world that wasn’t influenced by
anything except what was going on inside it” and that there was nothing “beyond those
walls”. In such a confined and small world, there was the potential for things to go wrong.
The inferred impression from both actors is that there was an edginess, an underlying
existential core of caprice, which was pivotal to the immediacy that I experienced as an
audience member.
The second category is that of the Somatic. Both performers spoke frequently about the
space, and the disposition of their bodies in the space, as they engaged with the
claustrophobic world of OT. This space, with its distinctive set, became a place of frenetic
playfulness for the actors. Tonkin described the effect of the set built in the Beckett. She
stated: “the design of the space, it was so defined, the parameters were so defined…because
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of the design being so insular, you felt like you were kind of still in the same world”. Because
of the highly defined, relatively small and unchanging set (with toys placed strategically on
the floor) there were considerable physical demands on the bodies of the actors. Tonkin
described these demands this way: “You had to be right on top of it [moving of bodies in
space] the whole time because not all the toys were soft; we were in bare feet and if you tread
on them you cut your foot open”. So, issues of bodily awareness in the space were crucial for
the well being of actors in OT.
In response to my question about awareness of her body, Tonkin responded this way:
Your everyday sense of your body tends to disappear but I think that’s through a
more overt awareness of it very much in your body and that’s why you need to do
something to warm your body up so you kind of, you’re very much in your body, so
it doesn’t feel like something else you have to be aware of. It’s just part of your full
awareness. Like one night there was one prop in a different place and I hurt myself;
you know like the chaos was so controlled any kind of thing that was out you had to
be constantly aware of where your feet went.
This perception of “full awareness” for Tonkin in OT, as opposed to a loss of awareness,
suggests that the nature of the work and the disposition of the space necessitated both a high
level of somatic engagement and heightened awareness of the exactitudes of physical
engagement. The seemingly chaotic order of the work (or its non-linear narrative structure),
driven by a manic pace and energy, appeared to be the surface of what was “a very
choreographed” piece of work. Indeed, Tonkin described OT as “such a dance the whole way
through for the actors and props and furniture alike”. The level of awareness in such a tightly
designed theatrical piece meant that for Tonkin, in that space, “there was too much potential
for things to go wrong”.
For both Tonkin and McInnes, performance as an actor was imbued with a knife-edge
existence, in a highly ordered but precarious space. In the interview, Tonkin reflected
candidly on the strategic awareness of safety and the potential for chaos explicit in
performance. In the “last few scenes,” she says, “Peter [as Yahweh] was throwing us
around…every night it was a little bit different…all hands on deck, in terms of watching the
safety factor.” Tonkin noted the moment in OT where Peter throws the cigarette lighter so
that “it’s a projectile, basically”. In sum, whilst the work was highly choreographed, it was
also a chaotic environment, necessitating a need for readiness and strategic adjustment.
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However, such awarenesses of bodily safety are juxtaposed with heightened somatic
experiences. Indeed, Tonkin stated the following, after many changes in the script and having
to cope with a death in her family during the performance season:
My physical experience on being on stage those first few times were, my feet were
about that high above the ground - like I didn’t feel my feet were on the ground, it
was kind of like this weird you, the saying is "Flying by the seat of your pants", but it
literally felt like suspended above the ground, doing what I was supposed to be doing
but it wasn’t until a few weeks down into the run, or a week into the run that I felt
like I was grounded in what I was doing.
This somatic experience for both actors was linked with extreme demands on each actor’s
body. For instance, towards the end of the show most of the actors were wet on stage
(huddled in a corner), after being, as McInnes describes, “running around and sweating”
because of the pace of the performance. Tonkin describes the use of the water on stage as a
“real element” and that she experienced it this way: “You know you’re wet and you know
you’re out of breath and you’re kind of disorientated because you’ve just been running
around ripping things off and it’s a very real state”. Not only is Tonkin referring to the
physical demands and danger of being wet on stage but also the chaotic moment of tearing
the set apart, as the transient world is dismembered. She describes this moment in the play as
“manufacturing a state but…through real elements”. For Tonkin, tangible, real elements were
held in counter-point to the fiction and the suspension-of-belief engendered in these
moments.
For the category of Temporal-reflexive, Tonkin, in particular, showed significant meta-level
introspection. In the following excerpt from the interview, she reflects on her relationship to
the props and toys that were an integral part of the storytelling in OT.
You develop a really intimate relationship with the objects and surroundings
…because beside the fact that it was a huge job and our stage manager probably had
enough on her hands but it kind of became important to have touched things: to know
exactly where they were before the show started every night because it moved too
fast to have to be worrying about exactly the right place…I think we all became quite
attached to our particular props and because sometimes they were characters in the
play and obviously they were in view with a lot of personality and you become
attached to them but even when you like when I had to stab that toy dagger into the
cardboard, I became obsessive about just knowing exactly what the surface of the
cardboard was before each night…where were the gaps and where were the
studs…I’d never been this obsessive about anything before on stage but it sort of - I
don’t know - we’d spent so much time in that space with those objects that they took
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on a life of their own and they had to be just right or else they couldn’t start the
show.
This source, mostly conveyed in present tense, with an overt sense of immediacy, suggests
the compelling connection between the objects in the environment and the actor who
animates them, such that “they took on a life of their own”. Tonkin’s embodiment in the
space appears to have been fleshly, carnal and based in the contiguity of touch, and
manifested through an intentionality of transgressive intimacy. Indeed, there is a
possessiveness suggested about her relationship with the space and the objects, linked to her
feelings of obsession.
In addition, the toys and objects in the space appeared to transcend their inanimate substance
and become invested with attributes of living beings through haptic engagement, such that
they developed an otherness for Tonkin. McInnes refers to these objects as “our little toys,
our little friends.” He is suggesting that within the temporality of performance and the
imaginative space of the stage, a place emerged for play. Indeed, throughout the entire
production there was a tangible sense that what the audience was witnessing were children at
play. Tonkin also alludes to the postdramatic sensibilities that position ‘character’ as
fragmented, uncertain and created in discursive heterogeneity. This fragmentation was
constructed in the immediacy of performance through the movement between vignettes but
also, and most importantly, through the ascribing of character to both animate and inanimate
objects.
The fourth category of this analysis is the Post-reflexive. In this category both participants
made extensive comments about what they had learnt from the show, and reflected on the
processes of the show’s creation and their experience of adjusting to the fluidity of the show.
McInnes made the following observations about the opening night:
It was wonderful, the opening performance. I remember opening night being a sort of
[where] things really clicked but they kept on growing throughout the whole season
as, fingers crossed, every production does I guess. There were still things I think,
correct me if I’m wrong or if you remember, I seem to think we had a preview the
night before, two previews, or three or four previews leading up to opening night and
not slight adjustments, there were big things that had changed in every single thing,
every single performance, in so far as scenes. I can’t remember specifics but scenes
might have been switched in the order.
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The preview performances of OT, leading into opening night, appeared to function as
significant thresholds of textual and performative adjustment that McInnes signifies as “big
things that had changed”. So, in terms of the opening performance, where “things really
clicked” there is a tacit sense that all elements were coming together in synergy, despite the
introduction of significant changes so late in the process. McInnes explained the background
to these changes. The creative team of “Christian and Phil” changed the linear order of scenes
and cut some scenes not long before the opening night. McInnes said: “shifting those goal
posts [familiar scenes and their sequential order] is a conscious thing that Christian and Phil
do…deliberately shifting stuff right up close, really, so that you have full awareness on
stage”. Evidently, while most reshaping occurred before opening night, there were also
changes during the run of the show at the Malthouse. McInnes explains the changes as
follows:
Until a week before we opened, we actually had a lot more content. We played a
number of biblical characters obviously, but until a week beforehand when we cut
quite a huge chunk out of the play, there was a lot more focus on us as tribesmen,
individual tribes, and that sort of stemmed from the idea that there were four people
who were accredited with the writing of what we know as today’s Bible. Four main
voices, and so the idea being that because four human beings wrote that down, did
we create God or Yahweh by writing him down, or did he create us because we
perceive him through the words that were written down by people. That was a big
thing that they were playing with, so that we had a very specific relationship with
Yahweh individually, and I think we still did as a result of the final production that
was performed, but they were the big characters that we sort of had inside of us that
then chose which stories to tell Yahweh, if you know what I mean.
So, there were key thematic changes that emerged that fundamentally reoriented the show for
the actor. Tonkin’s explanation for this approach was that “changing things” meant that as
actors “we’re on our toes” and “we don’t try and rehash the past performance: that it will be
something new, and that’s exciting—it’s also exhausting”. The question that occurs to me is
this: Why do this to a cast? Perhaps it is a tactic of creatively unsettling a cast so that the
intensities and awarenesses remain in a heightened state. What seems likely is that preperformative and performative creative/directorial decisions significantly affected how
Tonkin and McInnes experienced the performing of the show.
