Journey through ‘The House – researching theatre, performance and poverty’ (Studies in Theatre and Performance Special Issue Vol 31:1)
‘The House’ didn’t do the usual touring route so no Guardian review for this one or any other newspaper review as a matter of fact. We chose a different way and invited essays or short responses to the piece which seemed to be more productive, considered and helpful. The writers came from different fields which added to the rich mix in the response. It allowed for some real creativity in the responses because there were no rules here. There was some extensive feedback from post show questionnaires to which Jenny Hughes and Caitlin Gleeson formed into an interesting forward to this section of the research document. Other contributors here include: Janet Batsleer, Anuradha Kapur, Bobby Smith, Louise Wallwein, Janice B. Wilson, Sandra Reeve and Maggie B. Gale. Some of these people are familiar with my performance work but most are not, so it was a good mix. I am very grateful for the feedback.
Signpost 4 – Digging Deep: a dialogue on practice-based research – coming soon.
Signpost 2: The House – an augmented script
Writing up the script for ‘The House’ was a labour of love. I worked hard getting it all together as it should be: transcribing sound tracks, readjusting text that had emerged as the piece had developed on my feet, and so on. This challenge turned me into a stickler for detail through a baptism of fire into the seemingly contradictory worlds of academic publishing and what I thought was my version of playwriting.
Having only ever in the past created scripts for production; mere guidelines for the actual “in the moment performance”, it had never been necessary for the thing to “jump off the page”. I did the jumping in performance. Reviewers, feature writers and the odd academic did the writing down. My simple scripts comprised only of the actions, the words and the technical cues. Bringing ‘The House’ to the page for ‘Studies in Theatre and Performance’ meant that I would confront a perennial problem concerning the codification of performance work that is essentially visual, physical, visceral and multi-layered. I suppose you could say all theatre work should be those things so what’s my problem? ‘The House’ is research and as such required a different kind of focus.
Tracy Cattell suggested I approach the second draft rather like you would “the book” compiled by a deputy stage manager, minus the lighting and sound cues. Retrospectively I guess I could have more fully included technical cues too. Interestingly what emerged from the exchange with Tracy was an uncanny link between my relationship with space in performance and my relationship with space on the page. In the end the solution to the more compact version was pretty simple really. It was layering I was missing in my layout. The space on the page had to reflect that. It was all about space. Thinking back, if I had dared to not worry about taking up too much space in the actual publication I might have allowed myself permission for more pages in the first instance. The script became full of space and even blank pages because Tracy had suggested aligning the soundtrack/visual projection on one side of the page with the action on the opposite. Space – loads of space. That was when I thought ok, I’ll use as many images as possible to make the script live and breathe a bit. I had thought about space while trying to work out the layout for the ‘Jesu Lover of My Soul’/‘Public Money’ sequence which I had to transcribe for three voices showing how the voices intermingled and wrapped over each other. I think the idea of going back to “the book” was really useful and I am grateful to Tracy for that signpost.
The photographer we had hired for the dress rehearsal had shot all the photographs as I had run the show for the tech and dress. The only staged pic was the one we use on the cover of the publication – “the job centre Perspex barrier/social security memory” pic is what I call it or the “suffocating” pic. With such a plethora of stills I almost had a running filmstrip to accompany the action on the page. So as I worked on the script again I worked my way through the show again but this time I moved it over the page applying scale. The redraft exercise allowed the script to breathe and I tried to apply breath throughout.
Layout and page order became the primary focus with all this visual material in the mix along with how to provide a sense of the visuals working with the soundtrack. It became a digital puzzle – completely absorbing and time consuming.
You have to know that when you sign up for this kind of publication ultimately you are responsible for everything, including making sure each image is the size it needs to be and exactly the right distance and dimension. Realising the breadth of the research puzzle we decided to call it an augmented script to reflect the opposite I suppose of the traditional script that often offers just the spoken words along with scant stage directions, that which I believe is most preferred by some directors who may not want to be told what to do but to find out how to do. I had already found out how to do so I think I really wanted to “show and tell” how everything was in what was to become 86 pages. Usually my performance scripts are 15 pages maximum.
So then how do you actually read it? We tried to explain for the online version you need to have “show cover page in two-page view” when viewing the pdf. I hope it’s clear. It’s certainly clearer in the print version. There was one wobbly moment when it all first came out and the online version in HTML was all over the place. That was scary so we decided to just have the pdf available – because page order and layout were so important. Ultimately I think the online works better for images in terms of clarity and the hard copy makes me feel more secure that people will read it in the right order.
All along we knew this “special issue” was an experiment and that we were holding up the performance itself as a piece of research. I hope that comes across. I have thought a lot since about the words “article” and “script”. For a long time during the production process the script was deemed an article but it just didn’t fall into the structures required, so such anomalies like citations sat very precariously because according to automatic correcting there were “references with no citations” Ouch! In the end we settled for a “Source List” to avoid the “computer says no” error. Essentially it’s important to remember though that this piece of work has always been a research piece. The work is the research.
So that’s a little bit on the why and how of making the augmented script. I hope it’s a useful signpost.
Here’s the link to the online version – and let me know if you would like a hard copy.
Introduction by Jenny Hughes.
This gives a framing for the research work on performance and poverty. Jenny sets the performance research within the context of interrogating neo-liberalism and the idea of giving account/performing value within an economic and performative framework. It sets performance within the austerity/poverty window and is important for current political discourse. More importantly here there is a list of all the wonderful people who contributed to the making of ‘The House’
Other links to The House:
This is the Poor Theatres project I worked on with Jenny Hughes from University of Manchester. It has a separate blog which you can view here .
The House Trailer
Developing the Scratch Performance
Extracts from Discussion with Jenny Hughes post scratch