An overarching goal nestled within my quest to learn more about performance theory and practice as research is to better define and understand my own artistic practice. As a theater maker who's fundamentally less interested in "making theater" and far more driven by a need to learn more about theater and performance through the art I make, my process tends to take shape as a playful and intuitive investigation of an ensemble's collective response to a culturally agreed upon practice. But hidden beneath this playful exterior is an ongoing rigorous and critical examination of theatrical traditions and preconceptions of performance. This process eventually results in a theatrical performance of some kind. But more often than not, that performance is merely an expected result of the prior investigation established by the larger theatrical community. In truth, the investigation - the playful examination of our theatrical roots carried out by an ensemble of artists - is at the heart of my practice. And within that practice is an ongoing research project - a project that I now find myself questioning and "defining" through a series of questions.
In Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, Estelle Barrett outlines a proposed process of practice as research meant to standardize critical responses to artistic practices. I've been using her outline as a basic model for defining my own practice, which has resulted mostly in a series of questions rather than a list of statements. At the core of my practice is an overwhelming need to challenge the potency of culturally or institutionally embraced theatrical traditions or practices. Areas of interest within that need are the critical comparison of dramatic and postdramatic theatre, the separation of drama and script from theater and performance, and my own anxiety toward deviating from theatrical traditions. Previously, my practice has consisted of the deconstruction of canonical texts and theatrical traditions, the collaborative investigation of those deconstructed texts, and the reconstruction of those newly perceived texts into original works of devised theater. This practice in many ways was born out of my own anxieties surrounding the desire to be accepted by my theatrical community in relation to my interest in deviating from the standards of practice and performance established by that community.
But this examination of my own practice - this questioning of where I've been and where I'm heading as an artist - has allowed for the formation of a number of questions that can only be "answered" by carrying out my practice and encouraging it to transform as I continue my investigations. Below are just a few of the many questions I'm now considering, and will continue to consider for the foreseeable future:
- How does the continued embrace of culturally agreed upon practices of performance by larger theatrical institutions strengthen the potency of largely outdated theatrical traditions, thereby influencing the creative practices of emerging artists within that culture?
- Does my own deviation from many of those standards and traditions actually challenge that potency, or does it merely fan the flame of institutional and financial support for those standards? In other words, is my artistic deviancy partly to blame for the strengthening resistance to postdramatic works?
- How can I manipulate the tools I've forged over the years as a theater maker in ways that support my growing desire to deviate more fully from those standards, while simultaneously creating work that also acknowledges my own anxieties toward deviating from theatrical traditions?
- Why are certain formal theatrical traditions or practices embraced by my own theatrical community over more "experimental" practices, and what perpetuates the continued execution of those practices?
- Can the various results of my artistic deviations from those practices be strung together into works of theater or performance (without the conscious use of drama or script)?
- What happens when those deviations are placed before, alongside, or after the fully realized practices their attempting to transform?
- What happens when this same process of deviation or transformation is applied to dramatic text?
This line of questioning has led to me to reflect on my own journey as a theater maker over the past decade or so, and especially on my role as a performance artist working in New York City. And I can't help but wonder ... If I've only ever attempted to make work that fits into one very specific and fairly conservative community's perception of theater, and if that community seems resistant to the type of performance practice I'm interested in carrying out, then how do I know what kind of artist I really am? Maybe I'm not a theater artist. Maybe I'm more of a performance artist. Maybe I'm more of a researcher. How can I truly comprehend my own artistic practice when I've never been allowed to create freely outside of a community that will seemingly never embrace my work?
As of this moment, my investigation into my own artistic practice seems to be generating an ever-growing list of questions. My practice is truly in question, which should hopefully lead to exciting and unexpected discoveries the further I explore and investigate.