Thursday, 12 November 2015

In Cahoots as Play...

Goffman liked to look at everyday life like it was a big show. He read a book by Bateson which described otters at the zoo having a laugh. From this, Goffman describes a number of qualities that describe 'play'. It is the way that Bateson knew that the otters he was watching weren't getting nasty, but actually having a bit of fun.

The playful act is so performed that its ordinary function is not realized. The stronger and more competent participant restrains himself (sic) to be a match for the weaker and less competent.

Already, the conference is identified as a site not of play but aiming towards its ordinary function. However, Goffman's description of the power relationship here (apart from re-enforcing an already present hierarchy) does describe a possible teaching scenario: the 'stronger' participant being the teacher, the weaker being the student.

The stronger participants at In Cahoots - that is, those selected by the organisers as experts and given time to address the audience - have their power emphasised by the format. For example, Nele Hertling's conclusion talk (a fairly predictable selection of platitudes about the advantages of collaboration) was given authority not by the content of her speech but the situation. She was at the front of the room, she had a microphone. The audience was seated in a theatre space, facing her.

There is an exaggeration of the expansiveness of some acts.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to see Brian Blessed do Shakespeare knows that this certainly describes theatre: equally, the choreography of a stripper expands suggestive movement, drawing attention to the erotic potential of the body. Perhaps the panel format, such as in the conclusion talk or Errollyn Wallen's keynote speech, is an expansion of the act of conversation.

Wallen's keynote, which excerpted from her various work (including the spectacular opening ceremony of the UK Paralympics), was an expanded description of her process. Equally, some of the performances - for example the Ensemble Thing's You Can't Get There From Here expanded the process of performance.

(In You Can't Get There..., the ensemble played a selection of pieces that had been composed through the collaboration of several composers. Before each piece, a recorded version of an early draft of the collaboration was played, highlighting the process, and possibly exaggerating the expansiveness of composition to reveal how the process operated.)

The sequence of activity that serves as a pattern is neither followed faithfully nor completed fully, but is subject to starting and stopping,to redoing, to discontinuation... to mixing with sequences from other routines.

The Bateson/Goffman model, once again, does not appear to completely fit the conference format. It does describe a process that is optimised for learning, however. It's pretty clear that Bateman, when he was watching otters, could have equally defined their activity as education. 

In Cahoots was clearly well-structured, jumping from lectures to workshops to performances, offering a variety of experiences. Although this implies discontinuity, and plenty of starting and stopping, the overall structure integrated the event into a whole. 

For example, the workshop on Dance and Music was complemented by an evening performance of Sandglass, a collaboration between choreographer Lucy Boyes and musician Thomas Butler. The interaction between the soundscape and the performers went beyond choreographing to the music, with the dancers making some of the sounds on stage. 

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