Spaces and Places / Critical Paper
Spaces, places and puppets
When it comes to theatre, I can say that I am facinated by all its aspects. I enjoy going to the theatre as a spectator, witnessing the magic that happens on the stage and I absoloutley love working behind the scenes making the magic happen wheather that is as a maker or designer. I am specifically interested in sight-specific and interactive projects, using unusual spaces where more senses are activated then just listening and watching. I am interested in bringing the theatre closer to the audience, and playing with the concept of the audience’s role in the theatre. At the beginning of this unit I set up with a research question for this unit’s projects: “How might design for site-specific theatre encourage interactivity in an audience?”
But what is theatre? Is it a building? A performance? Can theatre happen everywhere? In her book What is Scenography? Pamela Howard says: “Theatre takes place wherever there is a meeting point between actors and a potential audience. And it is in the measured space of that meeting and in the generation of that interaction where the scenographer sets his or her art” (Howard 2009, p. 1).
About the theatre designer’s role, Howard says: “It is an exciting challenge for a scenographer to carve a magical space out of unpromising material, or to release a space by excavating and liberating closed or unused areas and making them habitable for both performers and spectators. Theatre is not simply a place you go to but a place you go through” (Howard 2009, p. 7-8). During my studies in MA theatre design I hope to come closer to answering these questions: Who am I as a theatre designer? What is my voice and what am I trying to say?
Site-specifity origins in the minimalist of the 1960’s. In his article Site-Specifics, Nick Kaye says that a definition of site-specifity might begin quite simply by describing the basis of such as exchange. „If one accepts the proposition that the meanings of utterances, actions and events are affected by their “local position,” by the situation of which they are a part, then a work of art, too, will be defined in relation to its place and position.” (Kaye 2010, p. 102-103).
Pamela Howard points out that site-specific does not at all mean that everything has to be done in a disused factory or a nineteenth-century warehouse. “It means creating something specifically for that site – and that may well be a theatre itself” (Howard 2009, p. 17). She talks about that the point of animating any space is to see, look, listen and learn what the space can bring to the work in hand and to respond to that space and see what it may offer that might never have been predicted (Howard 2009, p. 20).
One major difference working in a site-specific space is that spectator and performer are united in one room or chamber. The audience does not have to be seated in fixed seats during the performance, different from the conventional theatre where the audience can be lulled into a semi-slumber, waiting to be interested and activated by the brilliance of performance or production. This leads to that it is much more difficult for the spectator to be inconspicuous when the space is shared even if the performers’ space is more brightly lit, and the spectators are in shadow. “In this shared space the spectator is required to “assister” – to be present and to be ready to receive – and is less able to be a passive onlooker” (Howard 2009, p. 20).
The term “immersive” is now increasingly applied to suggest a “genre” of theatre. In immersive theatre, the audience are not merely passive bystanders. They are part of the story, however small their role may be, and they are in the middle of the action. In an immersive theatre production, the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character. They may be allowed to roam and explore the performance space as the performance happens around them, allowing them to decide what they see and what they skip. They might be herded from room to room so they see the key scenes. They might even be invited to become a more active part of the performance. The lines between performer and audience and between performance and life are blurred. The audience is placed within the environment of the story and therefore play witness front and centre to the events without the distancing factor of a proscenium (Machon 2013, p. 22).
For my individual spectulative project proposal, I had planned to make a complete proposal for a site-specific performance based on Peer Gynt, where I would use tools of immersive theatre to activate the audience to participate in the performance. My first idea was to design a performance where Peer Gynt would act as a guide and lead people through different spaces that would interpret different parts of his story and life. This project soon became rather overwhelming, especially as I was struggling finding a building or space to work with and respond to. I therefore decided to change my concept, and use the theatre at Wimbledon College of Art as my space and develop further of the scenes I had created. The end result was that I designed a project proposal of a performance where Peer Gynt was a storyteller and would tell the audience his story by using e.g. masks and puppets. The performance would be immersive in the way, that the audience should not to be separate from the performers and I wanted the audience to feel that they were entering his mind when they came into the space.
I can’t say that I answered my original research question directly through the completion of my speculative design proposal, but it has leaded me in interesting directions towards exploring exciting elements such as puppetry. The power of puppets to tell a story and transmit emotion to an audience has been used since the earliest theatre. Puppets have a unique quality to ignite our imagination, bring to life fantasy and represent real life in a symbolic way (Bicát 2007, p. 7). In next term I intend to focus on the use of puppets in theatre performances and explore why people are still drawn to and enchanted by these primitive figures, particularly in the context of a modern age, full of technological opportunities.
Bicát, T. (2007) Puppets and Performing Objects. The Crowood Press.
Collins, J. & Nisbet, A. (2010) Theatre and performance design: A Reader in Scenography. Routledge.
Howard, P. (2009) What is Scenography? Routledge.
Kaye, N. (2010) “Site-specifics” in Collins, J. & Nisbet, A. (ed.) Theatre and performance design: A Reader in Scenography. Routledge.
Machon, J. (2013) Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. Palgrave Macmillan.
Pavelka, M. (2015) So You Want to be a Theatre Designer? Nick Hern Books.