Residencies

Ruminations on Participatory Work by Yanira Castro

ruminationsPrevious to The People to Come, I have not thought of my work as participatory. It seemed like a strange bedfellow when the word first cropped up in project descriptions. The word raises, for me, questions about theatrical manipulation and suggests an awkward relationship between performance maker and audience. The word “coercion” comes to mind at the extreme—or a subtle pressure that is perhaps more insidious. But essential questions about the nature of the relationship between audience and event kept me coming back to uses of and practices in audience participation. From the spectacles of Louis XIV’s court ballets to the bawdy exchanges in the Elizabethan Theater to Brecht’s alienation effect, how have audiences participated in the live event? And isn’t the shaping of this participation what defines a performance in culture/in time/in place?

 Yanira Castro


Previous to The People to Come, I have not thought of my work as participatory. It seemed like a strange bedfellow when the word first cropped up in project descriptions. The word raises, for me, questions about theatrical manipulation and suggests an awkward relationship between performance maker and audience. The word “coercion” comes to mind at the extreme—or a subtle pressure that is perhaps more insidious. But essential questions about the nature of the relationship between audience and event kept me coming back to uses of and practices in audience participation. From the spectacles of Louis XIV’s court ballets to the bawdy exchanges in the Elizabethan Theater to Brecht’s alienation effect, how have audiences participated in the live event? And isn’t the shaping of this participation what defines a performance in culture/in time/in place?

The relationship between audience and event has never been static. There have been accepted norms—throwing rotten tomatoes—but these norms are transitory. Cultures have a way of establishing a mode of participating as “safe” and “normal” engagement, even “natural”—so much so that it becomes invisible as a frame. What we take for granted today in our American popular culture as “traditional”—the distance between seats and performance, the lights, the audience’s silence and narrowing of involvement to specific allowed acts: clapping, laughing—hasn’t always been so.
 
All audiences participate by presence. So, why describe a work as participatory? That it requires a form of participating outside of the current norm, a norm so accepted as to appear non-participatory?

I wanted my newest work, The People to Come, to reveal a process. I wanted to make transparent the decisions made by performers in the moment. This pursuit of transparency seemed the next step in a line of questioning about the nature of the audience/performance relationship. For me, it came to this question of distance: How to straddle the divide of knowledge between the performer and the individual audience member? Traditionally, the performer comes to a show knowing how it will proceed and the audience member is witness to that presentation. The performance is meant to be an act of revealing. Even when a text or score is known by the audience, it is how the performers and the director reimagine the work that the piece is meant to be “revealed.” In this relationship, the performer knows. The audience is expectant.

With my work, I have wanted to put a lens on this distance—not to erase it—but instead, to craft circumstances of distance in order to ask questions about agency, about the nature of experience, of what it means in performance to know, to reveal, to engage. In The People to Come, I wanted to explode the knowing, to give control to various people in the room—performer, director, designer, audience member. I wanted the material to come from all and for decisions about the crafting of the dance to be made live with everyone present. None of us know the outcome. In this circumstance, everyone is expectant. For the audience to give us material, the dance then required a participation specific to it. A participation so instrumental that the piece cannot exist or be performed without it.

The following photograph and text were submitted by Bob Parks to be used as material for The People to Come at Marlboro’s Town House on September 29th. It was part of a project—Marlboro Summer Sale Portraits—developed with local photographer Jess Weitz. You can see more submissions and participate in the process at thepeopletocome.org.

ruminations

Marlboro Summer Sale Portrait #7

Age of Enlightenment

by Bob Parks

"We moved recently to a house with more sky. Our place before was .25 acres and now it's a full acre. When I saw the scope, I thought it was about time to take advantage of the new situation. I want to show the kids some stars and constellations. Who would get rid of such a treasure? I came with $5 and left with the universe."

Photograph by Jess Weitz

Since 2006, VPL has hosted over 80 residencies