Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What does ‘Glasgow’ mean?

The question poses two immediate and difficult questions: what is meant by Glasgow, and performance, in this context. Discussions about performance - its boundaries and the application of its critical theories - have been complicated since Richard Schechner applied the logic of  Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) to theatre studies, the ideal of a ‘broad and inclusive’ study has encouraged the reading of all walks of life as forms of performance. And while Glasgow can be found on maps and in encyclopedia, its geographical limits are hardly fixed - in 1996, the Conservative government dismantled the existing Strathclyde Region and, through restructuring, reduced the size of the city and the population by 50 000. The 2001 census revealed that the population of Glasgow had nearly halved since 1938, and areas served by the city’s public transport system, such as Rutherglen, are no longer part of Glasgow but have become self-governing.

There is also the Glasgow of the imagination: the violent streets conjured in the novel No Mean City, or Tom McGrath’s play The Hard Man. It has provided the landscape for films: from the apocalyptic World War Z, the social realism of Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen or Carla’s Song, to the horrific science fiction of Under The Skin. This Glasgow is associated with brutality and exercises a fierce hold on the public perception of the city: the actor Brian Cox recently noting that ‘the humour in Glasgow is darker, because it's much more gloomy, there's a perpetual misery there.’

This is more than an abstract problem of definition, since similar problems emerge in the discussion of national theatre identities and history. Nadine Holdsworth, in Theatre and Nation (2010) observes that a tension exists between ‘ethnic nationalism’ - based on bloodlines - and ‘civic nationalism’ - a matter of shared laws and customs. While the latter form allows anybody within the nation’s boundaries, theoretically, to be included as a citizen, ethnic nationalism can insist on a far purer population. Applied at the level of the city, this can resolve into the problematic division between ‘true Glaswegians’ (born in the city) and incomers (arriving for economic or educational reasons). In Scotland, the relationship between the two sets is partially explored in the provocative essay Settlers and Colonists by Alasdair Gray (Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence 2012), which condemned English professionals who migrated north of the border for short term career gains.

Rather than attempting to fit the existing ideals about Glasgow into these existing descriptions, a working definition of Glasgow - tentative and open to expansion or contraction - can be developed, based around the network of important sites for performance. This will be a geographical framework that relates artists to their places of work or education.

However, this still leaves the problem of performance. 

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