Perhaps one effect of this tactic, at least in the case of Tonkin, was to evoke embodied states
that were akin to what she regarded as meditation. In the following extract from the interview
transcript, Tonkin may appear to be speaking in general terms but she is quite specifically
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referring to what happened in OT. She stated:
Yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot because my sister’s a Buddhist nun and so I’ve
looked into meditation and things like that and the experience of being on stage is
very similar; like it’s a very heightened stage of self-awareness. I mean you look
where your senses are - more alive than they would be in everyday life. You often
kind of have this sense of the you that’s on stage saying lines, performing, and
there’s a you that’s kind of overseeing the glass has broken - beware - you know
there’s often this dual kind of - there’s a side of you that’s completely in the moment
with the fellow actor and a side of you that’s just purely observing somebody’s
coughing in the audience, somebody’s leaving the auditorium, you know, like there’s
this strange sense of being able to engage in multiple levels at once and it’s a very
heightened state and I think it comes very close to a meditative state, and certainly as
an audience member all of the truly amazing experiences that I’ve had as either as a
performer or as an audience member have felt spiritual - you like you’ve genuinely
felt changed and privy to some kind of alchemy that’s indescribable and can only
happen in that moment, that can never be recreated, and that’s all quite astounding I
think.
For Tonkin, in this extract, there appears to be a heightened sense of awareness and
perception that is stimulated for her in the performative. That it had “multiple levels”, that it
was “very close to a meditative state” and that it “felt spiritual” may indicate the extent of
connectedness and transcendence that was embodied in her experience. What is also
interesting for me in these observations by Tonkin is the dual sense of time that appears to
operate in her experience. She seems to connect what I have labeled in Section 2.3.3 as intradramatic time (“completely in the moment”) with intra-performance time (“somebody’s
leaving the auditorium”), such that there is a dual awareness of time that seems to function in
her temporal experience. Finally, the use of the image “some kind of alchemy” suggests (that
what Tonkin believes is) a transmutation from the ordinary to the extraordinary (base metals
to gold) in her embodied experiences while performing in OT. She positions this
“indescribable” transformation as unique, one that “can never be recreated”.
As the show evolved during its season in the Beckett, early experiences apparently became
sedimented in later experiences through a growth in cognizance about the work. Tonkin said
of her growth: “I think our understanding of the meta-story grew a lot…and I think our
understanding of the piece as a whole grew, rather…than our specific tasks within it”.
Likewise, McInnes suggested that he “became very clear from an overview of the whole
piece why we chose to tell specific stories to Yahweh or why he chose to tell specific stories
to us”. Considerations of time within the frame of a show’s life need to account for not only
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the temporality of a particular performance but also the evolution of a work across a series of
performances; in other words, the periodicity of a season.
The category of the Liminal had gravity in the experiences of both Tonkin and McInnes. As
discussed above, the vignettes that were used in the final public shows changed markedly
from the ones that were either rehearsed or used in review performances. The fact of the
change, no matter what the motivation of the writer/directors, disturbed what is usually
considered to be a stable preparation time leading into the first public performance.
Liminality was experienced in that uncertain terrain between becoming comfortable with a
set of characters and then being repositioned entirely with other characters. Tonkin stated: “I
was playing Sarah right up until late in the process and then it became Hagar”. The
significance of this change, in terms of the biblical narrative, was not lost on Tonkin. She
stated further: “it felt like we always knew that things [the selection of scenes] were up for
grabs…not locking anything down in terms of character journey”. She rationalized this by
stating: “I was trying to keep things buoyant inside me in terms of not making firm concrete
decisions…the dramaturges in us were all kind of…that makes sense”. However, when it
came to public performance she said that “she felt gutted” and that she had “underestimated
how attached I’d become to plotting that particular journey through those characters”.
McInnes expressed a similar sentiment about the radical changes when he stated:
Because of that we were talking about just before about the exploration and the
rehearsal of setting up those boundaries knowing what they are, all of a sudden the
goal posts have shifted a week out from opening - you kind of like, "Ah, crap, what
game am I playing now?"
The decision to reconstruct, to change the makeup of OT just prior to performance, appears to
be situated paradoxically in terms of the process: fluid and ensemble-based improvisational
creation, but with ultimate decisions about content not made by the ensemble.
The category of Co-presence, and references to the other, figured quite prominently in my
interview with Tonkin and McInnes, and was evidently pivotal to their practice as
professional actors. McInnes uses language of alterity when he describes why he loves
theatre: “I love theatre because it’s a love interaction that can never be the same”. Then he
follows this with an observation that “listening is the main tool of the actor”. Later, McInnes
discussed “working out as a group” and “boundaries and rules are for the game of
performance”. Tonkin was quite specific with her comments. In regard to performance, she
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stated:
In performance there’s just some basic givings that an actor has to live up to - you
know, you’re working with an agreed sort of parameters and they’re pretty much set.
You know how much room you’ve got to move and to change things and keep things
fresh but you’ve got an agreed framework that you have to work within - you have to
be present with each one of them to be able to respond authentically.
The use of the word “givings” suggests a robust sense of inter-subjective ethical
responsiveness in Tonkin’s experience of performing, and an awareness of the importance of
corporeal being-together, given the confined space and highly inter-active nature of OT. The
phrases “agreed sort of parameters” and “agreed framework” further suggest this ethical
framework of responsibility that moderated conduct within the ensemble. The linking of
“present with each other” and “respond authentically” implies that co-corporeality was
conceived as a necessary condition for authentic presence in the space for the audience.
McInnes said, “From the moment the curtain flew up…we were all together on stage the
whole time…privy to everyone’s moments.” And Tonkin noted: “We became very used to
moving quickly between each other so our bodies were very used to moving in a confined
space at a fast pace”. So, knowing in the space became more than just knowing a play; it was
a knowing of the other, often expressed corporeally in the body. Tonkin called this
confluence of mutual embodiment “a very communal kind of heightened experience”.
Such knowing could also be linked to interaction with the audiences who attended. Both
Tonkin and McInnes describe the unpredictable nature of audience reception. Tonkin stated:
“It felt like we were engaging audience who were so excited and enthused” but while there
were “wonderful pockets of enthusiasm” there were also “dark pockets…of people going, I
don’t know how to read this”. McInnes felt that his reading of the audience during
performance was “more often than not completely wrong”, and he cites the case of an
orthodox Jew who, to his surprise, loved the production. Nevertheless, Tonkin was of the
belief that the audiences were quite conservative at the Malthouse and that they were looking
for “a well structured narrative play”. She was convinced that her audiences were “white,
middle class Australia” and that the provocative issues in the play (such as the
reinterpretation of the stories as violent and earthy, with themes such a genocide) did “offend
a lot of people”. In sum, this type of postdramatic theatre created a tentative relationship
between performers and audience, with some level of uncertainty and risk in regard to the
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repositioning of religious stories as uncompromising human narratives about passion, frailty,
violence and deception.
The final category for analysis is Sedimentation and Training, which forms a complex
backdrop to the work of both actors in OT. Tonkin explained that she originally wanted to be
an academic, having attended the University of Melbourne, but she had always “flirted” with
drama and performance and was involved in theatre at university. However, Tonkin
explained that she “never saw it [an acting career] as a viable career option”. She auditioned
for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), was accepted, but
attributes her passage into acting as “fate that seemed to make the choice as much as I did”.
She said that “once you’re hooked, you’re hooked”, showing the conspicuous links for her
between acting and affective experience, empowerment and passion. Indeed, she expressed
her “fascination with performance” and the “power of story telling”. Likewise, McInnes’
choice of acting, and his eventual coming to WAAPA in the same year level as Tonkin, was
linked to imaginative experiences and pleasure that he associated with his early experiences
of performance. He said that at “boarding school…I started realizing that it [acting and
imagining] gave me more satisfaction than I was allowing myself to have”. He did a lot of
work in musical theatre and studied Neutral Mask (training in developing performative states
before action). At WAAPA, he said that he “was just in awe of some of the transformation
that [he] saw some of the students take”. McInnes described the students at WAAPA as “a
very strong knit community”, suggesting that notions of communitas were deeply sedimented
in his praxis as an actor as a result of these experiences of formation. Likewise, Tonkin said:
“It just felt completely indulgent and wonderful just to immerse yourself in something for
three years”.
Tonkin described the approach at WAAPA as “genuinely quite eclectic” but grounded in
Stanislavski, with focus on a set of “unifying tools”. She particularly identified action as a
key focus in training. At WAAPA, Tonkin stated that there was an “intent on action” and
being “very specific about what it was they were doing”. Tonkin also recalled an acting
teacher with a particular bent for film who stressed a “character’s back story” and being able
to “manage your character and its world and its history”. McInnes also identified training in
text as another significant focus. He stated: “the text side of training is very strong through
WAAPA”. He recalled the teacher, Jenny West, and her focus on “working with dense poetry
and verse” and the ability to “analyse very deeply”. Tonkin is of the opinion that when she
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graduated she “had all these tools” and “there wasn’t one method as such taught” because “as
an actor you have to be able to do so many different types of work”. Tonkin went on to
discuss her life frame as an actor and that she was “fortunate to do hugely different types of
performance since graduating”. She points to her training as the key sedimenting influence in
developing the flexibility needed in a diverse and challenging industry.
