Framing the Intersecting Edges of Performance Practice: The Role of ‘Live’

by Kim Woodard

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

Performative practices are an ever-debated genre, they move in and out of each other, cross each other’s borders and intersect at the edge of what each other potentially may be defined as. I cannot direct you to a specific definition, as the nature of the field deters meaning from being fixed, instead, imagine it as an ever-expanding weave that can be pulled apart by various strands; each leading to a very different result, sometimes more beautiful than the first, sometimes more chaotic. The ‘strands’ represent various practices, ranging from theatre, to dance, to art, to music. If one ‘pulls’ a strand, this can then impact upon the ‘weave’, which has been constructed, intertwined and sometimes knotted by certain definitions. Due to the task of defining being a strange quest within the realms of performative practice, the sketchy definitions that have been produced by this vast field permit the role of ‘live’, and what live constitutes, to be debated.

‘Live’ is deemed to be the pinnacle of performance, and where the relationship between the performance and audience is at its peak. The audience play a key part in the rationale for the concept of a live event. What happens within that specified place and time in the present moment also affects the role of the audience, and how they are perceived both inside and outside of that specified place, be that a theatre, gallery, or public space. Attempts to re-position the audience have taken place since the earlier twentieth century and have been both celebrated and discouraged. Freshwater (2009) states ‘our sense of the proper, or ideal relationship between theatre and audiences can illuminate our hopes for other models of social interaction, clarifying our expectations of community, democracy and citizenship, and our perceptions of our roles and power (or lack of it) in the broader public sphere’. This ‘ideal’ relationship Freshwater discusses creates a chain reaction in terms of how performance is defined, because the role of an audience is key in determining what term is used to describe the experience of an event.

As a result of this effect, performance may be known to some as experimental performance, to others, inter-displinary performance, multidisplinary performance, performance studies, even live art, or performance art, the list is endless, and continually growing. It is these terms that almost destabilise the bridge connecting all of the performative genres together. By defining live performance practice differently there is a danger that supplements are created that can disrupt the natural order of what the core role of a ‘live’ performance is. This potentially means that the links that blur live performance practices together (theatre, art, dance, music) into a juxtaposition that makes sense as a conceptual model that exists at a specific place in time can have more than one origin. This juxtaposition can be affected by the context in which the live performances are produced, altering intentions and justifications for this type of practice. Due to these performative practices all sitting within the classification of the ‘live’, and because by nature they work in real time in various contexts, they may be deemed to be in constant flux and therefore ever-expanding. This in turn can shatter the role of performance as an event and its presence within the live moment, because its meanings are never fixed to one context. For example, one may be more inclined to deem a piece of performance art, art, because is it considered as an art object. Whereas if the performance was a piece performed on a conventional stage it may change meaning and be defined as play or piece of theatre.  This supports the idea that performance practices are difficult define because of their varying degrees of meaning within certain contextual frameworks.

Performance as a live practice has exploded within the last ten years in terms of its relationship to other practices. The nature of inter-disciplinarity is extremely timely and it seems to be that the ‘sketchy to define’ area of performance is what draws  audiences to it. A performance being not quite this, and not quite that, means that it automatically has an air of ambiguity regardless of its subject matter. Ambiguity encourages thinking and question the conventions of what should or could be.

What’s next for performance as an all-encompassing field? It is about establishing performative practice as a methodology in order to continue to push boundaries at the forefront of what actually determines inter-disciplinarity. The role of ambiguity and the importance of the ‘live’ needs to be dissipated into other realms of production such as academic discourse and political agendas mentioned previously, by doing this it may open up the frame in order to intersect the edges of performance practice even further, to potentially collapse it in on itself creating something entirely extraordinary.  Therefore, we as performers need to cross borders into even more unfamiliar territory in order to evolve and manipulate the current existing threads and to potentially add more to the ever-expanding and ever-changing multi directional weave that represents and frames performative practice as a multi-functional genre right here, right now, in the present; LIVE.

Freshwater, H., (2009) Theatre & Audience London: Palgrave Macmillan 


Kim Woodard is a current student at the University of Lincoln (UK) studying an MRes in Art, Architecture and Design. Her research focuses on discovering whether performance art and theatre using the script remain to be separate practices or whether the crossover of performative elements enables them to become blurred.  If, through the process of deconstruction, these ideas prove that two disciplines become one or otherwise, then how does this have further impact on the way we transfer this knowledge through teaching, courses, and art practice looking into the future. Kim’s background is in fine art where she obtained a first class honours degree from the University of Lincoln which centered on the role of language alongside the use of coded systems to teach participants a linguistic based system called Kwode in order to decipher cryptic messages through the use of performance.