Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Student Responses: What is a Performance Text

Here are some responses from my brilliant Dramatic Lit students. The question posed to them was this. If, as Richard Schechner says, everything can be read as a performance, and if, as the semioticians say, everything can be read as a text, then what constitutes a performance text?

What is a performance text?

The nature of a performance text is as simple as it seems, it is finding an appropriate venue for the sharing of the text that is the challenge. Anything written and extant falls under the umbrella of "performance text." Thanks in a great deal to Dada and surrealist artists, many of the standards a text was held to in order for it to be considered a "performance text" have been shattered. Today’s theater has no way of policing or authorizing what qualifies as a performance text. The concept of formalizing some expression as "Performance Text" would be useless because even a piece everyone may agree upon as a model is, by its nature as a performance piece, an extremely protean entity. No performance of any piece will ever be repeated and every production will be necessarily unique. The words written in a text cannot be interpreted the same way twice and once the play lives for an audience it cannot be compared to the carcass of a text it came from. There is a certain inherent anarchy to any performance, with no way of calculating the final results accurately beforehand despite the exactness a piece may be written with. The script, or roadmap for maneuvering through the journey, must be as flexible and open a medium as possible in order to allow writers to explore and incorporate such extreme possibilities for expression.

--Sam Gromoll

In order for anything to be considered a performance text, it has to be read in such a way to make performance possible. Given the example of an apple, this can be read in many ways. Most people think of an apple as a fruit to eat, or if you are a devious little child a blunt object to throw at a sibling. But, if you take the time to read it as a performance text, you will soon see it soft swooping curves that blossomed out of a flower after it was pollinated by a swarm of bees. It, coming in to its strength and glory of its bright red form only to fall to the earth, wilt, and die. But, hidden in that death, comes the life of a new apple tree and the cycle begins again. This story read solely of the suggestion of "apple" can be portrayed to an audience. It is a rather extreme example of performance text, but it is none the less as valid as other more common place forms.

Poetry is considered to be literature from most people and not even dramatic literature at that. However, I argue that a poem can be a performance text if its words and mean are read and acted out by a person. For instance, Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf is a poem that was published for performance. I further argue that if a text is read for its story and not with the intent of being performed, it is not a performance text. This is true even if the text in question happens to fall into the category of dramatic literature. One might read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the story. And, even though it would be written in the form of a piece of dramatic literature, it should not, in that case, be considered a performance text. It is not what something is that makes it a performance text, but how it is read. The most mundane object, such as an apple, or even the suggestion of an apple, can be considered to be a performance text.

-- Andrew Brackett

A "performance text" can be spoken, written, read, or simply remembered. It can include dialogue, or it can specify a series of actions to be performed without language. It has become more common for larger groups to collaborate on the development of a text intended for performance. Some published texts serve as documentation of performances that were "unwritten" before they took place. Radical theatre practitioner Augusto Boal often includes in his written works the historical documentation of revealing improvisations that took place during his workshops with low-income Brazilian youth and adults.

Performances can also draw from texts that were not specifically intended for theatrical use. Augusto Boal encouraged the creation of performances based on newspaper articles, with the play action exposing and criticizing the hypocrisies of both the media and its subjects. Performances can animate historical events, utilizing the exact words of people known or "unknown" to mainstream history. Performances are able to creatively transform even texts that are not considered "true literature" by most. Shopping lists, for instance, could be compiled and developed into a fascinating performance, even though they are not generally considered literary.

The term "dramatic literature" seems to imply only works that have been selected by the mainstream for publication, only works that could be placed on bookstore shelves for upwards of $15.00. The term seems to encompass only texts that maintain literary value outside the world of live performance. They can acceptably be read, without being experienced. They exist distinct and separate from the performances that they map. "Performance text," on the other hand, emphasizes the need for performance, for action, for active engagement with the material, for the human-to-human interactions that make theatre interesting. Unlike "dramatic literature," this term reminds us of the mad stew that simmers under the written word, waiting to boil over, if only we'll let it.

