Monday, 30 October 2017

A Few Relections on Live Art and Theatre

While Michael Billington wonders about the lack of gay plays in British theatre (2006), gay and lesbian live art is thriving. Live art, as opposed to theatre, tends towards a greater flexibility of form and content, and is less markedly associated with fictional characterization, moving easily between the 'authentic' and the artificial or theatrical.

Dramaturgy and Performance, Turner and Behrndt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008:86)

Turner and Behrndt's bold statement claims that
something intrinsic in 'live art' (a 'greater flexibility' has encouraged artists to use it to express LGBTQ experiences, in place of the more traditional scripted theatre. Despite listing a range of 'gay plays', from Mark Ravenhill's Mother Clapp's Molly House (2001) to Larry Kramer's 1985 The Normal Heart, they insist that live art draws on dramaturgies like drag, 'where the drag persona is presented as authentic' (ibid) and suits artists who themselves 'already position themselves between or on the border of two (or more) cultures' (2008: 88).  

The contrast between theatre and live art is not as clear-cut as Turner and Behrndt suggest: the example of Stacy Makashi's Fold (2001) described a performance that is fluid in its use of language, but not one that differs considerably from a Brechtian influenced monologue in its movement between multiple characters which deconstruct the notion of diagetic identity. Richard Schechner's description of performance studies would place them both under a broader umbrella.

Behaviour is the 'object of study... what people do in the activity of doing it...Performance must be construed as a 'broad spectrum' or continuum of human actions ranging from ritual, play, sports, popular entertainments, the performing arts (theatre, dance, music, and everyday life performances... there is no historically or culturally fixable limit on what is or is not 'performance'

Performance Studies: An Introduction, Schechner (Routledge, 2002:1-2)

While Turner and Behrndt are concerned with cataloging contemporary dramaturgies with a view to tracing the influence of Brecht's innovations, Schechner's agenda was to broaden the material under consideration, yet they all share an Aristotelian desire to present a taxonomy of performance. Schechner's apparently porous boundaries and rejection of an absolute definition are disingenuous -  far from liberating performances from a Eurocentric hierarchy, he colonises the performance of global cultures beneath the measuring rod of anthropological investigation. However, rather than deal with live art and drag as merely different kinds of theatrical dramaturgy, Turner and Behrndt place the work beyond the boundaries of theatre and swiftly return to 'hybrid dramaturgy' in their discussion of work from the African diaspora. 

Like Billington in the opening quotation, Turner and Behrndt don't see the LGBTQ performance as theatre but within an alternative tradition. Schechner's more inclusive discipline, in this case, would enhance their analysis.

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