JOHN C. WHELAN
Practical creativity in process and live performance; Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic elements of creative environments.
What does it mean to be ‘creative’? There is a difference between what I define as ‘Practical creativity’ and ‘creativity’ per se. When working on creating an original and experimental piece of live performance work ‘practical creativity’ is the attempt to realise abstract conceptual ideas in practical three- dimensional reality, in the live space and time of ‘performance’.
I am working with practical creativity in two ways, which I believe are symbiotic and mutually beneficial to the performer, who in effect constitutes the live element in process and performance.
(1) PRACTICALLY CREATIVE ENVIROMENT/S
What constitute ‘practical creative’ ‘environments’ in my research relate to the space, site, objects, scenography and media used in conception and exploration of conceptual ideas practically, throughout the process and into the eventual live performance form. The creation of original work in my process necessarily takes the form of a “Collage Aesthetic” (Copeland, 2002) The work is ‘Polyvocal’ rather than ‘univocal’ (Copeland, 2002: 26) drawing on several artistic influences and media in its conception, process and live performance form.
(2) PRACTICAL CREATIVE STATES
The performer practical creative elements or 'states' I am working with are Visual (V), Auditory (A) and Kinesthetic (K) three of the senses, defined as ‘Representational Systems’ in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) (O’Connor and McDermott, 1996). These three sensory elements are the senses or ‘representational systems’ through which performance is predominantly expressed, communicated and experienced by both spectator and performer alike. This seems an obvious statement but training, discipline and commitment are needed to gain awareness of and access to these practically creative elements in both exploration and live performance.
PRACTICE AS RESEARCH
The exploration of original and experimental process and performance, through practice, necessarily has a practical research imperative. The form, style and content of such work will be derivative and ‘new’. There is a difficulty in defining your work as a category. It is not ‘Theatre’ but it is ‘performance’. Performance is an attempt to communicate and express conceptual ideas in motion, ‘performative’, a doing. This includes human behaviour and ritual, both daily and 'extra daily'.
'Performance' and 'creation' are terms I relate my practical work to and have seen mentioned, translated from the French concepts of work which lies outside 'normal' theatrical form parameters, in a Ph.D. Introduction cited as 'deceptively simple' definitions which are inclusive ( Bill Aitcheson, Ph.D. Introduction 2002/3). See also this work for an illuminating examination and analysis of the origin, and problematic notion of, definitions such as ‘live art’ and ‘performance art’ ( Bill Aitcheson, Ph.D. Introduction 2002/3).
The works form may contain elements of music, movement, speech, sound, visual, projections. What is common to these elements is that they all fall under what I call elements of practically creative environments and states. There is a mirroring in the environmental elements needed to enable ‘practical creativity’ and the performers understanding and accessing sensory elements of their ‘practical creative states’ namely Auditory (A) Visual (V) and Kinesthetic (K).
CREATIVE PROCESSES & CREATIVE PEOPLE
In working I try to establish the practical creative environmental elements, which facilitate optimum comfort, support and creative output for performers. Creative output in this case refers to ideas, concepts and actions produced by the environmental stimuli, which in turn feed into and inform the original performance work being created. I then look at accessing and using the three main sensory elements I explore in my own work and practical research for communication and expression in process and live performance, Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic.
Performance is about expression and communication for me. There is a human element to practical creativity, which must be facilitated and enabled. The human senses I am mostly concerned with are defined as 'representational systems' in NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming ( O'Connor and McDermott, 1996). Neuro Linguistic Programming is a recent practical branch of Cognitive Psychology. " ...well grounded in psychological theory and research, NLP is first and foremost about action. It gives you more choices in your mind and body, and so frees you to explore spirit." (O'Connor and McDermott, 1996: XI)
Each person and therefore each performer has a 'dominant representational system', a dominating sense through which they most readily or effectively experience their subjective 'reality' or their 'world'. Information is processed cognitively through this (sense) representational system. It could be said that a person 'thinks' or experiences dominantly in this way-e.g. they think Visually (V), Kinesthetically (K) or in Auditory (A) terms (O'Connor and McDermott, 1996). This relates to the performance environments I have discussed earlier. For example a dominantly visual person (V) will probably relate and respond more powerfully to visual stimuli- projections, light/dark, costume, scenography, design-in the practical creative environment. A dominantly Kinesthetic (K) person will probably relate and respond more powerfully to physical, tactile stimuli- spatial dimensions, movement, touch, acoustics- in the practical creative environment. A dominantly Auditory (A) person will probably relate and respond more powerfully to auditory stimuli- sound, music, acoustics, the human voice-in the practical creative environment. A person having one dominant representational system does not exclude the other senses in experiencing and processing information stimuli. Working on related elements of a 'representational system' in isolation, in practical creative process and live performance, can enable greater awareness and effective utilization of this 'sense' for practical creative purposes in creating original experimental performance work.