McInnes took a somewhat different view of his training to Tonkin, and he links his
experiences at WAAPA directly to OT. He stated:
In a screen acting class and we were all sitting there trying to analyse, do our text
analysis as a group for this scene, and the director just sort of stopped us and said,
“You guys do realise that technique’s something you do fall back on when instinct
fails, so trust your instinct”… I think the technique is always trying to get to the place
where it looks like its instinct, you know, so the stuff that has stayed with me has
been initially the text based stuff. OT was much more, in the development of it,
about the improvisational skills and the offers we’re given from a stimulus of text
and its not necessarily the text that you’re going to use, but it’s about being able to
think abstractly and actually work as an ensemble and as a group…but those specific
set of skills needed for OT weren’t really taught that much at WAAPA, but there
were things that you could draw on from your tool kit to help you get through and
rely on that instinct.
While the more emergent, process-based, and improvisationally-driven method of creating
OT (as reported by both participants), may not necessarily fit with McInnes’s skill set derived
from WAAPA, the focus on text, vocal technique and group processes afforded by WAAPA
appears to be quite important in his readiness as an actor in OT. By “instinct”, I take McInnes
to mean what he calls “the action process” that spontaneously becomes apparent as an
embodied response in performance. That spontaneity and focus on action were emphasized in
the training programs at WAAPA, I have no doubt, especially given the fact that it was a part
of Stanislavski’s method. The efficacy of such training for a variety of contexts, including the
making of OT, is evidenced in the dynamism and ability to adjust that were integral to the
rehearsal and performance processes as evinced by both participants.
Illustration 6.4 below is a schema of a phenomenological analysis of the experiences of
Tonkin and McInnes. While there were differences between the experiences of these two
actors (which are pointed out below), I contend that they both shared a common set of eidos.
In the diagram I have divided the phenomenon of OT, and the participants experience of it,
into two distinct but highly inter-related phases: the ‘pre-performative’ (including rehearsal,
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workshops and review performances), and the ‘performative’ (including all performances in
the season). Unlike other analyses in Chapters Five and Six, which have been primarily about
experiences in performance, I have included the pre-performative because it constituted an
essential formative ground for what was experienced in public performances, given the
decisive improvisational process and the shifts of content that characterized even the
performances themselves. Within the memories of Tonkin and McInnes, the process of
creation had presence within performance and fostered a tension that may not otherwise have
existed.
In the pre-performative phase, the formative agents (the writer/directors known as Christian
and Phil) facilitated a process of experimentation, improvisation and somatic engagement that
‘bubbled up’, even into the performances proper. They led a process, with varying levels of
agency, which explored the potentiality of the ensemble through radical assignations of text,
props and bodies. Thus, there was an emergence from potentiality to actuality that formed an
interpretive loop in the pre-performative phase.
Within the performative phase, the diagram explores distinct contingencies to and elements
of experience. Two types of contingencies and elements are identified: firstly, elements
impinging on experience (and perhaps also forming a part of experience). These include the
following: the otherness of and communion with the ensemble, audience reactions and
reception, the attributes and scenography of the confined stage, props as other and as
generative devises and the stable text of OT. There were also what I call performative threads
or essences that tended to drive or provoke experience. Three are identified from the
interview transcript: frenetic energy or pace throughout most of the performance, the tension
between highly choreographed action and movement on stage and the potential for unknown
or chaotic factors to emerge, and the physicality and physical demands of performing. Both
these elements and performative threads appeared to stimulate or cultivate experience, or
were intrinsically a part of experiences, though no claim of a direct causal link is made.
Experiences identified include imagining, various ecstatic states, power, control and agency,
otherness and communitas, dual temporality, heightened awarenesses, touch and intimacy,
tiredness, exertion and physicality, cognizance and a sense of concrescence or ‘coming
together as whole’.
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Illustration 6.4
A phenomenology of the experiences of Tonkin/ McInnes in OT
By way of conclusion, I want to offer some general impressions in regard to what was
experienced by the two actor participants in OT. First, there appeared to be a disappearance
of the ‘I’ of each actor (or a postmodern dissolving of self) because of the shift of focus from
unified character portrayals to a postdramatic rendering of fragmented characters. Partially,
the threshold editing and changing of textual content just prior to public performances
appears to have denuded individual agency only to disperse it into the ensemble. To use
concepts derived from Whitehead, the production of novelty and concrescence and the
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movement from potentiality to actuality in the one actual occasion of performance provides
an apt description of the creative processes that formed OT.
Second, there seemed to be an ineluctable relationship between the pre-performative and the
performative in the internality of both actors. The sedimenting process of rehearsals had
influence, immediacy or traction in terms of embodied experiences while performing. So, the
rehearsal or formation processes of a theatrical work can have significant impact on how
actors actually experience a performance, though this has not always been noted in other
interviews in this study and this influence may be confined to the particularities of this work.
Perhaps it is the case that the especially organic and emergent character of workshops and
rehearsals leading to performance created more significant contiguity between rehearsal and
performance.
Third, time and temporality appear to have been multiplex in the experiences of Tonkin and
McInnes in OT. For a start, awareness of temporality within the narrative structure of OT
seems to have involved circularity, rather than a teleological (beginning to end) sense of
time, because of the ostensible absence of a linear plot and the use of a series of revolving
vignettes. In addition, temporal awareness was also experienced by both actors in relation to
the internal time constructs of the vignettes themselves, which became distinct narratives
within a larger work. On a second level, the markers of time external to the drama (such as
the audience) and the wider durational frame of the season of performances (the extraperformance time frame) were also present in the experiences of both actors. At a third level,
both actors positioned their experiences in OT in terms of their own life frames and what the
production added to their careers. Ultimately, the tenor of the interview suggests that OT
became a powerful and complex sedimenting experience for both actors through the layering
of temporality and time across of the season of the production and beyond.
Fourth, co-corporeality and an ethics of otherness and co-presence were central to both the
experience of performing and the creative gestalt of performances, as described by Tonkin
and McInnes. Links to their experiences at WAAPA, with its manifest communitas, were
evident as an eidos of experience for both actors, whose simpatico was palpable throughout
the interview.
Finally, there were some differences of experiential perspective between Tonkin and
McInnes. For McInnes, his focus appeared to be on text, the particularities of the space and
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physicality; whereas for Tonkin, heightened states, ecstasy and touch were more evident in
her discourse. In essence, Tonkin’s experiences were more corporeal. Both actors, however,
appeared to share an abiding passion for OT, and both expressed disappointment when the
2007 season of OT was over.
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Chapter Seven
Evaluations and conclusions
Section 7.1
Introduction
This research has emerged from praxis and from my own ruminations about the internality of
actors, augmented by an extensive research literature elaborated in Chapter Two, as well as a
set of philosophical perspectives introduced in Chapter Four. As such, this study combines
practical as well as basic research emphases. The investigation is an ethnographic study of
actors, especially given its tools and approaches to data collection elaborated in Chapter
Three, inflected with a phenomenological approach to analysis. Because of its inductive
grounding on the platform of practice, and its focus on the performance narratives of actors,
as well as its theoretical concerns with actor processes and training, the implications of the
study are multi-faceted. Therefore, there are conclusions, implications and recommendations
that relate to theoretical as well as more pragmatic concerns. Most of all, this study is an
exploration of a set of claims about performance phenomena that were explored in Chapter
Two. The central purpose of this chapter is to revisit those claims and evaluate them in terms
of the analyses of data presented in Chapters Five and Six.
Section 7.2
Evaluation of the method of this study
This research has most of the hallmarks of the long-established traditions of ethnographic
research (as explicated in Chapter Three). As such, this study could be conceived as residing
within the methodological frame of ethnographers such as Victor Turner. Indeed, I conceive
myself as an ethnographer of actors. Though the contexts of this inquiry differ from the focus
of such ethnographers on researching traditional societies, nevertheless there is a shared
understanding that what is sought for study is human experience, meaning generation and the
forms that accompany meaning formation and experience.
Whilst the methodology of this study is ethnographic, at its core is a bent towards the
phenomenological, with explicit bracketing of performance phenomena from the world,
following the ideas of Husserl. This bracketing implies both an isolation of a phenomenon
and then its reduction to essences. These essences are derived from actor experiences within
the context of a set of performances and include the contingencies that sponsor such
experiences, as well as the sedimentation promoted by training and the life frames of actors.
In order to reduce actor experiences to essences, a set of coding categories was developed and
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then used to examine transcripts of interviews and journal texts.
I now offer a critique of the methodology of this study. The purpose of this critique is to
identify both the problems and the possibilities. First of all, the use of ontological coding
categories proved highly effective in isolating a set of internal states that were conceived as
part of the constitution of an actor’s experiences and ultimately elemental to a performance
event. The model of using ontological categories of experience for analysis certainly presents
possibilities for analyzing experience in other contexts and performative situations, as I
explore in Section 7.6 below. Of course, I make no claim that these categories could identify
all that is experienced. Indeed, there were aspects of experience that emerged in the
interviews and in the journals of actors that did not fit within the parameters of the eight
coding categories used for analysis. For instance, it became evident that most of the actors
who participated in this study experienced what could be termed concrescence, or a sense of
‘coming together’ and completion that has an extended periodicity. This experience is not
fully accounted for in my ontological categories. Furthermore, the eight categories used to
facilitate the phenomenological reductions in this study are really of two types: categories
about actual experiences and categories concerned with reflexion on experiences and thus an
ordering or sedimentation of experiences in memory. Perhaps these two categories could
have been treated as discrete entities, though, in practice, it was difficult to separate the two,
as they were so intricately interwoven in actors’ discourses.
