Atlas

I keep wishing to move to culture and even to theatre, but I’m still attached to geography.

It’s sort of early to say for sure, but it looks like my submission will take the shape of an Atlas. An Atlas to guide devising theatre practitioners through exploring the territory of syncretism.

I’ve been looking at Atlases and other associations with the word.

Atlas the Titan.

Cloud Atlas.

Atlas Shrugged.

BeFunky Collage

Atlas the first desktop computer.

The Atlas Mountains.

Atlas the vertebra.

Saturn’s Atlas Moon.

Atlas the first intercontinental nuclear missile.

Atlases that support, explore, define, go beyond, and destroy the world.

I was reading about Gerardus Mercator and his projection, which distorted sizes and shapes of countries, and therefore our perceptions: as per my previous post, leading some to believe that this projection is at least partially responsible for reinforcing the colonialist/imperialist idea that Europe and North America are superior to the rest of the world. He was the first cartographer to use the word ‘Atlas’ in a geographical context and was also the first to split the Americas.

My mathematical skills are pitiful but I find it interesting that in order to render a round world flat and navigable, these distortions were necessary.

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The ‘Western/Non-Western’ problem

I’m trying to edit my literature review and four lines in, I get stuck. The line begins:

Debate centers on readings of re-contextualised canonical texts and plays written by non-Western playwrights […]

I don’t like non-Western.

Western and non-Western are terms I’ve contended with since 2009, when I struggled to use them in an essay for a module called, precisely, Non-Western Theatre in my undergraduate course. I’ve used them in my writing since, generally with an added footnote, explaining that I’d rather avoid this terminology, but I still don’t have anything better to take its place. But maybe the time to figure out an answer to that problem is now, during my PhD. No more apologetic footnotes.

One of my issues with these terms is, quite plainly, that there’s a ring of flat earth theory to it. Dividing a round planet into eastern and western hemispheres sounds a bit daft to me. Ok, if you take the direction of the movement, the Earth rotates east, determining where the sun rises and sets. But if you keep travelling along this horizontal axis, east and west can be incredibly subjective points of reference. Say, if we take our usual Eurocentric world map printed on a flat sheet of paper, it’s kinda odd to me that Europe represents the Western world, because it’s east of where I’m from. And it’s well known that Columbus, Cabral and the rest set their sails west in an attempt to find a new route around to get to India, that non-Western place. You can travel west to get to China and you can travel east to get to Portugal. Geographically and cartographically speaking, it’s kinda bizarre. It’s believing in the idea that the horizon can be reached.

Ideologically speaking, it gets even worse. It’s interesting that you only see the words Eastern or Oriental used to refer to Asia, but not really interchangeably with non-Western. The latter is meant to sound more global, funnily enough. Encompass everything that isn’t Western Europe or North America. It asserts the economic and cultural dominance of these places – Western is the norm, whatever is not that, is defined against it, not in its own terms (good old Derrida and his différance).

What terminology can I use instead? Do I *need* this terminology?

I’ve used global South and global North on occasion. It sits a little better with me because those two cardinal points seem a bit more fixed than east and west, taking the rotation of the Earth into account. Granted, the magnetic pole shifts sometimes, but it feels less stressful to me in that respect. Economically speaking, most of what is considered the developed world is located in the northern hemisphere, but then you have rich countries like Australia and New Zealand that belong in the south, and is it fair to lump them with the underdogs? Both those countries have a dominant culture that would be considered Western but they also have Maori and Aboriginal cultures that yield theatre practices traditionally classified as non-Western, or world theatre.

I’ve come across Euramerican as a suggested term for the dominant Western. I don’t know what the opposite would be. Non-Euramerican? What about the rest of the Americas? My Latin/South American self also takes massive issues with the USA constantly being referred to (in English) as America. The only America. I’m not sure it matters as much to Canadians and the Caribbean islands (if you’re from these parts of the world and reading this, please share your thoughts), but it’s a big political statement south of the wall. To be fair, it doesn’t seem to matter as much for most Brazilians, but the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America usually prefer to be acknowledged as an equal part of the continente americano and use the word estadunidense for the nationals of the USA. After all, we are all americanos, from Cape Columbia to Tierra del Fuego (well, maybe Greenland would like to come too… actually, perhaps Greenland is the quintessential Euramerican representative).

My latest thought was to stop travelling along place and turn to time instead. I am now torn between shifting from a geo-economic perspective to a historico-political one, and replacing non-Western with postcolonial in that line, or omitting the descriptor altogether. Does the omission help? By ignoring the adjective, am I erasing the complexity of the matter or equalising the score? Does a playwright HAVE TO be described as postcolonial to be deemed relevant to my research? Does the terminology only advance/assert cultural dominance and reinforce the centre vs. periphery discourse?