-- Kat Wodtke

A performance text is anything that influences physical expression in front of an audience. That definition may be too simplistic—what is it ruling out and what are the exceptions? . . . . This brings me to consider what constitutes a performance—not just actors or performers on a stage, but, also, the performances and rituals of everyday life. What is the "text" for those performances?

-- Liz O'Connell

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Issue 9, 2007: Peculiar by Jason Sweeney

A selection of texts from

A performance by UNREASONABLE ADULTS, 2003
Written by Jason Sweeney

Richmond, SA Australia

PECULIAR – welcome

(Spoken by a video-mediated Jason direct to an audience of 40)

There is some allure in gathering groups of people, assembling them in some dark, intimate space, allowing them time to arrange themselves, assume a position, take a seat, or to stand there, awkward or otherwise, see the looks in their eyes, watch the muscles flinch in their faces. Taking note of particular signs: an aversion to direct eye contact is a giveaway, folded arms, aha, the licking of lips, pervert, the crossing of legs, you know. Some nervous whispering. We've heard things about this guy and we're not convinced. Look. There's an aggressive posture. Lean forward, like you've seen this all before. Like you've been there. Done that. But here you are, doing it again. You've got some kind of personal agenda and you're ticking the boxes off as you go. Is this different or just indifferent? This is just an observation. This is the point at which you're told to leave your bags at the door. This is the point at which you're given the shadow of a doubt, but take a chance anyway. This is the point at which you say to yourself - hey, he's kinda cute, but I wouldn't want to cross him. I wouldn't want to be stuck next to him on a crowded bus. Get trapped in a bar. This is the point at which you realise you might have to take a stand, where you might be asked to get up off your seat and follow the instructions. You know the procedure. There is irony and sincerity. There is parody and melancholy. This is not all fun and games. Laughter echoes off. This is the point at which you're told to stop crying. To put that version of your life to the side, file away, negotiate some new kind of fear.

Do not ask me back to your house. You do not know what you are getting yourself in for. Do not cross that line with me. Do not pass over that threshold. Meet me somewhere else. Some non-space, liminal. Do not count on speech or seduction. Be careful to go easy on the booze. Smoke one less cigarette. Dance close to me. Just move slow. Dance close. Don't say another word.

(for cardboard signs and naked men in a basement with t-shirts over their heads are projected)

These are the basement shots. I sucked this guy's finger at a party. The night I passed out on a kitchen floor in Perth, Australia. It was a mess. One of those awkward potential homewrecker scenarios after 6 weeks of unrecognised sexual tension. It's possible. These other two guys on the screen are performers, paid in pints of beer. I recall one of them mumbling beneath his t-shirt "oh my god. oh my god". They are performers on the verge of perfomance art. Nothing like three full bodied men naked in a condemned basement on a Monday afternoon. When I asked the finger sucker to fake masturbation he was hand straight to the dick. No questions. I wanted answers but I've never been good at asking for it. In retrospect I realised he would have come for me. Anyhow, these shots were an idea going nowhere. But they look good and use a button called night-shot on my mini-DV camera. I had this vision of Kenneth Anger meets The Blair Witch Project. Like these butt shots. Not an ass man, particularly. I more into hands and that space between the navel and pubic bone. And noses. Yes. Big noses. The finger sucker had a nose to die for. Like Joshua, my undeclared husband of Copenhagen. Let me tell you about the long distance. That place I spend in between knowing and the never-knowing. The promises and mistakes. The waiting and distractions. The photos sent and then hidden. Another performance experiment, a way to tell you I love you. So anyway I guess I went into the basement to jerk off but then realised being alone and just doing that was pretty dumb. So I got the men in. The instructions were simple. I'm making a video for a live art work that forms part of a research project about interdisciplinary performance practice and queer submergence that finds itself crawling into underground zones of haunted tunnels and forgotten lives and buries itself there. OK maybe I didn't go into as much detail. I think I pretty much said: do ya wanna be in a video? The idea is that you have your t-shirt over your head and your jocks around your ankles. Something about cruising and toilet sex and head jobs and death and ghosts. They were way into it. I was genuinely surprised. Lubed up with a slab of Coopers stubbies. The one with the green label. Pale Ale. Whatever. You know, someone told me that Coopers is the only beer that is truly vegan? Doesn't have fish oil. It's got to account for something.