Secondly, the combination of ethnography and phenomenology, constructed as an ethnophenomenological paradigm, and a set of ‘wide’ and ‘narrow’ and ‘deep’ perspectives,
proved efficacious in regard to actor participants. I was able to gather relevant data using
ethnographic techniques and then bring phenomenological concepts, as useful productive
lenses, to the analysis tasks. Moreover, contingencies of a performance phenomenon could be
clearly identified and differentiated from experiences. In this sense, the broader scope of a
performance event could be delineated in juxtaposition with experience using both
ethnography and phenomenology in synergy.
Thirdly, while there was enthusiastic recall of experiences by actors, it may be problematical
to verify fully the truth of experience claims of actors (and perhaps impossible to do so
definitively). There was some triangulation of interview data through researcher observations
and the use of a journal by some of the actor participants in order to foster different
perspectives. Indeed, it was evident in comparing an actor’s journal with his or her recall of
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experience in the interview that the passage of time had led to a some sedimenting of
experience or a repositioning of experience into an actor’s interpretive life frame (as
discussed in Section 2.3.1). By contrast, there was literalness and directness conveyed in the
journal writing: an immediacy that had the tenor of honesty. So, for me, as for Csordas
(2008), experience is not just mediated through language but given in language, spoken or
written. Language does not hide or distort so much as it reveals or does not reveal. Truth
emerges out of corporeal encounter, and that was certainly my sense of the interviews that I
conducted. The interviews were revelations or testimonies of deeply held experiences.
Fourthly, the relationship between interiority and externality in an actor’s experience is
complex, and the methodology of this study was designed to reconnoitre it. In Chapter Two, I
theorized extensively about this relationship, proposing a group of claims about its
ontological disposition. In Chapters Four and Five this relationship was explored with
specificity in regard to eight actor case studies. In terms of the method of this study, however,
the data collection tools tended to emphasise interiority, and only appeared to allow a partial
view of exteriority. Certainly, audience reception and the views of other creative agents in the
process of creating performance would have provided a more extensive perspective on
exteriority. However, the scope of this study, as was clearly stated in Chapter One, is to
examine primarily interiority in terms of what actors claim to have experienced.
Fifthly, the use of phenomenological reduction, through coding categories and textual
techniques that were applied to transcripts, implies that only spoken words were generally
taken into account in analysis, though some attempt was made, ethnographically, to convey
affective features of a particular interview and its contextual aspects, as well as my reception
of performances as a researcher. This decision effectively denuded the analysis of features
such as vocal tone and body language, in other words, its corporeal lineaments. It could be
argued that in the transference of articulated experiences to an artefact such as a transcript,
and then its subsequent codification and reduction in analysis, aspects of experience could be
potentially lost. Indeed, to what extent can coding categories get at experience? I
acknowledge that the coding categories were selective and it is true that all experiences were
not (and could not) be accounted for, as discussed above. I argue, however, given my
familiarity with the many texts analysed in this study, that the codification and reduction (as a
‘narrow’ and ‘deep’ perspective) functioned proficiently in identifying selected experiential
states and in bringing greater focus to the structures of such experiences in consciousness.
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Most importantly, this approach proved to be a highly proficient means of reducing
experience to essences, and it appeared to succeed as a device for organising and coding the
data from all actors interviewed in this study.
Finally, the use of philosophical perspectives (of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Whitehead, as
discussed in Chapter Four) proved to have excellent utility in describing and analyzing the
interviews transcripts and journals of actors. For instance, the use of Merleau-Ponty’s
phenomenology of subject-body in the world provided an apt framework for discussing
experiences of embodiment, perception and intentional engagement of actors with their
performance spaces. Levinas’ metaphysics proved especially useful for positioning
experiences of being with others, identifying alterity, and exploring how an ethics of
obligation and the joy of encounter operated in theatrical contexts. Extensive references to
otherness in the interview transcripts and journals, as well as a sense of co-presence and
mutual obligation, made Levinas’ metaphysics an especially potent perspective. And
Whitehead’s process philosophy provided an effective paradigm for delineating experiences
of creativity, concrescence and formation, as well as the place of the pre-performative in the
constitution of performance. This is particularly important, given my contention that actor
sedimentation, especially in training, has a significant place in performance experiences.
Whitehead was also useful in differentiating the individual from the whole, but also seeing
the relationship of the whole to the individual as a creative inter-play of constitutive
elements.
If there is a limitation in the selection of these three philosophers, it may be in their limited
specificity about or elaboration of affective states. To explicate such states I had to employ
concepts drawn from psychology and anthropology. Yet, such affective experiences appear to
be constitutive in terms of performance phenomena
Section 7.3
Evaluation of claims
In this section, I evaluate the set of claims elaborated abductively in Chapter Two. This
evaluation is structured in eight sections, following the order of claims listed in Section 2.5
above. The evaluation examines the extent to which these claims reflect, substantiate or are in
accord with the experiences of the eight actors who participated in this study. In terms of the
history of the development of this study, and the evolving nature of the research, the ideas in
Chapter Two mostly preceded analysis of the interviews and journals. In fact, much of the
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material in Chapter Two was spawned in my research journal in the early stages of the
research process, as I was reflecting on my own praxis and reading the literature extensively.
Section 7.3.1
Performance
The first set of claims involves notions about performance, including role formation. Most
actors who participated in this study performed in theatrical works that tended to reflect a
certain western sensibility and employ traditions derived from western theatrical practice,
including ideas of the unified character and the discrete role. Indeed, I privileged such a
notion of performance, being, as it is, within the bounds of my own praxis and experiences of
theatre. McGee also strongly formed and centralised her discrete role formations from Hedda
Gabler and The Cherry Orchard within her experiences of performing and especially within
the affective domain; and Houghton, in The Pitch, centered his variegate theatrical work for
The Melburne International Comedy Festival on the central character of Walter (the
ambitious but untalented writer). Likewise, for Williams, his role as Scrooge was clearly his
entire focus during performance and was a catalyst for his experiences. From my own
acquaintance with actors, I positioned role as critical to experience, and asserted its
pervasiveness in just about all that actors know of performing. Performance was thus
conceived as especially connected to role and the generation of character.
However, the elaboration of performance from the point-of-view of actor experiences, and
the privileged position given to role within such experiences, does not appear to fully accord
with what all actor participants said and wrote about experiencing performance in the
interviews and journals. For example, Bongiovanni, in her work with the Graduate Ensemble,
expressed a preference for Fragments and Dreams, rather than The Cherry Orchard. This
theatrical piece had less performance focus on role, being a theatrical and visual rendering of
a set of traditional texts presented in loose unity. Bongiovanni’s descriptions of her
experiences, including her awarenesses during performance, were not about role. The
postdramatic sensibility of Fragments and Dreams was similar to OT, in which role
formation was not unitary but fragmented and emergent from the corporeal interactions of the
actors, the reception of the audiences and the exigencies of the set, held in tension with the
text. For Tonkin and McKinnes, experiences focused on action, interaction with audiences,
and the challenges of working corporeally with other bodies in a confined space. Little about
role was evident in their interview, and the intention of the piece in which they performed
was to create certain effects on the audience that were not related to role.
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While an understanding of performance should be inclusive of role, conceiving performance
through the lens of role appears to be too limiting a position from which to theorise a
phenomenology of performance. Theatre, as a species of performance, also needs to be
considered in a wider frame. What is clear from consideration of the data in this study is that
the nature of a particular performance event is critical to how it is experienced by actors. It
was a surprise to me that in many cases, while role seemed important in the constitution of a
performance, from the point of view of the actor this was not necessarily the case. For
example, Hardie’s role as Aeschylus, the keeper of the graveyard, would appear to be the
most momentous element of his experience of The Perjured City. However, role was only
one element of a more diverse range of influences on his experiences. Hardie’s passion for
the text of Cixous’ play and the ensuing pleasure in performing it, as well as his elemental
need for exchange with his audience and his seeking of balance within the stage, seem more
important in his experiences than role. It may well be that once his role was extensively
habituated, then it receded in importance in his experiences, and his internality was
characterized by more concern for space/place, audience and maintaining somatic control in a
demanding, lengthy play.
The case of Lai is also illustrative of this point. Lai’s recall of her experiences of playing
Irina focuses partially on role, but the key experiential focus for Lai was her self-awareness
as actor. She was intimately aware of the liminalities within her experience, the sedimenting
influences from her training at Exeter (including Phillip Zarrilli’s psychophysical training),
and especially the constraints on her experience wrought through her ethnicity, physical size
and gender. Such constraints suggest that the important issue for Lai was not whether role
evoked experience but what limits access to role in experience.
