During our first session, various questions were raised about what site specific performance is and why so many theatre companies now use it. When we think of theatre, we immediately imagine the typical proscenium arch stage, which “distances spectators from spectacle…in the dark, sitting in rows, discouraging eye contact and interaction” (Pearson, 2010, 94-95.) This particular style of theatre however has its disadvantages, meaning fewer people are venturing out to the theatre. It can only attract an audience who have a keen interest in theatre, people may not be able to afford to go to the theatre or they may find it intimidating. “Site specific performance however, is specifically generated for one selected site” (Wilkie, 2002, 150) away from the ‘typical’ theatre space. Examples of this include: Parks; playgrounds; work buildings; churches; museums; shopping centres and hospitals. When using these familiar settings, site specific “work emphasizes performance’s ethical responsibility to function directly in people’s everyday lives, rather than removed from that context in theatres” (Allain and Harvie, 2006, 151). This allows theatre to gain a connection with the community, making it more accessible for the public and appealing to a wider audience as it can “attract passers-by” (Wilkie, 2002, 144).
We decided to take a ‘drift’ through the city of Lincoln, in order to help guide us in finding a site which would later become our performance space. The drift allowed us to “start in the familiar and straight away head off into the unknown” (Smith, 2015). After wondering the streets of Lincoln we came to the Museum of Lincolnshire life; a place which holds a great deal of historical information about the city of Lincoln. When walking around the Museum we came across some very inspiring images and objects, a lot of which related to women during the period of the First World War. Being the only ‘all female group’ within the class, we thought it would be interesting to focus on the awareness of how women were treated during this time and what effect the idea of change meant for these women. We visited a small room in the Museum which was set out like a classroom. I felt the room had a very eerie and intense feeling about it and I tried to let myself imagine what it might have been like for a child back then. Placed on the desk was a sheet of paper which read ‘Rules for Women Teachers.’ This is something as a group we all thought could be a good focal point for our piece. We decided that our performance would be based around the Museum of Lincolnshire life and we would use audio as a tool to voice the stories of the women of Lincoln. We wanted our performance to replicate the ‘drift’ that we went on in order to find our site and start from the bottom of Steep Hill, ending the tour at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. In choosing this route it allowed us to show that “moving between places, wayfinding, more closely resembles story-telling than map-using, as one situates one’s position within the context of journeys previously made” (Pearson, 2010, 15). We chose to then structure our monologues so that the audio would give the space meaning and relate to the places that we walked past. Using site morphology we aimed to transform the existence of the site by our intervention. To intervene in a site enables us as the performers to transform the space with our ideas “allowing us to review and experiment with dynamics that are dictated by modern theatre buildings, especially the relationship between performer and audience and performer and venue” (Wilkie, 2002, 141)
Analysis of Process
We decided to divide our key topics for our performance and each chose one to research. I chose to further my research into Amy Beechey, the mother who lost 5 sons during the space of just 3 years to the First World War. During the war it was very unusual to loose this amount of children, and this is why Amy Beechey’s story was so tragic. I can’t begin to imagine how it would have felt, but I wanted our piece to highlight the bravery of the Beechey Boys and give the audience an insight into what it might have been like for their mother when she had to unwillingly send her sons to war. I felt this story should be shared, as it has a huge part to play in the history of Lincoln. I chose to visit the house of where the Beechey Boys once lived – 14, Avondale Street, Lincoln. I stood outside the house that Barnard, Charles, Frank, Harold and Leonard would have once called home. It was heart breaking to stand outside of the house they grew up in, on the same street they’d have once played on and realise these boys would have once walked out of the front door, to never return home. An idea we wanted to look into was writing our own letters, however, use the real letters written by the Beechey boys and give them to the audience so that they could read them on the journey. Instead, we chose to use audio and record a letter written by Barnard Beechey, and have this played to the audience whilst we used the performative action of writing on chalk boards. We thought that this might create a very juxtaposing effect, as the idea of signing off a letter to a loved one away at war would be combined with the idea of being a child in school during the period of 1915.
Lone Twin’s The Boat Project is a site specific performance which used donations of wood from the public to create a work of art; creating “a living archive of people’s stories and lives” (Lone Twin, 2011). This was something we looked into to inspire our piece, as we wanted the audience to join in with the creation of making something. When telling Florence Bonnett’s story, we wanted the audience to be involved in building a paper aeroplane. We wanted to use this idea as a representation of her working in the factory with her friends building machinery for the First World War. Memory becomes an important vessel in this process and by taking photographs on our mobile phones; it would document the past and bring it into the present. We looked into how “the Lone Twin team have recorded their story…with a book of photographs” (Barnett, 2012). This is something we wanted to mimic and in doing so would allow us in “compressing the live and mediated event into a single space and moment” (Turner, 2004, 377) so that each individual memory was recorded.
