This chapter looks at some key areas of work with regard to ‘post dramatic’ performance – tough in this context, we might properly regard the street as an alternative, and perhaps older, tradition of performance. It also has its connections with visual arts and installation; various aspects of site specific performance; celebratory theatre; carnival; and festivals of various kinds.
3.1 PUBLIC ART
Though not performanceas such, we need to read the whole issue of Street arts in the context of public art generally. The street, by its nature, is public space; artists would draw very little distinction now between sculpture and perfomance. Channel 4’s recent Big Art Project20 demonstrated a pattern of involvement of local communities in commissioning public art, including plastic and performance art.
Ever since Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, on a hill by the A1 just outside Gateshead, became such an iconic landmark for the people of the Northeast in 1998, public art in the form of sculpture has been an important part of culture policy.
Photo 3 Angel of the North Alison Clayton touristnetuk.com 15
Not to be out done, the Southeast is in the process of commissioning its own icon to be placed on a hill overlooking the A2, near the new European station at Ebbsfleet. Mark Wallinger plans to build a white horse using boat building technology. The horse, 33 times life size, would be a faithful representation of a thoroughbred racehorse in all but its scale.21
23 ACE: Strategy and report on Street Arts April 2002 http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/strategy-and-report-on-street-arts/
Recently, BBC news stirred up controversy over the policy of art for hospitals22, in the form of a large ‘pebble’ entitled “Monolith and Shadows” in the foyer of University College Hospital. The Mail and The Sun were highly critical; however, later reports described how patients were rubbing the stone for luck when they entered the hospital, and that it had become known as the ‘Healing stone’
Photo 4 Mark Wallinger’s Horse www.newsshopper.co.uk/…/
By extension, many projects are using a combination of visual and performing arts to promote social engagement. Indeed, the arts council now has a policy dedicated to ‘combined arts’ specifically to cope with art projects which don’t fit easily into any category.
Photo 5 Monolith and shadows, UCH Times Online
3.2 STREET ARTS
Anyone who takes a stroll along the South Bank or through Covent Garden can’t fail to be aware that street arts are thriving. According to ACE’s 2002 report into street arts,
“Street arts encompasses dance, music, circus, pyrotechnics, theatre, comedy and spectacle. It has a diversity of practitioners using many forms from situationist street theatre to samba musicians and large-scale puppets, and it has been used as a form of political performance as well as a focus for participatory work”23
There are two main organisations that represent the genre, the first being ISAN, the Independent Street Arts Network. They say of themselves: “ISAN is an independent group of presenters and promoters of street arts throughout the UK working to 16
develop the art form through networking, information, collaboration, lobbying, training and advocacy”24. ISAN are the group working with the Arts Council. The second grouping, closely allied to the first, is the deliberately jokily named NASA, the National Association of Street Artists. “NASA organised a national three-day meeting of street artists in early 2006 and intends to organise similar events on an annual basis. There is a lively online discussion group with over 100 member artists and companies”25
This discussion was originally the Street Arts Meeting, held as part of the Brighton Festival in 2007, and organised by Zap Arts. However, since Zap lost their ACE funding (one of the ‘Christmas Turkeys’), the imtiative seems to have moved to the Xtrax Festival in Manchester. Xtrax is a street arts development agency; and seems to have taken over Brighton’s role as a showcase for the sector. It also runs the directory of performers26 – a virtual showcase. X.TRAX is one of eight outdoor festivals who are members of the WITHOUT WALLS Consortium. The partnership has received funding from Arts Council England for the third consecutive year to create a touring platform to present and develop work from a new and emerging generation of outdoor artists. The festivals are:
– X.trax, Manchester – www.xtrax.org.uk
– Greenwich + Docklands International Festival London – www.festival.org
– Winchester Hat Fair – www.hatfair.co.uk
– Stockton International Riverside Festival – www.sirf.co.uk
– The Bristol Do www.thebristoldo.com
– Lakes Alive www.lakesalive.org/
– Norfolk and Norwich Festival www.nnfestival.org.uk
– Brighton Festival – www.brightonfestival.org
This has grown from the four festivals that were in the project in 07, the first four listed.