In sum, while the formation of role (and the development of a character) is an important
aspect of elaborating performance and could be centralized in an actor’s experiences while
performing, it may not be the main focus of experience for an actor. Indeed, in performance
events in which there is a postdramatic or postmodern sensibility, role may be not be present
at all or could be wrought in a fragmented or unanticipated way.
Section 7.3.2
Experience (internality)
In Chapter Two, I claimed that experience was complex in the internality of actors during
performance. In order to unravel this complexity, I devised a set of ontological coding
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categories that functioned to label and reduce experiences to their constituent attributes.
Further, I claimed that there were varying levels of absence and presence of experiential
attributes in the awareness of actors. Finally, I positioned contingencies to performance
phenomena as significant in experience, while also operating as constraints to or enhancers of
experience.
From the data of Chapters Five and Six, it is clear just how multi-layered, complex and varied
were the experiences of actors, probably more than I anticipated prior to interviewing
participants. The representation of each actor’s experiences using schematic mind maps
reveals this complexity and variety of experiences, and the maps also suggest the pivotal
place of contingencies in fostering and constraining experience. As stated above, the
ontological categories developed to scrutinize this complexity did not fully encompass some
significant experiences reported by actors, though they were more than useful devices for
identifying the variety of experiences within the transcripts. For instance, the experiences of
actors during performing also appear to contain within them a delicate balance of order and
disorder, in addition to a complex array of internal states. Hardie, for example, was highly
aware of balance on stage, and Tonkin and McInnes were acutely mindful of the issue of
equilibrium between safety and fluid movement during the frenetic pace of their performance
of OT.
There are also other possible levels of experience that a number of the actor participants
noted. These could be regarded as heightened states of awareness, and reported a supranormal or meditative state. Tonkin in particular, and a number of the other actors in this
study, suggested that this heightened state, which encompassed, spatial, emotional and textual
awarenesses, bordered on the meditative and was rhapsodic in form during performance.
There was both a sense of being aware of (even feeling outside of) performance and
embodied and immersed in performance at the same time: imaginatively caught in a sublime
imaginative world and grounded in the ordinary demands of being a performer. Most actors
interviewed for this study felt imminent and transcendent at the same time, as if in a
paradoxical body. Though awareness of the body was transient during performance, the
objectives of performance and perceptions of place were vivid and acute for actors.
It seems that actors were significantly more aware in performance that I had conceived, and
the absence of embodied states was not as frequent as I theorised in Chapter Two. In sum,
actors were not as absorbed in the temporality of the moment during performance as I, and a
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number of actor educators that I interviewed, expected. Bongiovanni, for instance, with a
severe migraine during a performance at a secondary school, was not only aware of her
bodily condition, but also of her audience, her co-participants in performance and the
exigencies of the performance context. Her self-aware perspicacity was momentous for this
performance event.
These observations reflect similar observations of Asian performance aesthetics, for example
from Being in Japanese Butoh to Rasa in Indian performance traditions, in which there is a
religious and spiritual sensibility that encompasses the holistic nature of performance
experience, and an overt self-awareness of bodily states in the performative. I would argue,
though, that a meditative dimension or heightened state also exists within the Western
traditions of performance. It is certainly articulated in the work of Artaud and Grotowski, and
has also influenced Brook, Barba, Boal and Schechner. It has also impacted the
anthropological work of Turner on performance and ritual. Lai, whose training and
sedimentation were linked to Asian training paradigms derived from Phillip Zarrilli,
demonstrated a profuse set of reflexions and awarenesses during performance, but her
development as an actor was also influenced by the ideas of Michael Chekhov and the
techniques of Alba Emoting.
What is also evident from the analyses of Chapter Five and Six (and the mind maps) is that
each actor’s experiences had a distinctive footprint. What an actor experiences in a particular
performance cannot be fully predicted and is inimitably personal, although having a set of
common performative aspects and shared conditions with other actors. Given this unique
footprint and the discrete demands of each performance context, all actors interviewed
expressed the need for adaptability and fluidity in performance, and were, for the most part,
self-aware of such a need. Williams, for example, felt the need for the script of Scrooge, CEO
as both a tactile object and a presence in consciousness, so that his fear of mistakes could be
obviated. While the texts of a performance work and the design of a performance space may
remain constants, other constituent elements of performance, especially audiences and
interactions with other actors, are variable, even unpredictable. In more ensemble-based
performance contexts this unpredictability becomes more pronounced. This suggests to me
that a performance is a delicate complex system in which an actor experiences a multiplicity
of exigencies that require creative adaptation, flexibility and a set of awarenesses that are
particular to that context. Acting in a performance space could be about regulating an
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environment in order to achieve performance goals. It might also focus on maintaining
sufficient stability to sustain performance for an audience. Acting performance might thus
concern equilibrium between potentially chaotic states and the desire for order.
Contingencies to such experiences, as outlined in Section 2.2.2, appear to be formidable
factors in both enhancing and restraining experience. For example, Houghton expressed his
view that the time of day, and thus the type of audience that came to see The Pitch, was a
constraint in his fluidity as a performer and the energy that he was able to extend in
performance. However, when some of the evening audiences were connected to his
performance he experienced both joy and release. In OT, the props as contingent artefacts in
performance required considerable imaginative and somatic investment by Tonkin and
McInnes in order to animate them to the point where they became characters for the
audiences. The experiences of haptic connection and flow with the props, as mentioned by
both actors, contained qualities of restraint with release.
Another mode of experience that figured quite prominently in actor accounts of performance
was liminality. Initially liminality was not included in the list of ontological categories for
analyzing experience. Nor did I especially pre-theorise its phenomenal nature. However,
during my initial interviews, actors deemed these experiences of being-at-the-margins and
going through transitions as being important. Most of these instances of liminality centre on
the labyrinthine movement between interiority and exteriority. It is this region of uncertainty
or inertia between internal states and external expression to an audience that most affected the
actors in this study.
The notion of intensities was one aspect of the various states of internality identified and
analysed in this study that was not especially well developed. By ‘intensities’ I mean a
grading of experience, from that which is highly experienced or potent to that which is
experienced moderately or not at all. In terms of both the journals and the interviews, this
notion of intensities was only implicit in what the actors offered about their experiences. For
example, McGee, in her performance as Hedda, spoke about the strong intensity of her
pleasure in affecting both her fellow actors and her audience in most performances. She has
apparently graded her affective experience at the high end of a scale. This idea of intensities
could also be theorised in terms of engagement. Or, how much intensity does an actor want to
put into a performance? This is linked with the concepts of volition and intentionality that
were discussed in Section 2.2.2. In the case of Bongiovanni in The Cherry Orchard, for
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example, her engagement with her role and with the play as a whole appears to be low and
thus her intensity of experience in the performance season was consequently diminished. One
could also conceive intensities in terms of particular moments or critical points and speak
about micro-intensities. There is also the idea of efficiency to consider. In other words, what
is the most efficient optimal state of intensity to create expected effects on an audience?
Section 7.3.3
Presence (externality)
In Section 2.2.3, I elaborated presence as a state of embodiment in which internality and
externality are fluidly connected or in synergy, and expressed in physical action. Furthermore
I made a connection between presence in theatrical performance and the nature and
constitution of experiences for an actor while performing. Finally, audience was positioned as
a significant constraint to, but potentially also a catalyst of, such experiences as related to
presence.
However, from an examination of the experiences of the actor participants in this study, the
notion of presence appears to be more precarious and unpredictable than is recognized by
writers such as Zarrilli, Goodall and Nolan (in Section 2.2.3 above). Moreover, the
relationship between internal states and reception is more difficult to ascertain and more
dependent on the performance context than I characterized it in Chapter Two. Indeed,
presence is not always indicative of the propensity of internal states. Tonkin, McInnes,
Hardie and Williams all seem to have misperceived how they were received by some of their
audiences and thus their sense of presence for an audience was not always the presence that
the audience received. Of course I use the term ‘audience’ in its collective sense, but it must
be remembered that audiences are individuals, individual spectators, as McInnes recognized
in what he considered his mistaken belief that an orthodox Jew could not possibly like OT.
Perhaps the term ‘presence’ is not only about an actor’s presence for an audience but the
presence of an audience (and individuals within an audience) for an actor. Houghton seems to
have experienced this audience presence as a creative force is his delivery of The Pitch. His
recall of his pre-performative affective state of dread before his performance to an elderly
audience and then being overwhelmed with their reception is suggestive of a presence that is
embodied by an audience and becomes a catalyst for experience.