(Read by Jason into a filtered microphone while destroyed cities and empty places are projected)

Four boys swing like monkeys from the handrails on the last train home. They're shaking the carriage. One of the boys stands kinda too nearish: a cute anglo with a quiff. His friends carry baseball bats. Their T-Shirts are numbered. The train pulls to a halt. Empties out. It moves onto the next station. Apart from these boys I’m the only other passenger left in this carriage. I can’t help but stare the quiff boy. He glares full back at me. Without hesitation he says: you saw us swinging like monkeys on the hand-rails but how much attention did you really pay? Do you think that calling us cute somehow validates your sense of distance and objectivity? Do you really think we're just idle boys standing with our asses firmly packed and tactile with our pale clean complexions with our discofunk with our basketball boy arrogance with our stolen clothes with our fathers who beat the shit out of our beautiful angel faces and the scars that crease it seems cool and filmstar sexy well listen to us you fucker you've got it all wrong right cos you see those baseball bats we carry yeah well we're gonna jump off this train take those metal poles and smash some fucking faggot's brains onto the pavement until his fucking skin and teeth stick to the sidewalk until his queer cocksucking mouth is driven into the ratshit and cockroaches of the gutter until the pressure inside his skull bursts and the blood spurts from his ears till his ass is blown out by a shotgun and all those boys that entered it are blown away with it yeah and we're so really cute now just like your dreams of River Phoenix before the club scene so coy but rough around the edges well we say get out of our faces get off of our train and thank god it's still light outside. It'll soon be dark ...


( A letter for an audience member to read)

Dear Jason,

He is tall, strong, good-looking. He walks into the blackness of the night. They drive around trying to find him but he has disappeared.

His body is still fresh. Decomposition has not yet started.

They were lovers, they were in love.

He is stuffed into a plastic bag. To make him fit into the bag, his head and legs are cut off, his intestines removed and his legs shoved inside his carcass. The head is tied to the torso with yellow plastic cord, which passes up through the severed neck and back through the mouth and looped through the top ribs. The resulting sight is bizarre ... His feet stuck out of the carcass but the body is now small enough to fit in the bag, which is then wrapped with cord to hold everything together.

After he is killed, a saw is used to cut his spine in two places. His head is sawn off at the neck. His arms and legs neatly cut from his body at the joints. All fingers and thumbs cut off and the pelvis separated from his torso and backbone.The teeth marks from the saw can be seen on the C 4 verterbrae where the head is cut off from the body. The same marks can be seen on L 4 of the spine, where the pelvis bones have been separated from the body.
As well as being dissected, (the boy’s) flesh and muscle tissue has been removed from his arms and upper legs leaving bare bones. All internal organs - the heart, lungs, liver, kidney and intestines - have been removed. His scrotum has been cut open and his testicles have been removed. The head of his penis has been cut off and his penis shaft has been cut open down the middle. One testicle is missing. (The boy’s) tattoos are cut from his arms and legs and placed in separate plastic bags and placed inside his torso along with his arms and legs.

With love…


(Cards given to audience with a cup of cheap red wine)

He's beautiful. Did you hear what I said? Are we over? Did we begin? What more proof do you need? It’s a matter of taking that glass, any reflective surface and smashing it into that face, destroy those looks, wipe that smile, erase it, all the way down, down, don’t wanna miss a fraction, every slice matters, no slither missed.

He's repulsive. I’ve taken care of everything.

But instead. He's taking me home.
His bedroom. Right there.
He's a liar.

His note. It never came. So I wait a bit longer.
His phonecall. Expected. House empty.
His voice. Radio frequency. Stuck. Dials, fucking twisted.

His distance.
He's with someone.
He's with someone else.
His blood. For dinner.

Forget about him. OK.
He means it (this time), baby. He's never coming back.

His new boyfriend. The traveller. The street kid. Maybe a girl.