In addition to these events, which form something of a circuit, the National has been running its own summer street festival, using both British and overseas acts. This is the NT Watch This Space festival27, which takes place on the courtyard outside the National, overlooking the river. The Arts council comments:
“Street arts events are being used successfully by increasing numbers of built venues such as the Belgrade, Coventry and the Royal National Theatre. The inclusion of street arts within a venue’s wider programme, and its utilisation as an accessible form, is seen
Photo 6 Watch This Space iknit.org 17
as valuable in establishing the identity of the venue within its community, … street arts events are seen as tapping into the zeitgeist shift towards more celebratory and communal events taking place outside. The move towards a more southern European model, particularly in terms of eating and drinking outside, is matched by a desire to be entertained outside”28. As ACE note, there is a good deal of traffic between the UK and mainland Europe. Bash St Theatre, who played Brighton in 07 and the NT in 08 with their live ‘silent movie’ “Cliffhanger”, regularly play the Montpellier children’s theatre festival, and the show won the Aixa Cataluya award in 2006 at Tarrega, Spain.
28 Arts council Strategy and report on Street Arts p13 29 The notion of contrasting the sacred and profane also informs other areas: The Cathedral and the Bazaar contrasts attitudes to software design: the top-down, controlled, centralised approach of Microsoft as opposed to the distributed, collaborative and co-operative methods of the Open Source model. 30 Sobshack, T. (1996) ‘Bakhtin’s “Carnivalesque” in 1950s British Comedy‘ in Journal of. Popular Film and Television 23(4) pp.179-185.
Tracing the origins of British theatre, the street has always had an important place as a site of performance; whether it be the mystery play pageant cart, or the Cornish ‘round’ theatres, or tavern courtyards. Most famously, the theatres of the Elizabethan stage were open air, sharing their architecture with other forms of popular entertainment such as bear bating and dog-fights: arenas where audiences were participants in often brutal spectacles, and free to move around, to converse with each other. The notion of a passive audience, rapt in attention to a morally uplifting text, belong to the sermon inside the church; while outside in the market place hucksters, jugglers, acrobats; giant figures and bawdy songs celebrated more fleshly delights.29 The spirit of carnival is still very much with us today and is still being reinvented.
Early Marxist theory was keen to trace elements of revolution in earlier societies, among them Mikhail Bakhtin: “Bakhtin points to the pre-Lenten Medieval Carnival – a period of festivities like our modern Mardi Gras that might test for weeks or even months as a time in the life of the community when the spirit of liberation was set free. He says, “What is suspended *in carnival+ first of all is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it – that is, everything resulting from inequality among people ……. Parody, satire, and insult directed at the authorities upholding the norms appeared everywhere – in ballads, plays, skits, and jokes told on street corners.”’30 The feast of fools, and the tradition of Boy Bishops are part of the same principle. He does claim for the medieval version an 18
authenticity more lacking today, in our ceremonies more spectacle than performance.31
31 Bakhtin, M; Rabelais and his World. Written c1940, but published 1965; current edition trans. Iswolsky, Helen. Indiana University Press 1984 32 Sennett, R: The Fall of Public Man. Penguin, 2003 33 Read, Alan: Theatre and Everyday Life. Routledge 1995 34 Kuppers, Petra: The Community Performance Reader. Routledge, London, 2007.
