Our Site Specific performance was an audio walk based around the Cathedral with the overall objective to be a reflection of life as a journey. This is because we found, with the route we had chosen, there seemed to be a theme of life and death around the Cathedral. Once we started exploring we found more examples of ageing in life along our route; starting at the heaven and hell gates making our way through the grass filled with ‘pixie huts’ and ‘portals to Narnia’, past the school, the castle and the overwhelming façade of the Cathedral. We wanted to do this to encourage our audience to look at a site they may or may not know well and view it with a fresh perspective. We decided to use the Cathedral as the place is an obvious tourist spot, but we used it quite differently; we focused on the non tourist areas of attraction in order to encourage our audience to look past the norm and explore the hidden depths places have to offer. We had a similar performance methodology to Wrights and sights: “Our intention is to show walking not only as directed movement from one place to another, but a wandering, an odyssey of sight and sound, a quest for knowledge and stimulation, a grand roaming expedition, and a living breathing work of art in its own right.” (Wrights and sites, 2006). We took inspiration from this quote and decided our aim was to take our audience on a personal journey, to encourage them to look up and around and consequently make the most out of everything thrown at them. We hoped to convey to the audience that life too was a journey, so to encourage them to make the most out of life.
Our piece was performed in the morning as we believed starting off a person’s day completely different to normal, meant they would benefit the most from their walk. This was in order to demonstrate to the audience how different things look if they alter their perspective. Our audio was based on a personal journey and was available to download prior to the performance.The idea was that people downloaded it onto their own devices so it could be listened to through headphones as they made their personal voyage. The audience were greeted by two of our group members and handed the gift of a scallop shell, which is the international sign of a pilgrimage.They were then encouraged to make their way over to site one and begin the audio when they were ready. We used recordings of conversations we had with Lincoln locals on the subject of the headless figures that appeared at site one. This was to offer different perspectives, in order to encourage our audience to discard their primary thoughts and be more accepting to others opinions. Our audio was recorded to last around half an hour, however, when welcoming our audience to the tour, we informed them it is a personal journey and to take as long as they need by pausing the audio if necessary. On the day of performance, unfortunately due to bad weather conditions our audience consisted of two people. However, our performance was focused on a personal journey meaning that for our two participants their experience was unaltered by the small turnout. As our audio is available to download online, should one of our invitees decide at a later date they want to participate on our walk, it is available for them to do so. The experience however, would be different as there would be no orchestrated serendipities along their journey; a phrase inspired by Fortnight that essentially entails creating ‘accidents’ for our audience to encounter, which makes them question if they are intentional or coincidental.
Analysis of process
Theory informed ideas:
Mike Pearson’s introduction to Site Specific Performance offers an interesting insight to space as a performance: “The play as an event belongs to the space, and makes the space perform as much as it makes the actors perform”. (Wiles, 2003, 1) I believe this means when you study a space in any performance, it appears to ‘perform’ as itself; all the everyday elements that occur in the space seem forced, not natural. This has enabled me to see how site specific differs from conventional performance and how it is “a shift away from the primacy of metropolitan theatre building” (Holdsworth et al, 2013, 87).
Social practices and space:
I was exposed to the boundaries of performance by looking at ‘Salon Adrienne’ by Adrian Howells (homotopiafestival, 2007). This idea particularly played on my mind as I think taking on a persona of a hairdresser is genius. Hairdressing is a very unique environment which Howells quite rightly recognises the unspoken relationship that seems to appear between hairdresser and client, which is the exchange of personal information between two people in a seemingly confidential environment. This led me to contemplate site in relation to The Place of the Artist, it is stated that: “What becomes important is not just the geographical place in which the work is sited but also the social practises that are engendered as part of the space” (Govan et al, 2007, 121). This is because it is not the building of the hairdressers that make ‘confess’, it is the social practise and the trust that happens between people there that allows people to feel comfortable to open up. This has led me to focus more on the social practises of a place as well as the site itself as both help make the site unique.
Exploring the site:
When it came to choosing our location we struggled with the idea of going with the obvious or selecting an area off the beaten track. I thought given the opportunity to perform anywhere, I should grab this and choose somewhere a little off the beaten track.
I believed performing somewhere different would inspire our audience members to explore more as they will see what can be found from deriving from the usual tourist areas, not just in Lincoln but everywhere. This links back to the reading from Between Routes and Roots where “contemporary devisers have sought to develop performative practises that invite audiences to re-envision and re-imagine familiar places and recognise the multiplicity of meanings they carry” (Govan et al, 2007, 138). As our ideas progressed we decided we were going about it the wrong way and the best thing was actually to go with the obvious – if the audiences are to ‘re-envision’ and ‘re-imagine’ a place – why not let it be the most obvious choice of site in steep hill – The Cathedral? However, we still had a long way to come before we discovered the cathedral was the best place.
