Yesterday in this blog I described my conversation with my new acquaintance Nathaniel about the interplay between the blueprint of a performance and the performance itself. Since then Nathaniel have discussed it more fully, and have realized that we are in complete agreement. One way to put it is that each of these two elements is essential, and that in fact they form a space of two dimensions.
You can choose to look along only one of these dimensions, and somehow fool yourself into thinking it contains all of the meaning, but in fact you’d be missing much of the richness of what you are observing – just as you would miss the richness of an intricate pattern etched on glass, were you to look at it edge-on.
For example, while the written Hamlet is a work of genius, it becomes truly transcendent only after skilled actors and directors have made their choices about pacing, blocking, speech rhythm, word emphasis, prosody and shifting mood. Shakespeare intended it to require such things, as does any great playwright.
Coincidentally I happened to attend a presentation this evening by Crispin Glover, the actor, here at the Darklight Festival in Dublin. In recent years he has been expanding out, making surreal films that he screens after giving dramatic readings of slide shows he has created by clipping disjointed excerpts and diagrams from how-to books written in 1908.
The dramatic reading struck me as being a perfect example of performance dominating blueprint. It reminded me of the play No Dice by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper (inspired by the work of John Cage), which requires its actors to attempt to form psychologically coherent characters from dialog that is being randomly fed to them through headphones.
Similarly, Glover’s excerpted tidbits of old instruction manuals have no inherent meaning, but he reads them aloud dramatically with a tone of passionate intensity, conveying the extreme emotional engagement you might expect from a man who is, say, recounting a traumatic childhood. Glover brings an array of actorly tricks to the occasion, wringing urgency and pathos out of what is essentially a disconnected sequence of words and images.
Here then is pure process at work: The only thing illuminated, the only take-away, is Crispin Glover’s exploration of the art of acting – performance without blueprint. Ironically, copies of books made from the slide shows were available in the lobby for purchase after the show, with a book-signing by the author. But the books themselves are empty. Without the Crispin Glover’s impassioned presentation, they remain nothing but random clippings, a Dada-ist joke.