rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
3. Potentials of Performance

30 July 2012

Backstage: Revealing the Potentials Off Performance

   The list seems to already have established itself as the “stage”. Things written and shared in there, in those email exchanges, are to be presented, are to sooner or later become public; even though they now inhabit the private space of our inboxes, they always seem to have the implied eye of their future audience on them.

   Weirdly enough this does not become so obvious by whatever is written in those emails – which discuss the potentials of performance indeed in a quite personal, intimate and generous way – but outside them. Ivana sends me another email, close to the other one (the one forwarded to her entitled ‘Potentials of Performance’).  She calls it ‘off the record’ and its first line writes: ‘I am now writing you "backstage"’. In there she tells me that she has been busy for days with her reply to me. She says that one of her sons was suddenly ill, that she will need to postpone and re-make travel arrangements. We go back and forth for a while with this “backstage” performance.  I talk to her about my fascination with “backstage” stories, she asks me if I have received the other email, the “official” one and about the way things will proceed from here on. We then talk about holidays, memories of the sea and the sun, work…

   It is not the first time that I receive such “backstage” emails of course… It seems that this off stage performance also established itself a long time ago together with the other one, the one that takes place on the stage of You Have One Unread Message. This off stage performance does not take place only in the emails that run aside the “official” ones. It also takes place in the discussions that I have with many of the contributors of that “official” show. Discussions that include phrases such as ‘I would like to ask you something but we should not talk about it off stage, right?’ or ‘I was going to tell you something now but you will see it in my email’, thus “on stage”. It also includes people reading and writing in silence. And it includes people printing what looks like a quite long (28 pages by now I hear) text of different voices, and then taking it with them to read in public transport, on the street, at home… before replying to it and thus continuing those voices, expanding the length of the list…

   Karen talks about a process that ‘brings her together with others, some of whom she knows and some of whom she has seen on video and others she has never met’. ‘She brings them into being in her head’, she says, ‘she doesn’t try to do this, it just happens’, creating a ‘performance that brings absent voices too’, voices which are not even there but that somehow become present through the reading of the present voices of the list.   

   But here: talking about that “backstage” now, brings it already on stage. It reveals it. It pulls the side curtains of the theatre and reveals the “hidden”, what takes place off stage, what the performers do in private. So what is now the “backstage”? Now that you know that Ivana as well as many others have written to me in private; now that you know what they said; now that you saw them printing and reading pages and pages of present and absent voices, on the tube, on buses, in places totally unexpected, before they silently reply to me….

Now that the off came on stage, what stays backstage? What is behind the back?
Or is there not a backstage anymore?

   All there is, rather, is a constant pulling of the curtains…. That pulls them over and over, revealing again and again and again, the stage and the back of its back of its back…

   ‘We are astonished when we let go of what is in front of us and let it grow beyond its physically determined proportions. We are astonished when we feel the rules have changed, when work is being done in the mind, when spaces are being filled and connections made, lines drawn producing new equivalencies, when we see more than what is in front of us, when we begin to make new thoughts, when we uncover what we’ve long forgotten, when we believe there is more in front of us. We are astonished that we can be changed at all. The possibility of change multiplies potentialities. Astonishment as the movement of mind’, Karen writes.

The potentials off performance.

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