We also thought the element of costume could be an interesting way of separating us from the audience. By dressing in 1915 clothing, this could have helped to make the piece authentic and work as a disguising tool in order to transport the audience back in time. Using Lone Twin’s Totem (1998) as inspiration, we could have dressed up in costume, as “this signalled their place as strangers yet also acts as a catalyst for the audience to interact with them” (Govan, 125). This would’ve signified us as the performers and also would’ve allowed the audience to recognise our characters are from a different period of time; therefore creating the idea of ‘otherness’.
The alternative idea we chose to look into was to have just two performers dressed up. One of the women could wear boiler suit overalls and the other could wear an apron. This would symbolise the change women have gone through and costume could have acted as a representation of a timeline of women’s rights from 1915 up until today. Women were not permitted to work in factories and were considered to stay at home and bake. This idea would have worked well when speaking our Flornence Bonnett monologue, as she worked in the William Foster factory building the Tank. This idea portrays ‘Female subjectivity as it gives itself up to intuition be- comes a problem with respect to a certain conception of time: time as project, teleology, linear and prospective unfolding; time as departure, progression, and arrival-in other words, the time of history.’ (Jardine, 1981, 17). After much consideration, we chose to go against the idea of costume, as our performance was heavily audio based. When we used audience interactions we weren’t attempting to play characters so there would have been no need to disguise who we were as we were merely acting as ourselves.
We chose to look into Blast Theory’s Can You See Me Now (2001) for inspiration and focus on how their performance plays with the idea of presence within a space. The players in the game are dropped into a virtual city and become digital performers online, trying not to get captured by the members of Blast Theory. When they are captured, a photographic image is taken of the location where the player is found. The idea of taking a photograph of an empty space plays with the idea of absence and presence within the space. This caused a debate among our group as we began to think about questions like ‘do you have to have seen a space for it to be there?’ We then realised the importance of documenting our piece, and thought that taking images of the audience doing performative actions within a space was something that we could incorporate into our piece to capture the moment.
On our journey we passed an old fashioned sweet shop, and chose to give the audience an instruction to enter the shop and buy some liquorice – a likeable sweet of the time period. The idea of eating sweets is generally associated with ‘happy memories’, however, alongside our theme of the First World War creates a very juxtaposing effect. After eating the liquorice, it will leave a trace of colour on the tongue. This is where we planned on using Blast Theory’s idea of ‘capturing the moment.’ This moment will never really leave if we document it in a photograph and will express the idea of the here and now, “permitting the past to surge into the present” (Pearson, 2010, 10). Douglas Crimp wrote “… institutions can be named at the outset: first, the museum; then, art history; and finally, in a more complex sense, because modernism depends both upon its presence and upon its absence, photography” (Crimp, 1980, 92). Adding the images into an album portrays the idea of ‘producing’ something, linking to the time period of which women were believed to be used for producing things, such as children and food. This time was all about the change women were going through after the repression of their feminine identity, and how they went from producing things within the home to being allowed to work in factories. This also became apparent in our monologue by Florence Bonnet as she discussed leaving school at the age of 13 to work in the William Foster factory, constructing the tracks for the tank.
DreamThinkSpeak’s (2013) production of One Day Maybe is similar to our piece as it is a performance of historical events. In 1980 many people in Gwangiu were killed due to the government that was in control at the time. This performance shows the idea of people loosing their life due to the lack of freedom they had, similarly to the Beechey Boys, who had to fight for their country. One Day Maybe acknowledges “these past key events are still of the present” (DreamThinkSpeak, 2013) and plays with the idea of tense. The characters of those who sacrificed their lives are to be thought of as ghosts or spirits and attend the journey with the audience members to see how the world has changed. The past can never fully be recreated, so by playing with the tense of our monologues, we felt it would create a ghostly essence. This reminded me of our very first drift when we visited the classroom in the Museum. When I entered the room it had a very eerey feel to it. It could have been the way the room echoed when we spoke to one another or it could have been how cold it was due to the tiled walls. We aimed to recreate this feel within our piece and chose to record many of our sounds in large rooms which created an echoing effect when speaking our monologues.
