I have the pleasure of leading our discussion on space and place in performance. The readings for the week were Weimann's Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in Theatre and Carlson's &quot;Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture&quot;. With those as foundation, I'm going to be talking about space and place as fundamental components of performance and that they both have a significant role in the creation of meaning. I'm going to be talking about and around these excerpts, not necessarily linearly, and I hope you'll come along for the ride. I'll also be drawing on work from Michel Foucault, Tadeusz Kantor, Ric Knowles, Henri Lefebvre, Gay McAuley, Katie Normington, Richard Southern, Anne Ubersfeld and David Wiles.
What I'm suggesting is that there needs to be a careful examination, both of what it means to make space for a performance
and how a performance takes place, and that these considerations are significant to performance analysis.
Gay McAuley (1999). Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre . writes that “ Theatre consists of human beings in a defined space watched by other human beings, and it is this reality that constitutes the basic apparatus of theatre.” Theatre is a social and place-specific art.
polish director Tadeusz Kantor. theatre is a medium where objects and places were as important as the actions of the human body and the dialogue.
We're talking about the location of a performance and the definition of its space, or what Anne Ubersfeld calls a “theatrical locus” (which I interpret as &quot;a site&quot; or &quot;a platform&quot;) The performance site is a social space full of ideological encodings that both reflects and mediates relationships. Ubersfeld (1999), Reading Theatre states that the site “confronts actors and spectators in a relationship that is closely related to the shape of the hall and the kind of society” (96). The conditions of performance and the conditions of reception and are filled with ideological significance. Consideration is required as to why a specific performance is occurring in a specific space, how the space has been constructed, and how these conditions affect the meaning.
Knowles (2004) Reading the Material Theatre expands on this, stating that “space and place impinge directly on both production and reception...silently inscribing or disrupting specific (and ideologically coded) ways of working, for practitioners, and of seeing and understanding, for audiences” In our analysis of perfomances, we should be cautious not to take for granted the characteristics of space and place and how they shape the performance. This is echoing Henri Lefebvre, who in his 1991 book The Production of Space states that Space is social and social space is a social product. Space is always produced. and that space is the product of relationships, and that it is is not neutral, and that there is no such thing as an empty space, Harkening back to what Gay McAuley says, inherent in theatre’s “basic apparatus”, the ideologies of tkkkhe space are foundational pieces of meaning making.
How we create our spaces speaks volumes to the power structures of society. Where theatre happens and what it looks like are telling of the theatre's place in the ideologies of the culture.
The environment of a performance is a construction of physical semiotics or what Carlson terms 'urban semiotics' and serves as a foundation for the theatrical experience: Carlson writes that “The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience.” So it's not just about the stage and the audience, but the theatre itself, how it looks and it's place in the city.
Jumping into Weimann here, who provides us with an examination of the making of theatrical space in late medieval drama, specifically the use of the locus and the platea . This provides an example of how spatial differentiation can define and add meaning to action and dialogue in a performance. Locus is “a scaffold, be it a domus , sedes , or throne” Domus - house, Sedes - platform, Throne Functionally, locus was often used to represent a fixed location. Physically separated from the audience, it served as a focal point of dramatic and symbolic action. In contrast, the platea is “a platform-like acting area”, which was usually non-representational, not localized, and provided a broad and general area for action to take place. In terms of shaping dialogue, the upstage locus is “mainly a place for authoritative pronouncements,” whereas the downstage platea serves as “a place for characters to become informal and intimate with the lower-class audience” (paraphrasing from Mark Fortier's book &quot;Theatre/Theory&quot;).
