Lessons learned from Repartee


The first presentation of Cafe Repartee was at Unity Day on Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, Unity has been good to me, I have now performed two solo’s and a collaboration at this days festival. All of these were a first showing with an encouraging and helpful audience. I’m always extremely nervous before performing, but even more so with this recent piece because I was attempting to improvise with material that was so unfamiliar to me – which had no emotional history or narrative to draw upon. I comforted myself that this is okay because now,rather than any post performance dissatisfaction coming from a judgement of the quality of my delivery or lack of audience appreciation, it now comes from knowing whether I have experimented to the extreme that I can. This is experimentation. This is a selfish thing. But, for me, the artist is expressing to develop on a personal plane, and to live as themselves – thanks to Willem De Kooning, Scott Walker, Don Van Vliet, Viv Stanshall and Phil Sanger (but a few) for reminding me. Phil said recently (on paraphrasing Dr Seus), ‘Just go right along, and here we are trying not to try’ – gorgeous. This sensation of moving through time effortlessly and with ego satisfied is also, I think, for the spectator – if the performer is enjoying it the audience are too. I am only ever put off watching performance work if those performing seem to want to be somewhere other than the circumstance they find themselves in. However, I like that people have different motivations for performing – for me, the word is experimentation, experimentation to find the new. And, I realize now always has been – otherwise why am I still not allowing myself to let go of the improvised act! Script can still be involved, and in my recent work is. Cafe Repartee began with a ten minute script which attempted to, in my own style, (briefly) convey the personalities and works of Walter Serner, Hugo Ball and Richard Heulsenbeck. Perhaps arrogant that I could assume to show the personalities of such extraordinary, changeable and unfixed persons in such a short time. The method for performance was to deliver the script once and then to repeat, beginning to feed in texts made up of graphemes which were contributed by audience members (a grapheme chart and instructions in the performance asked spectators to do so – if they wished). This element of the work was problematic – only a few (by my pre-performance request) contributed, so the same texts were used more than once as an instigation for improvisation. As I have said this was ultimate experimentation and I was not sure if something visually interesting could emerge from having a script broken up and finally overtaken by texts made up of only graphemes: texts such as ”sch sch sch oo oo eck eck kow ugh zz (short) chow ee”. But, what is wrong with just making sounds? words that don’t conjure a known image. This, although far from it, attempts to support Ball’s theory that abstract language is more useful because here representative image is more personalized, away from indoctrinated and damaging image attached to habituated language. But, also, because attempting this pushes me more to a place were I have to be less concerned with constantly satisfying and engaging the audience but instead to allow myself to get to that place of discovering the ‘new’ through patience and concentration. I am not successful yet in this. At my Unity day performance the improvised element, though it did occasionally involve graphemes (which had often changed from the initial reading to the incorporation into performance – I have a bad memory), took a route of improvisation drawing from my script. Duh, of course this would be the case! When improvising you go back to retrieve what is in your ready memory to play with, this was my script I had been rehearsing – not the graphemes. So, though the intentions, and purpose for selling this show, was that audience members would see their contributions being performed verbally and at a development through gesture and rhythm, this was only occasionally the case. I also, particularly when I performed this at the Beacons festival, repeated sounds that were not necessarily graphemes, because I felt they fit and were all that were readily available in my head, I even spoke lines from a past performance. But, this is part of improvising – you have to keep going, you have to keep moving through, whatever comes out, even if it may be dull, until you get to that place where ‘you are trying not to try’ (thanks Phil).

I was upset with myself following Beacons, here I was reminded how environment/ audience can affect your work, and actually I rely on their engagement and understanding of what I am doing, feeling a need to satisfy them as well as myself. And, I realize now most of those I idolize who have the courage to work with ‘difference’ do so in isolation while creating the work and then present it to the public for critique. I can’t do this. Most of the audience I believe were engaged for a sufficient time but (understandably) there is only so much investment you can put into observing a dramatic and repetitive work at 11am when you are a few days into a festival. I could quickly sense that this was not the environment for my work and I allowed this to affect my performing. I finished what was supposed to be a 45 minute piece in 30 minutes and walked out dissatisfied with having allowed myself to get overwhelmed by being to concerned with the external instead of believing in my philosophies and just using the space to play, despite what people may think! People don’t have to watch, but perhaps my nature of feeling discomfort by others discomfort was present. However, the dadaists could not have been concerned with others opinion, and welcomed a distaste and rebellion to their choices – increasing the potential for individual opinion/response. I have one more chance at this. I am performing at Free For Arts. I shall not sweeten the pill by putting a sign explaining that repetition and moments of struggle are part of the work, I shall just ‘be’ in the space, to not worry, to concentrate on the body, a balance between the task and expressing the mind as it wishes and people will hopefully enjoy my personal approach to performance work!

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