Two cases in which I, as researcher, became audience for actor participants serve to illustrate
the complicatedness of understanding presence and internality. Lai’s performance as Irina in
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the drama theatre at the University of Exeter was, to my sensibilities as an experienced
theatre maker, exquisite: her focus, intensity and sense of her body in the space I found
highly engaging and convincing. There was truth in her performance and her presence as an
actor seemed assured. However, Lai’s recollection of her own internality contained
uncertainty about whether she was creating her role properly, and constraints on her
experience, such as her sense of her smallness, were present in her consciousness. Perhaps it
was the sedimentation in the training of Phillip Zarrilli that facilitated the openness and
readiness that was so evident in the performance that I witnessed. Likewise, Williams, so
concerned about the precision of his delivery of the text and his accurate rendering of the
character of Scrooge, was, nevertheless, for me, and others who witnessed his performance,
compelling. It may well have been that the tension between his fear of failure and his need for
order in performance were the optimal conditions to create a presence for the tortured
character of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Section 7.3.4
Time and temporality
In terms of time and temporality, I theorised extensively in Chapter Two about both the
nature of time and the experience of temporality for actors. Time was theorised as being
multi-layered in actor’s experiences while performing, and, like other contingencies within
performance, has the potential to both constrain and enliven performance. Likewise, tense
elements of time were conceived as having traction within an actor’s experience. Finally, I
proposed that within the temporality of an actor’s experience of performance there are four
qualities or constructs that are useful for understanding how time functions within
experience.
The actors who contributed to this study appeared to experience time in three ways: first, as a
set of temporal moments that coalesced into a performance event; second, as a fictional
construct that is part of the theatre event as drama; and finally, as periodicity that was both
experienced within a performance event and extended beyond it. In fact, because all the
actors showed significant sustained awarenesses throughout their performance, time was
much more resident in their experience than I had expected. My supposition was that actors
would give import to absorption either in their characters or in the narrative such that there
would be a compression of time—so it would appear to pass quickly or be uneven within
awareness. Apparently, such was not always the case. Williams, for example, appeared to
sustain an awareness of markers of time as well as his own temporal experience of character
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throughout his performances. While for Bongiovanni there were occasions when she was
absorbed in dramatic time, and wider awarenesses of time appeared to become absent, in
other performance contexts the opposite appeared to characterize her experience, and there
were numerous points or foci of temporal awareness in her experience.
What is clear from the experiences of all eight actors in this study is that the constructs of
time and temporality (intra-dramatic, extra-dramatic, intra-performance, and extraperformance) explicated in Section 2.3.2 were highly accurate in terms of what each of them
reported. Houghton appears to have operated experientially in all four categories, as
suggested in his journal and interview. At one moment he was at an intra-dramatic level of
temporality, caught up in his central character and engrossed in his inimitable delivery of a
cornucopia of other characters; at another point he was contemplating why he did not get
nominated for his show, suggesting the extra-performance or larger sense of time that
impinged on his experiences. Certainly, importance should be given to an extended sense of
periodicity for an actor in which he or she positions a particular performance event within a
larger life frame as an actor (see Section 7.3.7 below).
One aspect of analyzing the temporal experiences of actors that could be refined is the
introduction of what might be termed ‘micro-temporal’ experiences. By this term I am
suggesting singularities: unique and tiny points of temporal experience at a moment in time.
In this study I have rather offered elaboration of macro-temporal experiences. Houghton, in
The Pitch, recalls a single moment when he saw a blind man with his guide dog and the dog
appeared unusual. The importance of micro-temporal experiences is certainly worthy of
examination but was not an explicit focus in the interviews conducted with actors in this
inquiry.
Section 7.3.5
Space and place
In this study, space and place were critical contingencies to what actors experienced while
performing. I made a number of claims about space and place. For a start, space and place
were conceived as having distinct functions within an actor’s experience. The terms were
inverted in regard to their usual contemporary designation: with place referring to an abstract
imaginative construction in consciousness, though still linked to location, while space was
conceived as being null and concrete, awaiting transformation. I extended this notion to four
categories of space/place with which actors engage: location, constructed dramatic signified
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space, imagined space and socio-political space. Finally, I conceived space as generative of
experience and capable of shaping performance as well as being shaped by performance.
The more transcendent notion of place appeared to be a cogent concept for understanding
how actors regard their bodies psychophysically in a theatre space. Hardie, for example,
imbued the space in the theatre at the VCA in Melbourne with his territorialism as Aeschylus.
The space became for him (in his consciousness and within his experience) a place of
guardianship of the souls of the dead in the drama, but this guardianship also extended to the
ideas in and text of Cixous’ play. Both Tonkin and McInnes in OT transmogrified the
uncertain, claustrophobic and barren space created in the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse
into a place of radical examination of sacred stories and transgressive engagement with props
and bodies. In this instance, not only did the space become place for the actors but also for
the audience. The engagement of actors with space in order to become place is part of a
complex inter-play between internality (imagination) and externality (encounter with the
world) that involved strategic adjustments and awarenesses. Thus, the exterior embodied
function, theorised in Section 2.2.2, implies an adaptation to the world or a holding of the
world in creative equipoise, a position that accords with Merleau-Ponty’s notion of
intentional engagement with the world.
However, the four categories of space/place seemed a less useful set of concepts, or possibly
were not given due focus in my interviews with actors. The notions of a location and an
imagined space seemed to correspond with or expand on the ideas of space and place.
However, the construct of a ‘signified space’ appears to be more about reception and design
than about experience and internality. In the case of Hardie, however, the intricately designed
space and intentional signification of the space by the designer appears to be significant in
how he experienced it. It became his territory—actuated by the use of inter-lacing ropes
around the space in which he could climb, swing and hang. In OT, the use of audiovisual
elements signified certain states and phases in the play that were not only important for
audience reception but also for Tonkin’s and McInnes’s temporal sense of their place in the
overall work. From my own reflection on practice, the notion of a ‘socio-political space’ is
one that is important in the rehearsal process of a theatrical work but may be less noteworthy
during performance. This is a polemic space that may be less evident is performance where
cohesion (this unification and actuality of performative elements) is advocated for the
facilitation of performance for an audience. To what extent such polemic discourse operates
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in liminal spaces that are adjacent to the performance space has not been established in the
data gathered for this study. Perhaps in the case of Tonkin and McInnes, the radical editing
and repositioning of vignettes for performance was a political act to disturb the comfortable
sameness of the actors and thus does reflect the operation of polemics.
Finally, the embodied interaction of actors within theatre spaces was indeed generative of
experience. In OT, the boundedness of the stage, with the precarious placement of props in
the constricted performance space, created a definite constraint on the actions of Tonkin and
McInnes, but more importantly this same space was imbued with potentially. Indeed, its very
boundedness created a condition of necessity, which evoked a discrete set of experiences that
I explicated in Section 6.4 above. The views of Merleau-Ponty, that we are bounded to the
world and intentionally act in the world, and the analytical position of Whitehead, that the
elements within a context can combine in novel ways to form unique concrescences, both
point to the potentiality of space for creating experience and for experience to shape space as
place.
Section 7.3.6
Sedimentation
The metaphor of sedimentation, as elaborated in Section 2.4.2, was centralised (with
experience) as a key focus for this study. Sedimentation is conceived as a way of
understanding the complex accumulation of knowledges, skills, embodiments, tacit
judgements and experiences wrought in the memory and body of an actor. Furthermore,
training was positioned as being a critical core to or foundational of this sedimentation for an
actor. Thirdly, I designated sedimentation as an essential ground for experiences of an actor
while performing, and, I theorised that sedimentation has the potentiality for constraining but
also fostering experience.
First of all, there appeared to be a perceptible link between training, sedimentation and
experiences for the actors in training, as explored in Chapter Five. McGee, for example,
appears to have adopted the method of Oyston and employed his focus on both immersion
and adaptability in her portrayal of Hedda in Hedda Gabler. She experienced, what felt for
her like, possession and power in the rendering of her character. This is despite this
performance being outside the educative domain of the Graduate Ensemble program and
notwithstanding McGee’s overt contestation of some of the pedagogical approaches of
Oyston. Hardie’s experience of playing Aeschylus in The Perjured City was likewise
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grounded from his training program and was resident in his experience during performance.
The focus on action, ‘pulse’ (or impulse in the body that leads to intention), textual study,
vocal delivery and especially conceiving a state of research about self, appear to have formed
the basis for Hardie’s exploration of the scope of his character with his audiences and thus his
complex set of experiential states. Enhancement and constriction between text and role, and
Hardie’s passion and enjoyment of this inter-play, underscored in his training program, led by
Gerstle, appeared to characterize his experiences. Lai’s desire to empty herself and fill that
emptiness with her character, so that she was fully available to bring the character to her
audiences, seems an outcome of Zarrilli’s training designed to create transposition between
interiority and exteriority. However, I do not want to suggest that such a link between
sedimentation, training and experience is clear-cut or simple. One must acknowledge that the
ground for experience is complicated and contains within it a miscellany of influences.
In the case of actors after their training programs, I expected less connection because the
immediacy of training and the influence of individual educators or trainers had waned, and
other sedimenting experiences and habituations had become more significant. To an extent
this supposition proved correct; however, I was surprised with the gravity of training as a
sedimenting influence in the consciousness of some actors. While Houghton completed only
two years of his training in Sydney (of a three year program), his disengagement with his
training may have acted as a catalyst for his drive and astuteness as an actor in a competitive
industry. His vivid memories of his training and his subsequent discourse of resistance to it
appear to have been significant in his formation as a highly idiosyncratic and individualistic
actor. A case in point is his seemingly distinctive method of warming up by dancing to music
before a show.