He disgusts you (now).
You will never see him (again).

He's open to other suggestions. Other. Never going back.
Ever. Again. From the top.


(read on mini-disc recording while masturbation close-ups and remixed K. Anger play)

He’d say to me at the height of romance and on sports fields: from that hockey stick to the axe to a chainsaw, it’s all downhill from here, bro’. He was my brother, I loved my brother, loved my brother like only a brother can, in the throat. We swam in those lakes, we kissed in the forests, rode naked on horseback and bathed at low tide. We fucked each other under a jetty when I was seventeen. I jerked him off on a bunk bed, he was on top. I’d just put my hand under the covers and make him cum in silence. Then he’d fall asleep and I’d dream of him. He had the hugest cock I’d ever seen. He used to show me when he’d lie on our bedroom floor and do weight training. He’d get this massive hard-on, take off his shorts and lift dumb bells, smiling. He had this taut, hairless body, the kind you dream over looking at pictures in Outrage or Campaign. He’d ask me to stop doing my homework (he’d call me ‘square fucker’ which I found endearing) and tell me to come over and lay by his side. He’d squirt this sweet smelling oil into my hand. I knew what this meant. I began by rubbing it into his chest while he flexed his pecs. He said he liked to feel my hands against his skin. He’d tell me to lick his stomach, circle my tongue around his belly button. I loved this bit. His skin always tasted like caramel. From here I knew where to go. My mouth travelled to his sweaty groin, his balls, all so hot, I wanted to dive in, I could have slept in there. I’d guide my tongue up the length of his cock, I’d do this over and over, I could hear him groaning (a sign of approval) until my mouth reached the shaft and I’d gently suck on that, only to the point that I knew, instinctively (cos he was my brother) that I had to start swallowing so I’d take him in full, full and wide, yeah, he’s loving it, I can’t help pulling my dick out of my pyjama shorts, it’s pushing against his leg and he’d say that’s it kid (cos I was younger) and he’d be running those firm football fingers through my hair, thrusting my mouth onto that familiar cock, that cock I know, like another home, a place to go to and after a while he’d do the work and jerk that thing into my mouth (not too rough, kinda lovingly) and I’d just wait until he shot into my throat a warm stream of cum and he’s inside me, in me, once more. So now every time I jerk off I think of my brother, the brother I never had.

(Read by computer voice against blue screen death)