I’ve just got sidetracked from the task at hand reading a lot of other things to write this blog post instead of getting on with my literature review. I haven’t made up my mind yet and am open to debate. Hopefully by September 2019, I will have found a solution.

 

Mapping as Prompt and Documentation

Although I am not entirely sure about the practical application of this yet, cartography has become an inherent part of my research, both as a means of documenting the material generated in the Performance Research Tests, and as a prompt to help create said material. I am increasingly convinced that you can’t separate culture from geography (which means I am currently on Team Nature as far as the old debate is concerned), so it makes sense that I should use maps and mapping as tools in a theatrical project involving  languages, cultures, and borders.

I was a bit stuck about how to integrate these notions into the design of my performance research lab, however, but it turns out that the National Library of Scotland has perfect timing with its events and today I visited the You Are Here exhibition, just after attending a workshop called ‘Mapping in Words’, led by poet Marjorie Lofti Gill.

This visit and workshop have provided me with very useful ideas and helped me find some much needed motivation again. Inspired by the beautiful Chimney Map and by the question “how is a spherical world made flat?”, I (who am not a writer) wrote the following bits of text as a response to the workshop, which I intend to further explore with actors in the PRTs when I get to do them:

The first bit that is missing is a reason. Discovery is exciting.

She would love to have a dress made of a map, in which she could mark the places she’s been and the places she wants to go to. In fact, she would have an entire wardrobe made of creased, rescued maps printed in silk, linen, canvas. Wearable geography, embodied cartography. Maybe tops would be made of her places, the ones close to her heart. Bottoms and even shoes would be the places where her legs would still take her. With time, borders would fade and boundaries would be torn. Meridians would shift and fold and she would get lost again.

Like removing the peel of an orange,

tell me where you want to go and I will help you find your way there.

chimney-map

The Chimney Map – photo credit: National Library of Scotland website

Practice as Research and The New Thing

My posts over here will probably seem a bit erratic, but I have decided to not follow a linear timeline of my research, embracing the chaos of my thoughts instead. I’m sure it will all make sense at some point.

My proposal was (is) practical, or what you can call practice-as-research (PaR), practice research, practice-led research, practice-based research, etc, etc. I have seen performance or embodied research used as well, but I eschew these terms because I am not a performer. My research does not happen with (or through) my body – I need the bodies of others to conduct it. Does that mean it is their research too? Possibly, because I do not see my performers as subjects but as collaborators. This is probably why I have been referring to my  laboratory as Performance Research Tests but I reckon that the answer to that particular question will come from the lab itself once it gets started.

I am still defining what these are and struggling with the fact that I have to design them within a more traditional academic framework, instead of having a starting point which may or may not lead to refining my research questions and methodology.

Whilst trying to wrap my head around all this, I have recently stumbled upon this manifesto on the Theatre, Dance, and Performance Training blog: The New Thing. I am not entirely sure how exactly what use it will be to help framing my concept for the PRTs, but it felt like a breath of fresh air. The following extracts from the manifesto are the ones that excite me the most at first glance:

  • horizontality of organisation
  • valuing of chance and composition
  • potentiality of performance as a means of creation
  • resist the pull towards the romance of self-assuredness and self-righteousness (things which unfortunately seem to plague a lot of the theatre industry)
  • the new thing as a process in perpetual reification, something which needs to be continually revivified/re-enlivened/re-newed
  • there is no product as such, there is only the search conducted on the edge of our knowing the unknown
  • newness cannot be absolute
  • its pursuit will inevitably disappoint
  • ungraspability and fugitivity (ironically, there is something quite tangible here about the ethereal quality of performance research and performance/theatre as an art form)
  • performance of political/utopian possibilities > the new thing tilts at windmills (and I am a sucker for anything Quixotesque)
  • it is against method and the instrumentalisation of art
  • performance is most itself when it is completely fake
  • confusion is a gift
  • bodystorming
  • collaborative questioning
  • the new thing is impossible and we do it anyway

There is a short list of practices without any further discussion embedded in the manifesto that I find intriguing too. These are:

  1. bracketing of meaning
  2. distillation of experience
  3. rupture
  4. dream logic
  5. form as content
  6. content as form

I would like to invite any readers to check out the full text in the link above and expand on what these practices might represent and how (or if) they can be applied to their own work.

Dramaturgy Chat

One of the many layers of my research is finding the right language to describe my practice as a director/researcher, which has been an issue since my undergraduate. I think that partially this is because I am not a director in the traditional British sense, or as I have recently put to a couple of actors I worked with, I’m not a director with a vision. I see myself more as a facilitator-translator-dramaturg type of director. My job is to help unlock the creativity of the actors (and the playwright, if I’m working with one). I will write more about this in the future, but for now, you can read more about where dramaturgy stands in my work in this interview I did for Andy Edwards a few weeks ago, featured on Magda Romanska’s Theatre Times . Do check Andy’s blog on dramaturgy for really insightful chats with other artists as well!

