Updated: Oct 12, 2020
How are you getting on?
I live on a boat (did I tell you that already?), and outside all I can see are the trees changing colour and the leaves falling. The world is turning into a different place; outside, everything is happening.
And here we are- I am still writing to you, and I am still appreciative of the opportunity. It’s an interesting prospect writing for an unknown audience. All I have is a wee bit of info about you from Tina, and so I write with this in mind. I hope things land well and usefully.
This third post is going to centre itself around a show I directed and performed in called Wuthering Heights and how and why I got there.
There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.
Around 2011 I felt like my work took a bit of an unexpected turn away from the more ecologically sensitive enquiries I was inhabiting, towards a pretty involved examination of my gender identity; as a male body, as a ‘man’, as someone who holds questions about their gender, their masculinity and as someone who had pretty strong feelings about the state of contemporary masculinity- that in fact this capitalist-patriarchal machine that I, in some ways identified with, was a toxic swamp that oppressed itself just as much as it oppressed literally every other living thing in the world (including the natural environment).
Travelling in India at the start of the year I witnessed such a different set of gender codes in the male communities over there. Overtly and public displays of affection were always witnessed between the young and old, friends and family, like hand holding and hugging. It was challenging for me to see this non-cynical intimacy between them.
Around this time I also attended a week long wilderness male initiation ritual in the Scottosh highlands.
I joined the Scottish mens group.
I was intimately involved in my partner Nic’s seminal work Trilogy that examined contemporary feminist issues- this was profoundly inspiring time period. Just google ‘Nic Green Trilogy’ for more info.
I started a group for male/men identifying people to come together and explore some of these questions/concerns
I founded a temporary, intentionally all male performance group
At the same time while in India I was also reading Wuthering Heights, a book I enjoy very much in part due to the animation given to the natural environment, and while reading it a strange notion took hold to see what might happen if this all male performance group might try and create a version of the story for a live audience…
The Post Dramatic
My performance education (BA Contemporary Theatre Practice, at what was The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) was rooted in live art practices from the 60’s onwards. I was enthralled with the potential impact of immediate live performance practice. A further definition of ‘live performance’ being where the audience is aware that the performer is aware that the audience is watching. In real time, with real effort, where a person “is bound up unspeakably with what they are doing”(Etchells, T) I felt like live art was in one way or another, a means by which we could change the course of human culture- we could re-design and re-create the way we understand living and being human.
The breadth of this area of performance practice is immense, and straddles an infinite variety of forms and media. My favourite artists of my studies were the usual trailblazers of live art and action based work that explore the impact and possible meaning of designed actions and processes as performance and the way these actions and performances can impact real life. (Stemming from more traditional visual arts, these performance artists did not have roots in theatre, but interestingly there is a big crossover between live art and post dramatic theatre.)
Here are a couple of examples:
Tehching Hsieh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4_xw2zyQN4
Marina and Ulay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9tK01PlpDU
See also (amongst many many more):
La Pocha Nostra
The Wooster Group
Studying theatre/performance theory at university, I also became (and still am) a huge fan of the post dramatic- a term used to define a movement in theatrical history where a work of theatre (or performance) stopped being defined by a single specific central script (and possibly a central meaning) as in a play text, and therefore, has no single author (see Barthes’ The Death of The Author) while concerning itself with the real relationship between performer and audience. This avant garde of theatre, was no longer interested in the constructed ‘drama’ of a traditional theatrical play. I became enthralled at the possibility of a work having no single intended meaning, and the possibilities of a work existing simultaneously in the physical space of the performance and in the interpretative equipment of the audience (their hearts, memories, minds, bodies). In this instance, the work becomes co-created with the audience. It is the responsibility of everybody to show up to make the work happen- to give it life.
(Speaking personally it is arguably more ego-less than the more traditional works of a single (probably male) theatrical author- often writing in the privacy of their own ‘creative genuis’ having a didactic approach to the works central meaning/lesson, where an audience are meant to decipher said meaning/intention- something which often makes an audience feel stupid…)
Most importantly, I became deeply invested in collaboration, and the collective power of a group of people intentionally sharing a devising space to create original work, stemming from the unique blend of all their lives, all their meanings, all their narratives, all their interests and concerns. As I mentioned before, I am into ‘auto-biography’- the writing of the self as an act in performance, and I am thrilled at autobiographical approaches to collaboration. I am thrilled at the ways in which collaborative models can mimic ecological models, in that each interacting organism does indeed impact on the situation/context it is in. By looking at collaboration as ecological we must also acknowledge that everything is living, and therefore the right conditions for each living thing to grow from within the process, is paramount. And we need to know about this in the collaboration.
This is my truth, tell me yours.