35It is instructive to look at the BNP’s merchandise site: http://excalibur.bnp.org.uk/acatalog/Great_White_Records.html Hence the formation of http://www.folkagainstfascism.com/ , as commented on in Jack Riley’s article for the Independent: http://jackriley.independentminds.livejournal.com/17078.html
Richard Sennett points out that there is a need to display, to perform our identities.32 In Catholic countries, we see it in the passagiata, where the young men and women of the town take their evening stroll in opposite directions around the town square. On feast days the image of the saint is taken out from the church and paraded: to bless the boats, or the well, or the fields. Lest it be argued that these events only happen in the Catholic/Orthodox Mediterranean lands, (where it must be admitted the summer weather is often more accommodating of outdoor festivities), we should be aware there is a demonstrated need for social performance in England. Morris dances were traditionally performed at Whitsun/May day. The same teams would also take round the begging hat at Christmas with mumming plays. Alan Read points out a number of examples where performance springs naturally: from examples of storytelling during factory lunch-breaks, to recreations of unusual historical events.33 In her recent handbook on the subject, Petra Kuppers also cites “Remembering histories” as her first chapter, while questioning the nature of those communities in a contemporary, culturally diverse setting34. She seems to be following the performance studies tradition established by Richard Schechner of regarding performance as an extension of community ritual.
Traditional English performance also includes such diverse activities as Brass band contests and male-voice choirs; bonfire night displays; and village hall pantomimes. It is no accident that the BNP are currently targeting the folk movement35. Folk tradition has long been seen as an area espoused by the Left, as an example of proletariat artform, in the same way as Bakhtin claims carnival. The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire can claim a documented history going back to 1226, the heart of the middle ages36. Revival is a constant concern: as far back as 1932 Tyrone Guthrie suggested some form of folk dance should be included as part of experiments in music and dancing into the drama school curriculum; but speaking of the folk collectors, while praising their effort, he says: “ The enthusiasm and determined amateurism of its practitioners is preventing English folk-dance from developing … into a stylised art-form. The conditions which produced it are gone – maypoles and Morris-bells and
Photo 7 Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance. The independent . 19
village greens belong to another civilisation.”37 We could argue that we are reaching a more intercultural position now. The Imagined Village project is one attempt to redefine folk music for a modern multicultural Britain; ‘Extreme Morris’38, performed with beer trays, is another, more postmodern, take on its tradition.
37 Guthrie, T: Theatre Prospect, Wishart & Co, London, 1932. p59
38 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VP3fZp4UM2E Extreme Morris Dancing 28 June 2007. Parodied in the film A Life With Bells On 2009 http://www.morrismovie.com/
39 http://www.rio-carnival.net/ 24 Sep 2009
3.4 CARNIVAL ARTS
The origins of carnival, as generally understood, lie in Rio de Janeiro; in Trinidad and the Hispanic and French Caribbean. Peoples in the New World brought folk traditions from Catholic Europe, and infused them with African Rhythm. (However, following on from the previous section, there are also British traditions which are comparable, such as Wakes week processions).
“*In Rio] …. it was usual that during Carnival aristocrats would dress up as commoners, men would cross-dress as women and the poor dress up as princes and princesses – social roles and class differences were expected to be forgotten once a year but only for the duration of the festival. Residents of the favelas are often members of a local samba school and are deeply involved with the performance and costumes of their groups. Carnival and samba is their passion alongside football.
…. Gender and social boundaries vanish as many paraders crossdress. The Carnival bands consist of an orchestra, mainly brass. They march along a pre–determined route or stay at the same place, however, are always joined by hordes of enthusiastic samba revelers dressed in costumes, bathing suits, plain clothes, and even many in drag. Blocos are usually smaller, attracting more of a neighborhood crowd. Bandas are bigger in size”.39
The Sambadrome is now seen as one of the main attractions of the city; while Carnival itself attracts fee-paying ’gringos’ who are lightened on their burdens for the privilege of joining a bloco; while the event attracted 719,000 visitors in 2008. It is noticeable that the level of undress in Rio is high, to the point where the organising committee has had to put a ban on total nudity, challenged by the ingenuity f the canivalistas: “In an attempt at a record for the smallest scrap of clothing ever in a Carnival parade, model Dani Sperle sported a sparkly silver headdress, a necklace, matching arm bands, and nothing else but a 3cm long patch of cloth. “1 20
While still celebrating the farewell to the flesh, Trinidad1 is slightly more restrained, with sexuality more suggestive than overt. Music here is Soca (Spirit of Calypso) rather than
Samba; there are subtle differences of rhythm – played by a Mas (Masquerade) Band. Trinidadian Carnival of course is the inspiration for, and origin of, Notting Hill, now adopted by most of London’s black communities as an expression of community. The Fox Carnival band say:
What is a Float and a Mas Band? A Carnival Band or ‘Mas Band’ is a costume band, not a musical band – i.e. a group of people wearing costume or ‘masquerading.’ To ‘Play Mas’ means to wear costume and dance, usually following a lorry, which holds the music. The ‘players’ are the children and adults playing Mas. Fox is a big band – we have up to 200 players.