How we progressed to our final idea:
Once we had our initial interest in the cathedral we decided to explore it further. Like many Lincoln residents we have all seen the Cathedral probably hundreds of times, yet never noticed the interesting additions its stonework has to offer. This gave us the idea of doing a walking tour around the cathedral of the non conventional areas of attraction such as; unusual gargoyles. We had the idea of doing a misguide accompanied by a map, drawing attention to the less obvious areas of attraction which would be complemented by audio. Our idea was to emphasise the more ordinary or darker bits to the cathedral either based on fact or fiction. This idea is also spoken about in Making a performance: Devising Histories and contemporary practises: “The emphasis on localism in community theatre has done much to challenge the idea that there was one official history.” (Govan et al, 2007,138) The idea which arose from this was to challenge the facts that people cling to. We had the idea to change these in order to encourage our audience to question the facts they are familiar with.
Throughout our process we found the weather affected people’s behaviour. We decided to go into the cathedral due to bad weather conditions and what we found was quite interesting: there was a family including two small children that we encountered and we noticed something very interesting. Children’s perspectives on things are not only very different to an adults, but their insight seems to provide much more excitement to a place. We thought this could be a good idea for our performance; looking at a place from a child’s perspective. Throughout research for our piece we came across a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called ‘Cradle Song’. The poem talks of a ‘birdie’ who wants to fly away but his mother insists he stay until he is stronger, this gave us the idea to instil the freedom on our audience that a child should have. We had the idea to encourage our audience to leave their bags and coats with us on a picnic blanket to give them ultimate freedom to be alone with their thoughts and explore the grounds like they never have before.
Due to some issues gaining access to Westgate School, we decided all the viewpoints may not need to be from children, which inspired us to incorporate view points from people of all ages. We had the idea to subtly incorporate this into our walk in the form of a pilgrimage, viewpoints starting off as more imaginative in the start while becoming more realistic as the journey/pilgrimage goes on. Unknowingly to us there was a theatre called Southbank centre in London with a similar vision of “Part walking tour, part site-specific performance, this urban pilgrimage combines poetry, soundscapes and storytelling to scrape away at the surface of the city, revealing the hidden histories and geological realities beneath our feet.” (Chivers, 2013).
Sites and Scallops
Simon Reeve’s documentary about Pilgrimage has cemented the idea that the purpose of our audio walk needed the focus of a ‘journey’ (DocumentaryTube, BBC 2013). Pilgrimages are filled with symbolism –a scallop is a symbol of a pilgrimage all over the world. As part of an initiation process for our walk we had the idea for people to take something as an acceptance into our journey, and we agreed the scallop was a good idea both practically and symbolically.
Session with Conan
We learnt a lot from our session with Conan; listening to an audio tour while holding a map is very distracting and most likely means our audience will not take in the site around them, which is exactly what we did not want to happen. Instead, we decided to get rid of the map and guide them only using the audio. As we discovered we had over complicated our tour, we decided instead of activities we should have ‘coincidences’ such as one member playing cats cradle on the bench at the Tennyson site, while the audience listen to the ‘cradle song’. (We later decided against this and to incorporate subtle orchestrated serendipities into our piece instead). We decided we should stick to the circular side of our journey as making the passage back to the beginning of the tour would hopefully inspire our audience to look at the Cathedral in a whole new light on their arrival to the site at the end of their journey.
“A place owes its character to the experiences it affords to those who spend time there – to the sights, sounds and indeed smells that constitute its specific ambience” (Ingold, 2000,192)
Our original idea for our audio walk involved a lot of forced audience participation, however, things worked out differently as our ideas panned out. Instead, we had the idea of a ‘gifting’ approach with our audience; to look after and ‘nurture’ them so they could have a fruitful experience. We wanted them to feel comfortable, not forced to do things that are out of their comfort zone, but create the time to allow them to be alone with their thoughts.
Referring to the earlier quote from The Perception of the environment we decided to regard the locals of Lincoln in our piece. Originally we avoided any perceptions that could be a distraction to our audiences own ideas instead of realising we could use this to our advantage. The Cathedral wouldn’t be as it is today without the people making it so and we have decided to pay homage to that and note them on our journey. In Mike Pearson’s introduction to Site Specific Performance Sue Palmer states “It is not just about a place, but the people who normally inhabit and use that space. For it wouldn’t exist without them” (Wilkie, 2002, 145) therefore we decided to incorporate ‘orchestrated serendipity’ into our piece. (In our final audio we referred to the locals as Soldiers in the square and asked the audience to question what brought them here and made their paths cross on this very day). The orchestrated serendipities were inspired by Fortnight a project by Proto-type Theatre (Lees et al, 2011) which happens in only a handful of cities and allows the participants, who are locals, to see the place with fresh eyes – which is exactly what we intended to do.