All of the above Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic 'representational system' elements are constituent elements of many 'devising' approaches to exploring process or creating performance material. They are also the performers practically creative 'raw materials' for exploring in the practical creative process and expressing and communicating through live performance. When a performer explores and accesses 'sound' (A) for example in creating part of a performance they could be looking at several aspects of this sense and how it is accessed, used and understood in practical creative terms. E.G. live and recorded music, vocal sound including song, chant and speech, noise, ambient sound. These elements are either in the 'Environment' or produced by the performer through their accessing of a sense or senses, their ‘Representational System/s’.
For Visual (V) exploration and accessing there are differing elements such as projections, scenography, design, site , costume, light/dark which impact on the creation of a performance in informing both the performance content and form. They also enable a 'creative environment' in exploration and process particularly for the dominantly visual performer. Exploration and accessing of Kinesthetic (K) elements I relate to the performers physiology, their physical 'body' and their awareness of spatial and movement factors and relationships in practical creative process and performance. This also includes an objective performers 'physical memory', 'physical history' and ability to access practical creative states 'through their body'.
In constructing supportive practical 'creative environments' in which to work on original, experimental performance and in accessing (senses) 'representational systems' through practical exploration in the 'devising' process we are dipping into the essence of practical creativity. The ability to create original and experimental performance material I believe constitutes 'new' thinking and knowledge, particularly for the performer involved in this process. The exploration and experimentation in process and live work in progress performance, constitutes a 'training' through (self) awareness and experience. Each project further explores the performer through their 'representational systems' (senses). It explores the evolution in understanding of their relationship/s to spectator, space, their body, voice and modes of abstract communication and expression of conceptual ideas in three dimensional live performance space time. There is a process of training through evolution, growth and lived experience, which constitutes practical 'knowledge' in the practical research and human sense.
With this thinking, philosophical and practical approach in mind I would now like to briefly examine the process and conceptual ideas informing a recent experimental live performance I created for, and performed at the first Scottish PARIP forum in March 2003 in Edinburgh. I set the first Scottish PARIP up, along with the Scottish PARIP forum, Website as part of my Ph.D. research, with the blessing and support of PARIP British coordinator Angela Piccini, to hopefully enable meeting of practitioners, performers and professionals to share ideas and as a base of support for future PAR and PARIP MA, and Ph.D. students and practitioners in Scotland.
I worked throughout in a small mirrored dance studio. The floor is wooden, the walls plaster and concrete and the ceiling low, making the space intimate and giving the acoustics a natural 'reverb' and echo. I was initially interested in working on 'Identity' and its construction. The performer as a chameleon who is perhaps more aware of the multiplicity of their own personality and expresses this through performance. The idea of 'looking' the spectator and performer 'Gaze' came practically from two sources. Firstly the mirrors and the spaces literal Visual confrontation of yourself with yourself each session, you could not help but see yourself in all your states, reflected. Secondly the idea of 'seeing' as in seeing beyond, self -awareness, examination and transcendence of a singular unified integrated 'identity' or self through exploration and live performance.
My conceptual thinking and practical approach to performance form and representation were greatly influenced and informed by ideas contemporary dance performance (Andre Lepeki, 1999). I worked physically, Kinesthetically (K) at first using elements of practically researched bio-mechanics (Alexei Levinski, 1997), African Stepping (Khagen, 1997), Yoga and martial art to explore how my body and physical 'memory' and 'history' reflected, manifested and/or denied my identity. For example, an explosive physicality still exists as 'physical memory' and history for me, developed through full contact high level competitive martial art practice up to the age of twenty. Subsequent serious injury and physical deterioration and the rebuilding of my physique through Meditation, Yoga, stretching, walking and swimming, also informs my physical, Kinesthetic experience, memory and history now.
These themes recur for me and are accessed through Kinesthetic approaches to practical creative states in process and performance. The Dionysian idea of violence and aggression as powerful 'life forces' which drive but have little place socially has fascinated me as an adult in performance. Aggression and violence are powerful Kinesthetic expression and communication through the body. They are living 'performative' manifestations.
The space was intimate in its dimensions and I thought it suggested that the presence of, and confrontation with, witnessing a performer experience this state for a spectator would be challenging and uncomfortable. I further pushed this confrontation by being almost totally naked as I stripped to use the body as the centre of physical expression.
Boris Charmatz’ performance ‘ Att….enen….tionon’ (1996) as analyzed in Lepeki’s article (Lepeki, 1999 in TDR), clarified and helped combine my practical and conceptual thinking in this process. “ Charmatz’s public unveiling of the bodies ‘private parts’ smartly discloses the frail architecture of the desire and voyeurism involved in dance spectatorship.” (Lepeki, 1999: 136).
This idea resonated with me and could also be applied to ‘physical theatre’ and other physical forms of performance. There was an auditory element to the violence and aggression, which came from the acoustics of this space. The reverb and echo magnified the vocal power and my voice could be bounced of the walls and low ceiling to fill the space with sound. A physically tangible thing when I used an ME6 distortion bank to distort and further drive the sound of my speech, sung sounds, grunts and shouts.