Do we wear costumes? Not really. We believe that children and adults should have the freedom to move, so we have no large costumes. We also believe everyone should have the same costume – no one gets a special one! Therefore our costumes are the ‘uniform’ of all wearing the same t-shirt and every year we all carry something that we can move. This year our ‘mas’ is windsock fish attached to tall poles. We all wave our fish in unison, so the impact of our ‘mas’ is the impact of a whole shoal of fish. Our fish can be carried by children or adults, and by able-bodied and disabled people.40 The arts of Carnival have inspired a number of companies of British Artists to use similar approaches, including Mandinga Arts (Charles and Julietta Beauchamp) who prepare bright carnival figures from themes; Kinetika (Ali Pretty) more into puppetry; Strange Cargo (Brigitte Orosinski) making totem giant figures. Emergency Exit Arts and Same Sky, both following in the footsteps of Welfare State International, do large-scale public events. Perhaps one of the most celebrated companies is Walk the Plank:
‘In 1991, Creative Producers John Wassell and Liz Pugh, a partnership motivated by the prospect of producing stunning theatrical performances in alternative locations and a shared love for the aquatic way of life, established Walk the Plank. With a vision to spread their unique performances beyond the confines of conventional theatre spaces, Walk the Plank aims to bring the arts to those who would not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter lush performance experiences. At the same time, the duo located a Norwegian cargo ferry and brought her to the UK from beyond the Arctic Circle. The vessel was adapted to create a theatre on the aft deck and sailed its first national tour of the British Isles in 1992. “We often forget that we live on a group of small, yet very beautiful islands. By creating the UK’s first theatre ship, not only did we have an alternative and innovative performance space, we had access to around 7,700 miles of coastline and the opportunity to take our work to 21
millions. It felt like the perfect place to begin the Walk the Plank adventure.” Liz Pugh, Producer and Co-Founder, Walk the Plank.’41
41 http://www.walktheplank.co.uk/company/history accessed 2 Nov 09
42 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZHRKLTRDto Luminocity light show, Albert Dock 16 August 2009
43http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akdrtwVoj2w Luminocity 16 Aug 2009 at Royal Albert Dock Liverpool
44Ihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peCHOcQLKqY Luminocity Light Show and fireworks Liverpool 15 08 09
45 http://www.artcarparade.co.uk/ . The idea was borrowed and refined from something that started in Houston, Texas around 1986: it seems to have evolved as a form of folk art. It was the subject of a documentary, Wild Wheels, by Harrod Blank, 1992, which popularised the movement in the US.)
On 16th Aug 2009 they produced “Luminocity” at Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool; a public spectacle that included an acrobat hanging from balloon42; cyclists lit by LEDs performing to electronic music by Royksopp43, and culminating in projected images, lights and fireworks at the Pierhead building44. They were responsible for the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. They collaborate with a number of companies: Kinetika, who are producing “Imagination our Nation” as a five–year national project with London 2012 in sight. Also Dhol academy; Bambuco; and the Liverpool Lantern Company.