Weimann references the &quot;Castle of Perserverance&quot; These images are from Richard Southern's book The medieval theatre in the round : a study of the staging of The castle of perseverance and related matters “ The Castle of Perserverance is a Morality Play of about 1425, which there survives not only a manuscript of the dialogue with certain stage directions, but, what is very much more to our present purpose, a sketch plan showing how the show was arranged -- one of the first, if not the very first, plan of a theatrical presentation in English history” The site plan has ditch of water, circular; castle tower in the centre, bed below the castle. There's also 5 scaffolds about the stage and these serve as locus (or I guess &quot;loci&quot;). The upper right image is a sketch of a reconstruction of one of the scaffolds, and lower right a diagrammatic section of what the performance site looked like. We see here some ideas as to what a platea may have looked like and how it blends into the spectator space. In analyzing the Castle of Perserverance, Wiles writes that “The spectators inhabit the world of sin that surrounds the Castle, and their impulse to cheer on the comic devils or invade the playing space binds them to that world” The fact that the plan is round has significance. Wiles writes that “The playing space represents the cosmos, and the earthbound spectators inhabit that cosmos, playing their parts under the eyes of god” Round performance spaces is something we see with Greek theatre, Celtic, and others as well. In the plan there's information about the orientation the top being the south scaffold. This is important because we see a lot of medieval performances and performance spaces being vectored on the points of the compass, and parts of the space taking on symbolic meaning: Combat would generally take place on east-west axis. The East generally represented Heaven, the West Hell. The North represented the sins of the mind, and the South the sins of the body. We'll pick some of this up when looking at Carlson.
What you're looking at here is a 1981 re-creation of a mystery play, this comes from Normington's book Modern Mysteries: Contemporary Productions of Medieval English Cycle Dramas As a rule, it was the more highly ranked persons who sat on the scaffolds. In liturgical plays, mystery Plays - Herod, high priests. Some high-born members of the audience were also seated on the scaffolds, or neighbouring scaffolds Spatial differentiation allowed for complex and sometimes rich and suggestive drama interplay between the 2, mixture of comic and serious Knowles 75 - this impacts the degree to which and audience is constructed as a full participant in the making of meaning or is, quite literally, “talked down to”. statements by a locus character about empire would have had a different impact on early modern playgoers from statements on the same subject by a platea character. The fool quite clearly occupies the platea, speaking to the low-brow characters and the audience. The decoding of how the locus and the platea are defined and how they serve to define each other is key to the understanding of how space shapes meaning.
Carlson describes the environment of performance, and how place and structure contribute to spectator experience as ‘urban semiotics’. Drawing on examples from medieval performances, Carlson discusses the implications of “new dramatic presentations built upon the connotations already present in a space created for nondramatic purposes” (Carlson 15). The medieval city lacked specific structures for theatrical performance, “allowing those producing a performance to place it in whatever locale seemed most suitable”. What we see are &quot;site specific&quot; works, environmental theatre or work set in a space because there was no where else to put it. Regardless, I'd suggest what results is a kind of &quot;queering&quot; of the space. Performances (usually liturgical) were staged in a variety of settings: parks, markets, halls, cathedrals and streets
Normington's book Modern Mysteries: Cathedrals as symbolic centre, cultural centre, container for rituals, spiritual heart of the city Carlson makes reference to &quot;A famous passage in Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris considers the cathedral as the central repository of signs for its culture: “ Notre-Dame de Paris is, in particular, a curious specimen of this variety. Each face, each stone of the venerable monument, is a page not only of the history of the country, but of the history of science and art as well.” http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2610 Cathedrals in their design were generally architecturally oriented to the presumed world axes, the main line running east-west. church processions generally followed this line, with the celebrant entering from the east. As a sidenote, this alignment takes advantage of the movement of the sun and the light produced, allowing for dramatic performances at sunrise and sunset.
Moving out of a cathedral and into a city space. This is a recreation of the plan for the Passion Play in Lucerne (1583). This performance was set in the Weinmarkt, Lucerne, Switzerland. platform representing Heaven to the East, like the high altar or cathedral, an infernal Hell-Mouth at the opposite western end, and earthly locations scattered between. Central area: Temple and Crucifixion.
This is another view re-creation from the Heckman Digital Archive. Setting for day one--at one end is heaven, hell is at the opposite end and off to the side. Mansions are scattered over the stage and square, and open, fenced platforms serve as other station (varying from day to day). The &quot;place&quot; is enclosed by scaffolds for the audience--the &quot;place&quot; could take on the character of the mansion in use or be used by devils and processions for antics and parades. Weinmarkt, Luzern, Schweiz
The transformation of public place into performance space is brings with it ideology and existing relationships. As Normington discusses, city residents lived, worked, played and worshiped within a narrowly defined geographic area. This narrowness affected the reception of performances set in everyday spaces, such as a cathedral, where the cathedral, as centre of the community, brought to a performance a specific cultural spatiality to the audience. Similarly, performances set in a marketplace had connotations to the space being a secular heart of the city. Where I think we have the most to talk about is with processional plays, which made the city the most queer.
