Carving Out a Space: Founding Performance Space in the City

Sarah Thomasson (2011). Carving Out a Space: Founding Performance Space in the City MPhil Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Sarah Thomasson
Thesis Title Carving Out a Space: Founding Performance Space in the City
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-05
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Total pages 124
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 122
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary Baz Kershaw argues that theatre buildings are embedded within a “disciplinary system” that traps audiences within an “unfair system of privilege” through commodification, cultural policy, and spatial indoctrination that act as “mechanisms of exclusion” (31). By escaping the theatre building, however, site-specific performance is able to seek new audiences by engaging with alternative, more accessible locations. Recent Australian productions suggest that found space performances are not always motivated by the same political objectives of their site-specific forbears. I argue that found space performance constitutes a separate category of inquiry that requires a deeper analysis of the interaction between space and performance in the absence of a profound engagement with site. I use Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space to investigate how the site prescribes behaviour for actors and spectators even when the performance is in an unconventional location. Analysing found space performance through the lens of Lefebvre’s triad reveals how space conditions the production and reception of theatre even when it is removed from the purpose-built building. This thesis provides a model of how to analyse performance through Lefebvre’s triad—spatial practices, representations of space, and representational space—in order to determine whether case performances merely capitulate to the existing power relations of the site, or whether, in fact, they disrupt the disciplinary forces and succeed in creating counter-space. Case studies for this thesis were selected from local Brisbane performances and international arts festival productions in other Australian capital cities between 2008 and 2010. They were all performed in unconventional locations including the steps of the Convention Centre outside BHP Billiton’s 2009 Annual General Meeting for a performance protest by Gorilla Street Theatre, the grounds of Brisbane’s Old Museum for Zen Zen Zo’s Dante’s Inferno, a bus for Cocoloco’s The Alice and Alice Bus Tour, a supermarket for Rotozaza’s Wondermart, the grounds of a former institution for Urban Theatre Project’s The Fence, and a suburban house for Still the Monster’s Up All Night. A Lefebvrian reading of these performances reveals how the spatial practices of the site interact with theatrical conventions to guide audience reception and participation, how the socio-political history of the site as a representation of space can overwhelm the reading of the performance, and finally how the imaginative overlaying of representational spaces proscribes our behaviour in those spaces. Exploring Lefebvre’s triad through performance elucidates how each element operates within the urban environment and ultimately determines whether theatrical performances produce counter-space. Theatre as a spatial medium is uniquely positioned to produce alternative counter-spaces through the live, embodied act of performance. Performing outside of the purpose-built building should enable practitioners to negate the commodification, cultural policy, and spatial indoctrination of mainstream theatre and to produce alternative spaces. These case studies reveal, however, that this potential is often not achieved by found space performance. For theatre in found space to be politically effective and to produce counter-space, artists must first be aware of how the space (and the performance in that space) is produced and then work actively to reveal and intervene into the power relations at the performance location. Reading found space performance through Lefebvre’s spatial triad reveals the inherently spatial nature of theatre and how it is imbricated within the production of space. Working in unconventional locations offers artists an opportunity to expand beyond the theatre building to not only offer spectators a unique and accessible experience, but if used to their potential, to intervene in the existing power relations of the site and to create alternative spaces.
Keyword Found space performance
Spatial theory
Theatrical performance
Australian Theatre
Zen Zen Zo
Urban Theatre Projects
Still the Monster
Additional Notes 28; 93

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Created: Fri, 16 Sep 2011, 17:03:23 EST by Miss Sarah Thomasson on behalf of Library - Information Access Service