One of their most interesting projects is the Art Car parade, which turns old cars in to art objects: a VW Golf covered in turf: a robot which seems to lift a car; and a fire engine which squirts fire. 45 The UK project began 2007 and is ongoing, but was displayed at a number of festivals, including Blackpool’s ‘Switch-on’ where the illuminations on the promenade are officially opened. 22
Photo 10 Margate Exodus Culture24.org.uk
Some art projects are deliberately multilayered. One such was the 2006 Margate Exodus, developed by Artangel in the decayed Kent resort. It consisted of a film (by Penny Woolcock) filmed for Channel 4, a music project (the Plague songs, with involvement from 10 international songwri ters including Scott Walker, Brian Eno, Rufus Wainwright and others), and another Gormley sculpture called The Waste Man, which was itself burned to provide a fire event. There is a website, still live46; and Exodus Day was staged by Hilary Westlake, formerly of Lumiere and Son and Disneyland Paris. Funding came from a variety of sources including Arts Council England and Creative Partnerships, for the involvement of local schools and colleges. The whole thing was documented on video, added as a DVD extra. While the documentary makes claims for bringing the community together, local reactions collected by the author were more hostile, and would support the following online comments: “This … suggests, that in some ways, the Margate Exodus is at least impacting on the local scene. That these images have the power to provoke is exciting. However, to see it only in those terms is to live in a utopian art-bubble where people’s lives and livelihoods are not at stake.
46 http://www.themargateexodus.org.uk/home.html http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/exh_gfx_en/ART40795.html 47 Camelia Gupta A TOWN, A PHARAOH & A BURNING MAN – IT’S THE MARGATE EXODUS 06/10/2006
“The Margate Exodus is Artangel’s most ambitious work to date, and I salute the dedication to innovation and risk-taking that drove it. Unfortunately, unlike previous Artangel events such as The Battle Of Orgreave and Kuba, I didn’t get a sense of real involvement and engagement with the local communities, and so I don’t think the risk paid off.”47
The problem with “art” of thus kind is that it is easy to appear brave, while imposing a vision on the community – particularly, in bending them to fit the lens. The project seems to have left only a negative legacy, parachuting in and leaving just as quickly. The project had the most noble of intentions, but fell short of its own aspiration.
Photo 11 The Sultan’s Elephant Simon Crubellier laughingsquid.com
Another project, that was as ambitious in scale, was the 2007 visit of “The Sultan’s Elephant” by Royale de Luxe from Nantes, with giant puppets created by La Machine. The £5m show was brought over to London by Artichoke, a mall production/promotion company with a large vision. The project demanded that London 23
Transport re-routed its buses; Royal Parks trimmed trees; roads excavated, traffic islands and traffic lights removed. In addition, the Metropolitan Police insisted that it was not given conventional publicity in case too many people came. As part of the funding deal, the group reported back at a dissemination conference on running large-scale events, Larger than Life48. Generally, the Elephant met with a more positive result. One organiser, speaking of volunteer engagement, made the point that it would have been cheaper to employ stewards, by the time the full costs of looking after volunteers was taken into account : meals, fares, t-shirts and so on. But the benefits of using volunteer labour far outweighed the cost, in engaging the community. In the sense that London is a more metropolitan environment, community in this context takes on a different meaning. However, the viral marketing strategy – using mobile phones, website, and social networking as the primary means of communicating, meant that volunteers were essential. John Gisby of Yahoo UK (and in charge of Flickr) commented on the extent to which crowds grew:
49John Gizby’s contribution is summarised on his blog: http://gizblog.typepad.com/gizblog/theatre/
50 WSI Archive 1968-2006 : www.welfare-state.org
“The Sultan’s Elephant was seminal for me: not only was it an epic and life-enhancing production, but it was also the event that brought home to me the value and potential of social media. It was the first time I’d made some photos public (and had comments on them), and it was the first event I watched so intently cascade over YouTube and the blogosphere. By the end of the event nearly 12,000 photos had been uploaded to Flickr, and over 70,000 websites had posted news. The most watched YouTube video has now been seen 1.7m times. The elephant has therefore left big digital footprints all over the internet, and has probably been seen by more people online than during its wanders through the West End of London. And all this, without any pre-planning by the organisers.” 49 The message was, “You’ve got to come and see what’s happening”. He makes two other points: New media can extend the live experience to those who missed the event; and that the audience become part of a creative process: a theme to which we will return.