One crucial observation about sedimentation is that the coalescence of sedimentation and
training with elemental felt states of actors during performance appeared to operate in
creative exchange. Pre-expressive and expressive states seem to align in dialectic. In actor
interviews, as well as in journal entries, the performance experiences of actors and reflections
about their training were positioned closely in consciousness. It is a connection that I had
always suspected was pivotal and this has been borne out by the frequent references of actors
back to their acting teacher, acting school or significant director (sometimes in quite
idealistic/romantic language) and to the method and techniques taught. The sedimentation of
an actor, as fundamentally established in actor training, is the default position that an actor
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often falls back to in the stress, twists and turns of a performance season. This is not to
suggest that subsequent acting experience is not important but that the process of formation in
actor training is a substantive state that sustains an actor throughout their career.
Section 7.3.7
Life frame
The construct of a ‘life frame’ was one that I elaborated in Section 2.4.3. It was positioned as
a useful form for understanding the self of an actor and what inputs into performance.
Further, I devised four ontological features of an actor’s life frame: bodily states, immediate
life situation, performance history, and passion and motivation. Finally, I claimed that an
actor’s life frame, as a set of pre-performative conditions, is one important constituent
element of what actors experience of performance: it sets the starting conditions for
experiencing performance.
The concept of a ‘life frame’ was felicitous for examining what actors brought to
performance, and how this pre-performance state, or set of conditions, then affected their
experiences while performing. It was notable that the actors who completed journals
(Bongiovanni, Williams and Houghton) wrote quite extensively about these conditions. In
both their interviews and their journals, all actors described their bodily states prior to
performance, gave copious detail about their performance histories and were explicit about
their passion in and motivation for individual performances. However, only a modicum was
revealed about their immediate life situation prior to performance. This aspect of an actor’s
life frame may not have been given enough attention in interview questions or it could be the
case that actors regarded this matter as private.
What is clear from the data is that while the construct is useful, it was too narrow in scope.
Most actors in this study framed their experiences in terms of larger life goals, and it was
clear that these wider goals had immediacy for experience in performance. Houghton’s
ambitions for The Pitch seemed to be always resident in his experiences while performing
and underlined his wish to take his career forward. For Lai, her desire to develop as an actor,
linked to her objective of doing theatre in Hong Kong, was important in what she crafted in
doing performance. So, the construct of a life frame needs to account for not only the
conditions prior to a performance but existential concerns of actors beyond the temporality of
performance.
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Section 7.3.8
Artistic filters
The notion of ‘filters’ is an extension of Section 7.3.6. This notion was presented in this study
as a set of performative expectations that regulate and constrain what an actor is supposed to
do in performance. These expectations are found especially in training, but are present to a
greater or lesser extent in all professional and community theatre organisations. I further
suggested that filters are an important aspect of the readiness of an actor for performance and
become part of awarenesses that an actor experiences while performing. Finally, I claimed
that these filters and an actor’s life frame could be in creative or destructive collision, an idea
built from Whitehead’s analytics.
What is evident from the data of this study is that filters operated potently within the
experiences of actors to both regulate and foster experience, and to privilege experiences that
are believed to facilitate strong and connected performance. Lai, for example, worked within
the parameters of the filter of being open and available, aware and connected. For
Bongiovanni, in Fragments and Dreams, the filters tended to regulate somatic shape and
movement, together with precise vocal delivery of the text. Bongiovanni expressed her
preference for such filters and seemed to find satisfaction within the scope of these filters. In
this focused educative context such filters are applied as part of the assessment process. In the
case of Houghton and his one-man, self-written, show, there is no external educative
authority to apply filters and regulate performance. Houghton’s regulation was afforded by
his relationship with the Malthouse (as his piece was selected as part of The Comedy
Festival), with his audiences and with the wider theatre community from which he desired
respect.
Two further points are worth noting. First, while there were differences of approach and
pedagogy between actor educators and training schools (as discussed in Section 7.3.9 below
and Section 2.4.3 above), all training facilities that were part of this investigation tended to
operate around a set of idealizations about what an actor should be. These idealizations act as
regulators (or what I have labeled ‘filters’) in juxtaposition with an actor’s embodied states,
such that states that do not fit within this ideal are not privileged or overtly challenged. I
contend that this juxtaposition fosters creative coalescence during performance. However,
secondly, there may be dissonance between the idealizations of actor educators and the actual
felt experiences and states of actors. All of the actors interviewed in this study reported a
more complex internality and range of awarenesses and affective states than conceived by the
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actor educators that I interviewed. In addition, for ensemble-based theatre companies there
can be a distinctive mark to their work or pattern to their processes that suggests the
privileging of certain approaches to acting that could also be labeled as filters.
Section 7.3.9
Continuum of training methods
In Section 2.4.4, I positioned emphases within actor training programs, or for individual actor
educators, on a continuum or sliding scale, and privileged actor training as a central
sedimenting experience in the practice and temporal performance experiences of an actor.
The idea of the continuum is to ascertain the orientation of a training practice, from somatic
to contemplative and meditative to affective. My point in creating this continuum is to
juxtapose these orientations with the strategies employed and experiences had by actors in
performing.
In interviews with actor educators and from what actors revealed about their training, it is
clear that the nature of actor training in Australia is diverse, with considerable variation in
orientation. There appears to be two distinct camps or approaches that typify the Australian
experience. The first is what could be terms the pluralist camp. The Western Australian
Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and the National Institute of Drama Art (NIDA)
tend to fall into this camp. The philosophy of the pluralist camp, in general terms, is that
acting students should be exposed to as diverse an array of methods as possible and that
students should find a method that suits a particular performance context. Moreover, having a
diverse array of methods means that actors can develop a suite of techniques that they can
deploy variously. These schools tend to have an industry focus and attempt to provide
students with industry-based skills. In theory, then, all four polar points in the continuum are
engaged within the auspice of the training program. Both Tonkin and Tonkin characterized
their training at WAAPA as diverse or pluralist. According to these actors, WAAPA’s
program, while based in Stanislavski and text, offered an array of approaches that enabled
them to adapt to different performance projects, including their work on OT.
The second, especially at Wollongong University’s acting school, VCA and private
academies, is that the perspective and methods of one practitioner are highlighted. The work
of Zarrilli discussed in this study would fit in this category, though the University of Exeter is
more pluralist in orientation. This could be labeled as ‘singularist’. The emphasis is on
personal development in acting students and their detailed mastery of one method, with
269
particular focus on development of embodied skills of actors and removal or isolation of
those aspects of an actors’ embodiment that might impede performance (the so-called
‘stripping back’ method). Most of these singularist approaches employ a European notion of
actor training with roots in Stanislavski or Grotowski, among others, as opposed to the
American method school of Strasberg, Adler and Meisner, which seems to be less
emphasised among many actor educators in Australia. The orientation is on the somatic and
the contemplative. Hardie’s training at VCA, and his work in The Perjured City, appears to
reflect this orientation, and this orientation seems to have significantly shaped, in part, his
experiences throughout the performance season.
While these two discrete approaches were identified clearly in the interviews with both actors
and actor educators, the link between a particular school or educator and what actors
experience, or the experiential ground that such a school or educator fosters, is not definitive
in this study, and further research is needed. The notion of a continuum is, from my point of
view, an unfinished idea that needs further elaboration. The only generalization that I can
offer at this stage is that any properly constituted program has a profound effect on acting
students, an effect that appears to endure and provide a sedimentary bed for experience in
performance. However, in the case of Williams, the amateur actor, who has never attended an
acting school or taken any acting classes, it is probable that his experiences while performing
have been influenced by the method approach, inculcated informally from working on theatre
projects with community theatre groups in Melbourne. His experiences of constructing his
character in Scrooge, CEO suggest a particular interpretation of aspects of Stanislavski or
ideas derived from one of the American method schools. Perhaps this implies that the
category of training in regard to the sedimentation of an actor needs to broaden to include
learning experiences within performative contexts that are not naturally labelled as educative.
Section 7.4
Implications and recommendations
I now offer five implications of this study at practical as well as theoretical levels. Included
within these implications are recommendations for further research in areas suggested by this
study but clearly outside its scope.
1. Power and agency. In my view, there needs to be due consideration given in performance
research to the role of power and agency. All actors in this study noted the potent nature of
the power relationships that existed in the many acting contexts in which they had worked,
270
including the specific performances discussed in this research. One issue is this: who has the
power in a performance event? And, how is agency dispersed in a performance context? One
can apportion such expressions of power to actors, directors, financial backers, agents and
writers.
There is no doubt, in discussing issues of power and personal agency with actors, that
expressions of power are woven and embedded in performance contexts and linked with who
controls knowledge, a state of corporate being that has been extensively theorised by
Foucault. From interviews and journals agency emerged as a key issue for actors and
certainly had implications for how performance was experienced. Yet agency was often
situated in habitation with otherness as part of the fabric of performance. Between agency
and otherness there lies ethical responsibility. Further research could be done on the
constitution of an ethics of performance that accounts for both agency and otherness, as well
as on how this is experienced in performative contexts.