Processional performances would transform the city as a whole into a theatrical space, encouraging participation from the citizenry. wagons pulled around the city and stopped at various stations to perform. With the performance taking place in winding streets, you couldn't escape it. The result of these transformations is a meaningful dialogue between the individual, the performance, the public space and the public-turned-performance space. the wagons created a type of frame, but there was a very fluid actor/audience relationship less separation, dynamic, flexible spaces, informal, eating and drinking. complex intersection between play, person and place proceeded along the east-west axis, winding streets, encouraging active participation - city gates to the cathedral - approach to the spiritual centre
Again, from contemporary Google Maps. This is Vienna, with the red A at the place for the Vienna Cathedral, and you can hopefully see how the vestiges of medieval streets. I thought it would be neat to map out the route of a processional performance. This is based more on ideas than actual space. We can tie in the last part of the excerpt where Carlson talks about how in later medieval times, there emerged another type of procession from the royalty, which was quite different in intent from the processional performances. &quot;narrow and tortuous medieval streets, with overhanging structures and capricious widenings and narrowings, suggested no connotations of subservience or even tractability, but rather those of a stubborn individuality.&quot;
Theatre cannot exist without a physical location and always involves some arrangement of the performance space. Space and place directly influence conditions of performance and conditions of reception and are filled with ideological significance. Consideration is required as to why a specific performance is occurring in a specific space, how the space has been constructed, and how these conditions affecting the meaning. Space is social. Space is multi-layered. Space is active and full of energy. Space is produced. Space reflects society. Space mediates relationships. Performances are shaped and received differently because of the characteristics of their physical environment. When we make space for performance, the space directly impacts how meaning is created within the space. When a performance takes place, it takes meaning from the place around and about it. We cannot escape, and should not ignore how space and place contribute to meaning.
The result of these transformations of public space is a meaningful dialogue between the individual, the performance, the public space and the public-turned-performance space.
Space and Place in Performance Kyle Mackie - THST*6220 (F11) 04 November 2011
“ Theatre consists of human beings in a defined space watched by other human beings, and it is this reality that constitutes the basic apparatus of theatre.” (McAuley 245)
Space is not a passive r e c e p t a c l e in which objects and forms are posited... S P A C E itself is an O B J E C T [of creation]. And the main one! S P A C E is charged with E N E R G Y. Space shrinks and e x p a n d s. And these motions mould forms and objects. It is space that G I V E S B I R T H to forms! It is space that conditions the network of relations and tensions between objects. T E N S I O N S is the principal actor of space. (Kantor 217)
theatre “confronts actors and spectators in a relationship that is closely related to the shape of the hall and the kind of society.” (Ubersfeld 96)
“ space and place impinge directly on both production and reception...silently inscribing or disrupting specific (and ideologically coded) ways of working, for practitioners, and of seeing and understanding, for audiences” (Knowles 62-3)
“ A whole history remains to be written of spaces -- which would at the same time be the history of powers ” (Foucault 149)
“ The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience.” (Carlson 2)
McAuley, Gay. Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Print.
Meredith, Peter. ; Tailby, John. The Staging of religious drama in Europe in the later Middle Ages : texts and documents in English translation . Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1983. Print.
Normington, Katie. Modern Mysteries: Contemporary Productions of Medieval English Cycle Dramas . Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2007. Print.
Southern, Richard. The medieval theatre in the round : a study of the staging of The castle of perseverance and related matters . London: Farber, 1975. Print.
Ubersfeld, Anne. Reading Theatre . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Print.
Weimann, Robert. Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Print.
Wiles, David. A Short History of Western Performance Space . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
There's nothing more queer than a Santa Claus Parade. Discuss.