Punchdrunk’s The Borough is an audio piece, inspired by a poem, and “takes place on the streets of Aldeburgh in broad daylight” (Gardener, 2013). This audio piece was a lot like our performance as it weaves together “past and present, fact and fiction” (Gardener, 2013). Through our monologues, we told the stories of the women of Lincolnshire in 1915. We realised that it would be impossible to make our piece entirely authentic, as the surrounding setting and passers-by would be dressed in modern day clothing and would speak in the language of today. Although we couldn’t disguise the time period, the element of audio allowed us to create a distancing effect, separating the past and the present. The past was then shown through monologues of real women in 1915 and we chose to layer war sounds to represent the time period.
We wanted to give the audience a paper plane to build to represent the importance of aircraft in Lincolnshire in 1915. This also linked with Florence Bonnet’s monologue when she talks about working in the William Foster Factory. After building the toy plane, the audience member would throw the plane down Steep Hill and we would measured how far it went. The idea of playing a childhood game created a contrasting effect to our War theme. This allowed the audience to be distracted and participate in an enjoyable moment, before once again entering the War period. In using the paper plane it showed that “site specific work frequently treads a line between the play world and reality” (Turner, 2004, 382). We wanted to later show traces of the plane by pretending we were children running in and out of the space, with our arms as wings as if we were the planes. After testing this choreography out, it felt very forced and also a little embarrassing to perform. It didn’t really represent what we wanted to portray and instead felt slightly comical, as we were pretending to be children, whom the audience would clearly see is something we are not. Instead, we decided to take a very different approach and focus on using our arms to represent a plane’s wings. This motif is something that we then chose to repeat throughout our performance from the beginning and showed “an enactment of the past in the present” (Turner, 2004, 376). By embedding this choreography into our piece would allow the audience to notice that the arm motif had been used to represent different things. We later went on to hear the monologue of a school teacher in our audio. At this point, we chose to choreograph another movement piece to represent children raising their hand in a classroom. This choreography used the same arm movement that we earlier used to represent the plane wings, however this time we changed the speed in which we performed it.
Although the stories we chose to discuss in our audio were specific to Lincoln, I realise now our piece was more site generic, as we could have chose to perform our piece elsewhere in the city of Lincoln. “To make a truly site-specific piece means it sits wholly in that site in both its content and form, otherwise, if movable, it becomes more about the site as a vehicle/vessel” (Helena Goldwater, 2002, 149). We had taken other routes around Lincoln, however, we wanted the final destination to end at the Museum so that the audience could enter and further their knowledge of the history of Lincoln. The route in which seemed most suitable for this was to walk up Steep Hill. Once deciding on a set route we then chose to base our monologues on sites that we past. I feel that this allowed us to successfully juxtapose “the factual with the fictional, event with imagination, history with story, narrative with fragment, past with present’ (Heddon, 2008, 9).
When representing a scene based around the classroom, we chose to use the chalk boards to sign the surnames of the women and held them up to the audience. At this point in the performance, it began to rain; however, I really feel this supported our theme. As we wrote the surnames of the women on the chalk board, the rain then washed the names away, portraying how they were a part of history. This idea of palimpsest worked alongside our theme of war, as the letters of the Beechey Boys have been eroded away, and we wanted to symbolise this in our piece.
A sound effect we chose to use in our audio was an aeroplane noise. We aimed to have the noise of the plane play on the audio before we took part in flying the paper aeroplanes down Steep Hill. This sound effect was used to purely show symbolism, however, after our performance we realised that the plane noise we chose wasn’t suitable in displaying the correct time period. This is something we should have definitely research into more, and I feel if we would have chose a suitable sound effect that was recognisable to the time period of 1915, it would have been more effective.
I feel that the poor weather conditions on the day of our performance affected various interactions of our piece in different ways. We wanted to take photographs of the audience members when flying the paper aeroplanes down Steep Hill, and place them in a photo album as a form of documentation. Due to the weather, we didn’t get as many audience members as we anticipated and so creating a booklet of photographs was not something we were able to produce. The weather conditions also affected the interaction of throwing the paper aeroplanes down Steep Hill. When we attempted this, the paper aeroplanes got ruined from the rain, and the wind forced them to fly in the opposite direction from which we had hoped. We did not expect the weather to be as poor as it was and really should have considered an alternative. A useful approach could have been to produce a plastic model of an aeroplane which would have been suitable in all weather conditions and would have been heavy enough to fly in the right direction.
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