Are we entering into territories of horror?
Did I really hear you say "I like to watch"?
Do you like to Feast and go home comfortable?
Did you expect me to become your go between rent boy?
What kind of heaven do you want?
Between me saying come on over and you saying I desire you, were you really just saying nothing?
How much did you expect to pay?
Can we get through this?
Can we lose the sad excuses?
Can I delete this message before I am forced to read them as incantation?
Do I end up the loser?
Does this shelf look attractive?
Was I about to become freeze-framed and out of range?
Tell me again: how much did you like the way I walked?
You said something about lips?
How could I know that you were feeling this way?
Why can't you look into my eyes and say it like you mean it?
How could I not regret?
Would you like to suggest a method for 'moving on'?
Why is it so hard to shed a single tear?
Why can't I cry?
Do my eyes well up?
Would it be easier to write it all down?
How difficult is it to forget?
I've done it once, can I do it again?
Do you believe in all things in moderation?
Am I stating the obvious?
Why does it take so long for you to reply?
Is this really the end of romance?
Why did you never show at the airport?
Why did you never call when you said you would?
Why do you always speak so bitterly?
Why this wall, this locked door, this line cut-off?
Where did this anti-gay gay man tag come from?
Did the community apply it?
Why this night and never day?
When well it stop raining?
Why do I feel like dying?
Have you ever looked down from the top of a 15 storey building and thought: hasn't this been done before?
Why the crack in the ceiling?
Where does the heat come from?
Why is it always so fucking cold?
Do I create the barriers?
Do I assign the blame?
Somebody said: is it because I desire the unattainable?
What is my strange fascination with prisons?
Why did Derek and David have to die?
Why was Jean left alone?
How can I fall out of love with you?
Why do you want to destroy me with your stare, your silence?
Where did all these dead bodies come from?
How much did I really love Ricardo?
Do I miss him?
Why can’t you just say: Yes?
Could you please drop the performance poetry?
What are those two men whispering about in the back row?
Would you like to stop using my name?
Are you just nasty little scavengers?
Do you have a problem?
Are your intentions pure or pure filth?
Do you have nothing to say to me?
Upper case or lower case?
Serif or sans-serif?
Verdana or Geneva?
Are you gonna drive me home?
Is that your car?
Would you please drop me off at the corner?
Will you have to step over my body to leave this place?
Will you leave me a note?
Will you help me dress?
Would you please say you love me?
Would you take some time out?
Would you be prepared to talk to me without an agenda?
Would you please give me some time?
Would you please leave me alone?
Would you mind leaving now?
Would you mind using the exit to your left?
Will you ever make a decision?
Would you please leave quietly?
Would you please leave quietly?
Would you please leave quietly?
Do you not know how to end things.
Do you not know how to say goodbye.
Do you find it hard to get up and go.
Do you find it hard to wake up in the morning.
Do you find it hard to face those familiar bodies in those familiar clubs.
Do you find it hard to keep up with the fashion.
Do you find it hard to stay up all night and still look like hot shit.
Do you like to fuck and fuck and fuck and still feel unhappy.
How many drugs do you have to take?
Do you have to be such a sleaze?
Do you like me the same way I like you?
Haven't you left yet?
Are you still here?
I told you not to call.
I told you not to come back.
I told you you weren't welcome anymore.
Did you think I'd crumble?
So now go. Walk out the door.
Don't turn around now.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You are not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You are not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
You're not welcome anymore.
Will you survive?
Will you survive.
Will you survive?
Will you survive?
You're not welcome anymore.
Will you survive?
Will you survive?
Will you survive.
You are not welcome anymore.
Will you survive?
Will you survive.
Will you survive?
Will you survive?
You're not welcome anymore.
Will you survive?
Will you survive?
Will you survive.
You are not welcome anymore.


Issue 8, 2003: He Had by Jennifer Triton

He Had

Jennifer Triton

no rhythm at all, but i
still sing his eyes like
jazz in my head, an
unstoppable blue, he was
perfectly sky in my
cloudy grey day, he was
sharp as angles, as
sweet as cider & warm
like sunset on brick, he was
cayenne pepper, the
terraced French Quarter,
all voodoo and Miles
rippling thru me- jazz
in my head, he was
mine, in my head he was
sharp with those eyes that
cut me wide, open I was,
honest I was, all angles
and sky he was
unstoppable blue, it was
sharp and unspoken this
bleeding between us this

Leigh Herrick, Summer 1998: Poem for Judy Chicago

Poem for Judy Chicago

Leigh Herrick

I understand why the plates -- each
its own horizon, reaching across the dinner table --
And I understand the sexuality of shapes --
the point that these are women's plates, reflective,
each, its proper satisfaction reaching within itself,
announcing its presence, who it is, and who it speaks to --
at least in many of us -- and in you --
And I understand the pulse of expression,
the wave of art embracing the hand the soul
that insists on its existence
lets it move
sets it fee
lets it say it's here.
I understand why the plates, the table --
How very thoughtful to invite us all to dine
on the accomplishments of our predecessors.
Here, to come, to eat and never fill, to feed
without a single chew -- I understand necessity --
And I understand how, quietly, our bodies are the silent link,
still, to our grandmothers' china,
how the cups, saucers, and stemware of genetics and history,
of politics and culture, bear, inherently, our losses and
our gains.
I understand the bodies tied to life, Artemis unfurling
the umbilical flecks found within our ancestors' pottery.
There's fortitude in this communion. I understand
The Dinner Party.
Tied to the tide, swollen, swollen the soul of art.
We eat, drink what we are.
And in the long, tall halls that lead to the showing,
the talk is low beneath our energies.
We enjoy this supper of sounds
until, at last, all Heaven is astir, and all the angels
bent in whisper
that even God is jealous.