When things don’t quite go to plan…
Throughout a trial run of our piece we discovered faults in our audio. These faults were easily rectifiable; such as tone of voice and some sound effects which did not work. More recently I have been looking into Fortnight and their understanding of theatre as a “theatrical intervention into … daily lives” (Hui, 2011) which is exactly what we wanted to achieve by the chatty style of conversation and how the words spoken can infiltrate a persons thought process at that moment in time. Fortnight understands that “works of art are meant to provoke affective responses – to move and push people to new understandings and new relations” (Hui, 2011) something we only felt was achievable by the informal conversational style audio. We did not want to be patronising, our intention was to put our audience at ease in order to allow them to reach ‘new understandings’. Therefore after analysing our audio we realised that this sense of ease was not achieved and we needed to change it slightly. Editing this was quite hard as writing a script in the past had always resulted in us creating formal dialogue, so we had the idea to voice record our rehearsal and to talk about the site. Then we wrote a script based on what we said in an informal conversation, almost verbatim like.
The day before our dress rehearsal with Rachel, we all undertook the journey ourselves to see if we thought any further improvements needed to be made. One thing I found was that the instructions could be misinterpreted wrongly and I believed we needed an indicator along the way. Therefore, I bought a chalkboard which we drew an arrow and also a scallop shell on, something so simple could stop a lot of confusion for our audience who are independent along the journey (besides our companion of course). We then decided on where to place our orchestrated serendipity’s for our performance. All in all we hoped to demonstrate the aim of our performance; to take our audience on a personal journey, to encourage them to look up and around and consequently make the most out of everything thrown at them. This was inspired by Sarah Gorman in Wandering and Wondering: “My perceptions of street activity, the sounds around me and my sense of ‘belonging’ in that environment were heightened, I had a greater sense of visual stimulation, and was amused rather than irritated by the idiosyncrasies of people who passed by” (Gorman, 2006, 168) this is what we hoped to achieve in our piece; a journey which focused on everything in the environment, heightening and stimulating all of the senses. We decided in our dress rehearsal to ask for casual feedback from the audience after our performance. We decided on questioning them in an informal manner, such as “how was that for you?” which we thought was an ideal question as it offered no biased inclination for where the question should go as we wanted honest answers.
“Imagine a winter landscape. Your senses working overtime: you shiver and squint, stamp and blow. Only then perhaps do you look, listen, touch. You flog through the snow your feet and fingers freeze. You are aware of surface, climate and ambience” – (Pearson, 2010, 29)
The inevitable happened; it rained, meaning devastatingly we only had 2 participants on our tour. But all was not lost – the audio was our main piece of work, which was of course unaltered by the weather and all instructions were executed perfectly by our participants. However, I cannot help feel that our performance was hindered by the weather; instances such as the handing out of drinks, I feel would have worked better on a drier day as would the ending; as people may have felt more inclined to stay and give feedback on the picnic blanket.
The most disappointing thing about not having any fresh eyes (and ears) to our piece was not being able to collate detailed feedback. We were excited to ask people of their opinions in a hope that in the future we could perhaps take this further providing it was successful. I believe an honest amount of constructive criticism would have been very helpful for our plans to perhaps expand our tour further. This feedback was of a different kind, it was more how we could improve for our performance day as oppose to looking upon our audio as a finished product. Overall, our spirits were not dampened; if we were to do this again I would suggest multiple performances at different times over a week period. This, I believe would offer our tour a different dimension; people could pick times that suited them which may inspire more people to participate.
The performance itself demonstrated to me the seemingly limitless boundaries of Site Specific performance. Allowing myself to engage with the concept has been truly rewarding; along my own journey I have been inspired to step away from the traditional side of theatre and to venture into the unknown world of Site Specific performance. The theory behind the concept has allowed me to see how a performance can be as simple as two people in a hairdressers and has also taught me the different modes of performance; from audio to walking as a form of art. I will treasure this learning experience as I intend to take inspiration from it for further creations.
I have documented some of the day on my flickr which can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/130413370@N08/sets/72157650150127103/
Auslander, P. (2006) The Performativity of performance documentation. PAJ 28:3
DocumentaryTube BBC (2013) Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve episode1BBC full documentary 2013 greatest adventures on earth. [online video] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w2TA42ZnZ0 [Accessed March 17 2015].
Gorman, S. (2006) Following Janet Cardiff’s Missing Voice. Wandering and Wondering 167-178.
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homotopiafestival (2007) Salon Adrienne. [online video] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmUn2ZTzeY0 [Accessed ????????]
Hui, A. (2011) Art as an everyday intervention: shifting times, places and mobilities in the pervasive media performance project “Fortnight”. The Association of American Geographers’ Conference, New York, 25 February 2012 [unpublished].
Ingold, T (2000) The Perception of the Environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.
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Tom Chivers (2013) Southbank Centre. [Online] Available from http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/tom-chivers-73727 [Accessed on 17th March 2015]