The Research Proposal: Origins

I love many aspects of theatre, but my main interest for a long time has been cultural fusion and things to do with theatre anthropology and anthropology of performance. My undergraduate dissertation was an analysis of the performative elements of the  Quarup, the funeral ritual of Brazilian indigenous tribe, the Kamayurá.

This week-long festival involves rites of passage for girls and boys, mourning,  celebrating, bartering, music and dancing. My aim was to investigate and discuss the aspects of the ritual which lay in the threshold between religiosity and performance. I analysed one specific iteration of the festival recorded by Brazilian Globo TV channel, made available to me on DVD, and drew mainly on the work of Richard Schechner and Victor Turner about performance and ritual, Eugenio Barba on Theatre Anthropology, and John Emigh and Patrice Pavis for the identification and discussion of the performative elements of the ritual. Working on this project spurred my interest in liminality and liminal spaces as elements of performance, and it raised noteworthy questions about cultural appropriation, the creation of tradition, and the relationship between postcolonial thought and academia.

These concluding thoughts lay the foundations for my current research proposal, which has changed considerably from the original idea I submitted. I had been thinking about engaging in postgraduate study since 2012, just after I founded my theatre company, Fronteiras Theatre Lab. I drafted a proposal which was never submitted back then, titled Towards a transcultural performance aesthetic: a case study for a Scottish-based transcultural theatre company. My aim was to find a way of documenting my company’s processes in the creation of transcultural theatre. That was the first time I used the term syncretism as well, a term borrowed from Religious Studies (also found in Translation Studies) and defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought”. I am a self-confessed atheist, but I inevitably grew up surrounded by religion in Brazil, having attended a Catholic school and university and been exposed to different variations of Afro-Brazilian religions, spiritualism, several types of Evangelical strands, and, to some extent, shamanism. Also having grown up in the border between Brazil and Uruguay, my interest in the amalgamation of cultures and languages started from an early age.

Although I have never seen it, I remember a theatre production in Porto Alegre, capital city of my home state, called Hamlet Sincrético (2009) by Grupo Caixa-Preta, an all-black theatre company. This was a version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the main characters were merged with Afro-Brazilian deities. A similar concept had been used earlier, in 1994, in Augusto Omolù’s solo performance Orô de Othello (Odin Teatret). In fact, I met Augusto in Bristol in 2008 and worked with him for one week on an Afro-Brazilian dances workshop at the Tobacco Factory. It was this encounter which introduced me to the work of Eugenio Barba, and a great deal of my current work was shaped by those early conversations with Augusto.

With Augusto Omolú in Bristol, 2008

With Augusto Omolú in Bristol, 2008

The idea of practice-led research appealed to me more than traditional theory-based research, and my original proposal was to create a piece of syncretic theatre using a canonical European text and the Kamayurá mythology, but I dropped that idea due to time, funding, and location constraints.

The new aim was then to follow and document my own work with my newly established theatre company, focusing on the dramaturgical processes involved in the creation of transcultural theatre. With this, I hoped to revisit the issues of the role of theatre scholarship or performance studies, definitions of performativity/theatricality, and further investigate where notions of tradition and syncretism could take me. Parallel subjects that arose from that initial venture were the subtle differences between inter/intra/multi/transculturalism and matters concerning aesthetics, linguistics, morality and sociopolitics.

My unfinished pitch was to use the three years of doctoral studies to work on a scripted but unpublished and never produced play based on the myth of Dracula, documenting and questioning the process as I went along. I thought this would be more manageable than using the Kamayurá mythology, which I am less familiar with in practical terms. As I said, however, that proposal was never submitted to any programmes but I returned to it a couple of years later to draft the actual proposal I submitted to the RCS/St Andrews and which mutated into what I am currently working on.

 

 

 

Research blogging intro

Hello everyone and welcome to my research blog. I’m currently catching up with a lot of work, so please bear with me while I get stuff organised and posted here.

For those who don’t know me yet – I’m Flavia, nice to meet you. I’m originally from Brazil, I moved to Edinburgh in 2006 to study Drama and Theatre Arts at Queen Margaret University, successfully graduating with a First Class BA Hons in Directing in 2010. I decided to stay in Scotland after completing my studies as the theatre industry here appealed much more to me than the non-structured industry back in Brazil. After securing a Post-Study Work Visa for 2 years, however, I had to leave due to the changes in UK immigration rules (if you want to read more about this experience, check out my personal blog). I strove to maintain my professional links in Scotland for the next 3 years until I managed to return in 2015 to pursue further studies. I am now in my second year of full-time study as a PhD candidate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and University of St Andrews.

Over the next wee while, I will update this blog with my research on syncretic theatre, devising, and being a director-researcher. Stay tuned and please go over to the Contact page to find out how to get in touch!