3.5 CELEBRATORY PERFORMANCE
One of the earliest companies working in the area of visual arts performance was Welfare State International. Founded by John Fox and Sue Gill in 1968, they finally closed it on April Fools Day 2006.50 The successor company is now called Lanternhouse, after the creation centre built by WSI. The documentary of WSI’s last 24
show, made by Thomas Wotan Suski, is available online51. He writes in associated notes:
51 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YepZ-X1l-aQ Longline: Welfare State International 24 October 2008 52 (by Tony Coult and Baz Kershaw) 53 http://www.deadgoodguides.com/
“WSI first became well known for large-scale outdoor spectacular events. When the company began, taking art out of theaters and galleries into the street was considered revolutionary. The company’s name was originally ‘The Welfare State’ offering art for all on the same basis as education and health. Under the Welfare State umbrella, a remarkable group of engineers, musicians, sculptors, performers, poets and pyrotechnicians invented and developed site-specific theater in landscape, lantern processions, spectacular fireshows, community carnivals and participatory festivals. These creations were by turns beautiful, abrasive, didactic, provocative, disturbing, wondrous and even gently therapeutic…. ‘Engineers of the Imagination’, the WSI Handbook52 spread ideas and techniques worldwide and is still essential reading for artists working in the community. Many artists and companies in Britain and abroad have been influenced by Welfare State’s vision and practice. From 1983 WSI championed local participation in lantern parades, street flag displays and carnival performance from its new base in Ulverston, Cumbria. Today Ulverston is known as a ‘Festivals Town’ where culture and economic regeneration go hand in hand. Looking beyond public festival, the company also moved into inventing and leading ceremonies for rites of passage, creating installations, and working with children and their parents to explore imaginative play. Latterly, John & Sue Fox worked with individuals to help them plan their own funerals and baby namings, in a project called the Dead Good Guides:
“Dead Good Guides explore the area between theatre and contemporary ceremonies for rites of passage, are responsive to time and place and originate site specific art works. We challenge the commodity culture by creating imaginative works of art in context, asking questions about the integration of the local and the global.” 53
It will not have gone un-noticed that many of these events are in the nature of festivals. Many of these have of course grown from or around the feast days of the Church; and Bakhtin’s carnivalesque spirit still runs riot. Still young people come home tired and exhausted from a weekend of hedonism. It is good to see old tradition like these being maintained: 25
Early descriptions of May Day tell how people went “a-maying”, gathering branches of may through the night and using them to decorate homes and streets. The Puritan cleric Stubbes claimed maying was an excuse for lewd behaviour in the woods. “Of fortie, threescore of a hundred maides going to the wood overnight,” he wrote, “there have scareceley the thirde parte of them returned home againe undefiled.”54 Lyn Gardner complains of festival fatigue:
54 http://www.bbc.co.uk/oxford/culture/2003/05/mayday_facts.shtml 55 Lyn Gardner blog The Guardian May 21 2007 56Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries: “Thinking about festivals” in
Hidden Europe 14 (May 2007) http://www.hiddeneurope.co.uk/festivals.php Displayed online: Monday 16 April, 2007
“… sometimes it does feel as if festival culture has gone too far. Are some just marketing wheezes, which link disparate events together and call them festivals for ease of selling tickets? Traditionally festivals have been local events distinguished by local culture, but increasingly shows at big festivals are co-productions that travel the world, leaving a huge carbon footprint and making culture more, rather than less, homogenous. 55 At the start of an online blog discussion, she is evidently being provocative; nevertheless she echoes other travel writers, talking of Notting Hill:
The festivalisation of culture penetrates all areas of the arts….The spontaneous if sometimes haplessly uncoordinated revelry that marked the early years of London’s Notting Hill Festival has been tamed. No longer is it a carnival that marks the freedom of London’s Caribbean community: free to walk the streets, free to make more noise than the local by-laws would normally ever allow, free for a hot August weekend. Participatory bacchanalia mutate every year ever more into a carefully controlled festival for bemused onlookers — the tourists who come to see this episode in London’s cultural calendar. Notting Hill still speaks of Caribbean values and vitality to be sure, and it is a safer, saner event than in its early days. But diehards might argue it has lost some passion and authenticity.56 26