In Gender and Sexuality I approached this part of my identity construct in this performance in both a Visual (V) and kinesthetic (K) way. Having known all my life that I am Bisexual, I have often felt that an external aesthetic drives the binary gender construction of identity, from earliest childhood experiences on. Males are taught to be 'boys', 'females' are taught to be 'girls'. Appearance I feel is gendered, as is behaviour and even choices in some cases. I wanted to explore this aspect of identity through the body, and also visually as an external aesthetic construct. So a fetishized visual object or appearance represents sexuality and gender in performance. An external aesthetic, a black silk slip, and black stockings represented the aesthetic of sexuality, a powerful female sensuality and allure, first. But for me the physical body, which is socially controlled, inscribed and taught to behave, and express itself in 'masculine' or 'feminine' ways holds a key to gender and sexual identity construction and expression.
I began working Kinesthetically (K) on a movement sequence, which was derivative of Yoga, Vim Yoga, Grotowski Plastiques (Training at the Teater Laboritorium, 1972), and explosive pulsation and falls from adapted ODIN THEATRET physical exercises. This combination allowed slow languid movement interspersed with explosive falls and spasmodic physical jolts. I wanted to express both the power and vulnerability of sexuality and gender roles and their ‘performance’ construct. “ We understand, literally, how the body is the inscribed surface of events (..) and a volume in perpetual disintegration” ( Focault, 1977:184, from Lepeki, 1999: 137)
In the literal asking of questions in half mask for power and status relationships I worked with visual dislocation. The appearance of this 'archetype' which looks like a 'Commedia' character, but is just a functional device. A strange visual and vocal entity who directly engages the spectators and questions them, invading personal space boundaries and whispering in the ears of some, shouting at others. The magnification of the performer’s presence when spatial boundaries are crossed, was something that I wanted to explore. To be Kinesthetically so close that my sent was tangible and my breath on their skin. This ties into the dimensions of the space and the spectator positioning. All along I had walked around a defined circle avoiding direct interaction with spectators, instead engaging a giant projected talking head which was suggesting ‘ideas’ I might try practically.
There had been kinesthetic (K) Auditory (A) and Visual (V) stimuli in the performance environment. There had been danger and display, but no direct engagement with spectators. Now I crossed that spatial boundary and asked direct intrusive rapid - fire questions without wanting or allowing a reply. I had been interrogating myself, and my identity construction, publicly asking myself who I was, now I was asking 'Who are you?' “…we are so close that we can touch it, or be touched by it.” ( Lepeki, 1999: 135) “Closeness replaces nakedness shock value.”(Lepeki, 1999: 135)
The space lent much to the construction, nature and form of the performance. Visually (V) the mirrors lent themselves to literal confrontation with reflection. I used the emergency lighting and the light from a video projector only the semi darkness adding to the sense of intimacy on one hand and intrusion on the other. In Auditory terms (A) the acoustics gave a sustain and reverberation to speech and sound, distorting it slightly, this made me want to explore and experiment with exaggerating this element to add to the performance environment. Kinesthetically (K) the performance was a dance space which had floors made for movement. Mats found there enabled more physical risk taking and bars suggested a struggling physical interaction. These were all ‘found objects’ and became part of the performance content and form.
This performance was a work in progress and was in some ways semi improvisational. The ‘performance environment,’ elements that I used, were suggested by the spatial dimensions, architecture, acoustics and objects found in the space. I used video projections reflected to give a mirror image. I used an ME6 distortion bank and amp. I used judo mats and a taped floor to define an elliptical shape around which I moved and spectators stood. I used a TV monitor and Video, which both recorded and showed live events on screen in real time during the performance. Everything was directed toward involving the spectators in the process of questioning and the performance environment. I have drawn a plan of the space on the following page. Please also see video clip of the performance (quicktime required).
Aitcheson, Bill ‘ Ph.D. (2002/2003), in, ’Introduction to Practice As Research Ph.D. Thesis’, (Introduction).
Copeland, Roger (Spring 2002) ‘Merce Cunningham and the aesthetic of Collage’, in The Drama Review, 46,1(T173, New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Khagen (1997) in, ‘African Stepping’, ARTS ARCHIVES, The Third Archive © Arts Documentation Unit, Exeter UK.
Lepeki, Andre (Winter 1999) ‘Skin, body and presence in Contemporary European Choreography’, in The Drama Review 43 (T164) Winter 1999, New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Levinski, Alexei (1997) in, ‘Meyerhold’s BioMechanics : A Workshop’, ARTS ARCHIVES, The Third Archive © Arts Documentation unit, Exeter UK 1997.
O’Connor and McDermott (1996) in, ‘Thorsons Principles of NLP’, Thorsons- An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 1996.
ODIN THEATRET (1972), in ‘Training at the ‘Teater Laboritorium’ in Wroclaw, Plastic and Physical Training’, Odin Theartet Film, DK 7500 HOLSTEBRO 1972.
John C. Whelan Ph.D. is a ‘Performance As Research In Practice’ Researcher at QMUC, Edinburgh.