Nowadays, the idea of intimate performance practice is pretty well known, but it is something that I feel underpins my approach to collaboration also. It is a genre of performance all in itself defined often by one performer to one audience member constructs, by certain autobiographical content, by close-ness in one way or another, by touch. (A great example would be the late Adrian Howells- a very dearly departed friend of mine). But the notion of intimacy also extends beyond form or style. I personally believe you don’t leave yourself at the door when you walk into the rehearsal room so, with regards to intimacy as a guiding principal as a maker and collaborator, I ask where do I end and you begin, and what has that got to do with the work?
One of my favourite performance groups- the former Goat Island- tell a story about a collaborator coming into the rehearsal room with some sort of foot injury. And they were limping. If I remember correctly the injured collaborator states ‘they must go home’ as they can’t work, and the response from Goat Island is ‘to stay’, and the limp makes it into the work too. I see this as defining learning for ‘letting the world in’ to the rehearsal room/making process. There is a very thin line (if a line at all) between life and art, so why pretend the injury doesn’t exist? Why pretend anything doesn’t exist? Of course we need to create safe working spaces where boundaries are respected, and where people can state their own comfort levels, but it is important to consider how the idea of intimacy- of the truthful giving of oneself- can impact what we do and make.
- intimacy with self
- intimacy with other
- intimate spaces
- intimate details
- intimate injuries
- intimate objects
- intimate sensitivities
- intimate geographies
- intimate timezones
- intimate food
- intimate secrets
- intimacies made explicit
- intimacies kept discreet
- intimate hatreds
- intimate glories
- intimate learning
- intimate agendas
- intimate genders
- intimate blog posts
When it comes to intimacy and gender, as in my enquiries around 2011 and in the work of Wuthering Heights, something fascinating, charged, scary and exciting began rearing it’s head; the territory of intimate relationships between men. Straight, gay, bi, trans, old, young, able-bodied, white, brown, black, disabled. All of them.
I personally found the intimate ‘space’ between men as a real place of vulnerability, but also of power and responsibility, and I wanted to go there more. To learn how to be comfortable in that vulnerable place. I felt like it was a place to confront darkness and joy, and perhaps to address the deepening levels of toxicity in the world.
- intimacy with darkness
- intimacy with joy
- intimacy in performance
- intimacy with distance
- intimacy with light
- intimacy with an enemy
- intimacy with a child
- intimacy with a teacher
- intimacy with a text
- intimacy with a lover
- intimacy with poison
- intimacy with music
- intimacy with distance
- intimacy with the seasons
- intimacy with a novel
Around 2011, I felt there was a discussion missing in performance concerning the narratives of masculinity, of toxic masculinity, of intimate male-friendship, of intimacy and about the paradoxes of these things in relation to each other. I was beginning to see Wuthering Heights as an amazing example of a colossus of classic English literature story where a central male figure wrought devastation and misery wherever he existed. A broken man. A lost man. A man of no history. An alien. An outsider. Someone misunderstood. A man who didn’t understand himself, someone who couldn’t love. So, we decided to create a work where each of us 5/4 male performers (explicitly or not) set about placing ourselves next to Heathcliff as a yard stick. To measure and challenge this notion of a ‘classic’ character. To measure ourselves alongside this abusive, romantic, rugged, mystical, world-hating patriarch and re-frame him/reframe ourselves. We learnt the moves to Kate Bush’s classic Wuthering Heights music video. We learnt the story off by heart. We drew parallels with Milton's Paradise Lost, of the industrial revolution, of the dawning of industry and capitalism and toxic masculinity all emerging at the same time as Bronte writing this seminal work. Our research of the material- of our own material as males- was rigorous. We spoke of our families, our darknesses, our loves. We wore dresses, got naked. We created a dramaturgy of paradox where there could be multiple readings placed upon us about who we were as males, or men, that might confuse people, and confuse ourselves so maybe we could be released from the identities we had ascribed to ourselves or had been ascribed and fixed to us by other forces. And we gave ourselves permission to be vulnerable, and stupid, and serious and intimate, and witness ourselves and each other and it hurt and was joyous and we did it in front of a live audience over 100 times.
Here’s a vieo of it.
Excuse the scratchy quality.
Do note- there is nudity and swearing in this performance.
https://vimeo.com/221413331 (password ‘cathycomehome’).
Thanks so much for reading this big one. There is a lot to chew on in it.
I have a provocation for you to think about over your October break, and it is a performance provocation:
Create a performance where you name yourself as yourself.
You have your life as your material.
- it must be solo
- it must embrace Post Dramatic ideology
- you might want to consider challenging the idea of your own ‘linear narrative’
- you might want to consider ideas of intimacy
- you must define your own personal boundaries with what you choose to draw on
See you on the other side.