2. Experience. This study focused on how actors experience performing, and I have
explicated aspects of the interiority of actors in juxtaposition with contingencies and other
attributes of performance. However, within the performance, theatre and drama literature
there is a relative silence about interiority and experience and a much greater emphasis on
exteriority, critique, theatre history and the construction of performance in language and
culture. Research needs to be conducted in regard to the formative place of experience in
constituting performance. This study gave intense and fecund attention to a small sample of
actors, but complementary studies that account for a larger cohort of actors are highly
recommended.
One aspect of actor experiences that did not receive much attention in this study is what could
be termed ‘micro-experiences’: significant or short moments of experience that may be
crucial or transitional—pivots between one state and another. Further research on such
experiences and their link to liminality would contribute to understanding how such short
temporal experiences shape performance, facilitate change and affect an actor’s internality
and an audience’s reception.
3. Acting experiences and life. That an actor’s life goals and existential concerns are
important for what happens in performance has been a tacit understanding within my own
practice as a theatre maker. This significance has been substantially affirmed by this study.
271
However, more research is needed to establish how an actor’s perception of his or her life
situation affects the immediacy of performance as experienced. There is little extant research
that links what actors experience during a performance with a broader life frame. This
research has made some progress in this regard but more is needed.
4. Training and sedimentation. In this study, I positioned training as a key ground to
experience and the core feature of the notion of sedimentation. Certainly, more research is
required to understand the connection between training and experience, beyond the limited
case studies offered in this research. The role of training in experience has not received much
attention in the research literature about actors and acting, though in the research and writing
of practitioners such as Phillip Zarrilli, and in new and emerging journals such as Theatre,
Dance and Performance Training (TDPT), this aspect of understanding the interface between
training and internality is beginning to get attention. More research is possible in exploring
the implications of training for what actors actually do and experience in performing. The
corollary of this point is that such research would have practical applications for
understanding what actors especially need in training programs. Finally, while there is
significant research on the history and methods of actor training schools and practices in
Australia, the orientation of such methods and the implications of such orientations for what
actors experience is deserving of further research.
5. My research methodology in other performative contexts. Within limitations, the
methodology of this study proved to be effective for identifying, analyzing and evaluating the
significance of data gathered about actors’ experiences and the wider phenomena of
performance events. Upon reflection, the use of photographic materials may have enhanced
the methodology, though the addition of such visual material may have further delimited the
scope of this study. It is my view that this methodology, including the use of
phenomenological perspectives, philosophical lenses, ontological coding categories and
ethnographic tools, may be useful for examining other phenomena and contexts. For
example, what are the experiences of actors in a film or television context? In the early drafts
of this thesis material on film and television, and actor experiences of working in these
media, was offered, but the scope of the present study had to be narrowed for the sake of
appropriate length and focus. In sum, research on actors who perform for camera is a highly
feasible area for further research.
272
Section 7.5
A personal note
As researcher and practitioner, I have experienced particular delight in meeting actors,
listening to their performance narratives and encountering practice stories and ideas about
teaching methods from actor educators. The response from my fellow participants in this
research has been, reciprocally, positive and affirming. It has been an expansive experience
for me and has caused me to scrutinize my own praxis as a theatre maker and my treasured
conceptualizations about training, sedimentation and actor processes. This research has been
a journey from tacit knowledge, anecdotes, claims and suppositions to a more grounded
understanding of what operates in actors’ experiences during performance. I believe,
however, that this journey to understand the complexities of experience has just begun.
273
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Appendices
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Appendix One
Semi-structured interview (actors)
Sample questions for actor participants
1.
Background of the actor
1.1 Tell me about how you came to acting and your early acting experiences
1.2 How long have you been acting and what has been range of your acting experience?
1.3 What training have you received in acting?
1.4 How influential do you consider this training to be in the development of your acting
skills?
1.5 Can you point to a person who has been influential in developing your acting? How
did that person specifically influence you?
1.6 What skills from other art forms do you bring to acting?
2.
Reflection on previous acting
2.1 Can you describe roles and the performance contexts in which you have worked in the
previous two years?
2.2 What different approaches to acting did you take in these different roles?
2.3 What approaches, techniques or strategies worked best, from your point-of-view?
2.4 How much does the costume affect the nature of your performance?
2.5 What approaches of a director work best for you?
2.6 What have you felt least comfortable performing, and what have you felt most
comfortable performing?
2.7 What performance or role do you consider to be your most fulfilling, and why?
2.8 What performance do you recall as being your worst or least satisfactory
performance? Why?
3.
Description of current acting activity
3.1 Describe the circumstances of you gaining your current acting role
3.2 Describe the character you play
3.3 What research did you do to create the role?
3.4 What are the demands of the role?
3.5 What techniques/methods do you use to get into role?
310
3.6 Describe the influence of the director on your role creation?
3.7 Describe how you use your body to create the character?
3.8 What sense do you have of the presence of the character during your performance?
3.9 How do you create the outer physical presence of the character?
3.10 What significance do you see for your role for the production as a whole?
4.
Strategies and approaches to acting
4.1 How or in what ways did you ‘self-correct’ during the previous performances?
4.2 Describe your interaction of your body with other actors and props in the space? What
worked and what did not?
4.3 What strategies do you use to transform a performance space to a place of the
imagination?
4.4 How did your approach to acting have to adapt due to the circumstances of
performing?
4.5 What habits in your acting are you aware of in performance?
4.6 How has your method in performance changed between when you first started and
now?
4.7 How has the ensemble or fellow actors affected your performances?
4.8 How playful or imaginative are you with the script in performance?
4.9 How does your body work with and adapt to your voice?
4.10 What is the place of gesture in your performance?
4.11 What strategies or behaviours on stage have worked for you over the years?
5
Stage/Space specific questions
5.1 Describe the design and layout of the stage in your current performances
5.2 How has this performance space affected your performance and ability to use your
body?
5.3 How has the audience response to shows changed over the course of the performance
season?
5.4 How have these changes affected your performance and the process of developing
your role?
6
Conclusions about the nature of performance
6.1 Who do you think you are as you are performing? What is your identity?
311
6.2 What do you consider the differences to be between rehearsal and performance?
6.3 What aspects of performance do you think you can control and what can’t you
control?
6.4 What about performance are you aware of on stage and what are you unaware of?
6.5 What influence do you think technologies have on your work in performance?
6.6 What advice would you give to young or inexperienced actors about performance?
Appendix Two
312
Journal entry (actors)
Proforma and information for actors
Name of actor:
_____________________________________________________
Name of role performed: ____________________________________________
Work or show in which role is performed: _____________________________
Instructions:
In the period just after or up to two hours after a single performance (for stage) or a series of
takes on a day (for film or television), please write about your experience during the
performance. This writing could include:









use of your body in performance and how you adjusted to the performance space
strategies that you used to foster the performance or develop your role
emotions you felt related to role and your sense of connection with the role
unexpected or surprising moments in the performance and how you reacted to
them
times when you felt insecure or uncertain and what you did about it
your interaction with other actors
your thought processes during performance
your use of innovation, improvisation and playfulness with the script
how previous experiences or training affected this experience
It is important that you are honest and give as exact a description of and reflection on your
experience as you can. However, what you write is up to you.
It is recommended that you write between 300—800 words per entry, though the length you
write is entirely up to you.
I request five entries as a minimum, but you are welcome to complete as many as ten.
313
Entry
Date:_________________________
Appendix Three
314
Semi-structured interview (actor educators)
Sample questions for actor educators
1.
Approach to acting training
1.1 How would you describe your philosophy or approach to acting and training actors?
1.2 What specific methods do you use in this training?
1.3 What theatre practitioners, directors or writers have influenced your training
methods?
1.4 Can you describe an instance of this method in action? How do you prepare an actor
for a role?
1.5 What is the place of habits or habituation in your training?
2.
The actor and the body
2.1 How do you encourage actors to embody their performance experience? What
training does an actor need?
2.2 What approach do you use to foster embodiment?
2.3 What is your view of the relationship between the actor and the performance space?
2.4 What is the role of improvisation in engaging the body of the actor?
2.5 What is your view of Eastern approaches to the work of the actor’s body?
2.6 How, in your view, does an actor adapt to a performance space?
2.7 What other artistic forms could be adopted by an actor to enhance the body in
performance?
3.
The actor’s life
3.1 What significance do you give to the inner life of the actor?
3.2 How is this inner life developed?
3.3 What does an actor have to do to create a fully embodied, authentic role?
3.4 What is the relationship between role, character and the identity of the actor?
3.5 What research do you believe that an actor needs to do to create a role for
315
performance?
4.
The actor in performance
4.1 How is acting for performance different to acting in rehearsal?
4.2 What is the place of spontaneity, imagination and improvisation in performance?
4.3 What happens in performance that makes each performance unique?
4.4 What strategies of performance have you seen actors use in performance?
4.5 What makes for a compelling performance? Or what makes for a good and a bad
performance, in your view?
4.6 How does the presence of an audience shape the actor’s performance?
4.7 What attitude or state of being do you encourage in your actors during performance?
4.8 What process does an actor go though or what evolution occurs as an actor plays a
role for an extended period of time?
4.9 What does an actor typically do if things go wrong?
316
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