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Jennifer Markowitz

Thesis Title:
An Examination of the Use of ´Site´ in Directing the Performance of Play-Texts

Thesis Production (June 2009): STRAY
Staged in Newbold Comyn, Leamington Spa. Performance of three short plays on separate sites, as the audience journeyed through each: Victoria Station (Harold Pinter), The Wayfarer (Valerii Bryusov), and Fewer Emergencies (Martin Crimp). DVD Available Upon Request.  

Framework Rationale
These experiments have led me to this practical work: a series of three short, extant plays staged in various locations simultaneously. Although each play was intended to stand alone, common themes presented themselves in rehearsal, such as isolation and repetetition. However, while there are some commonalities, the places are separate stories taking place in separate times and places. For this reason, I’ve chosen the word ‘stray’ as the title. As a verb, it suggests the winding course the audience will move through from one play to the next. As a noun, it refers to the varied styles of each work.
Research Questions
Can a site serve as a ‘performer’ of the play-text? Can it create specificity for this production that could not be created within a theatre auditorium?
Can the use of site help to suggest a continual performance that might exist even when the spectator is not there to see it?
Is the spectator’s particular experience of the play dependant upon from his or her negotiation between the text and the site?

Stray: The Plays

Victoria Station (Harold Pinter, 1982)
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Pinter’s stage directions of this short play, a dialogue between a taxi driver and his controller, suggest that each character be set on one side of the stage without physical contact between the two actors. The dialogue itself begins with the mundane. The controller wants the driver to pick up a passenger at Victoria Station and take him to Cuckfield. The driver responds that he has never heard of such a place. However, the driver’s vague responses quickly move the story from the comically absurd to the sinister. He reveals he has a female passenger asleep in the back of his cab and that he wants to keep her and marry her. The conversation between these two men is spoken over the radio and this is the only contact they have with each other throughout the play. It is this separation between two people in conversation that intrigued me. What would happen if the two actors could not only look at each other directly but also did not share the same space? Would separating the two actors further increase the tension between them? Additionally, what would happen if the audience were placed in two separate groups in which one would view only the driver, the other only the controller? I chose to place the driver in a car with four audience members and the controller in a small room several yards away with six audience members. Would this incorporation of two sites allow the spectator a more rarefied opportunity to experience both the isolation and frustration both these characters appear to share?

The Wayfarer (Valerii Briusov, 1910)
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Although Briusov is often defined as a symbolist, in The Wayfarer the heroine Julia is presented with social and psychological detail. Briusov categorised his play as a ‘psychodrama,’ and it does have aspects of Chekhov’s dissatisfied women, bored with the provincial life, who dreams of something more elegant. However, beneath this initial impression there appears to be a deep longing for human contact manifested through idealised sexual exchange. The character of the Wayfarer, while appearing in the flesh, seems ghost-like in his inability to speak as well as his sense of displacement. At times the play-text suggests that Julia is speaking directly to the audience almost as a soliloquy, further supporting the idea that the Wayfarer that she sees, as opposed to the Wayfarer we see, exists within her own mind. What might happen if the physical world in which Julia lives and the world within her psyche both exist within the same location? Can the Wayfarer be made of flesh and also be a dead man lost on his way to another place? Can this shared space create a unique world of its laws and systems for both characters to share for a brief moment? Moreover, would this ‘dream-space’ be broken when they began to consummate their attraction and, if so, why? The key component needed for such an experiment is an isolated place in which the interior holds both the spectator and the characters captive. The room I’ve chosen is part of the same building in which I’ve placed the controller from Victoria Station (a character also in isolation), which has very few discernable characteristics from the outside. Inside there is a sense of decay. The other important feature is its door, which is large and heavy, and has a jail-like quality. This is important in that it might offer the spectator the same sense of isolation from the outside world as it does for the characters. Will this space help to highlight and increase the sexual longing from both characters? Will the room itself call into focus for the spectator the dream-like place I interpret from the play-text, or will the defined space, without stage lighting, intrude upon the intended illusion?

Fewer Emergencies (Martin Crimp, 2005)
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Part of a larger work containing three episodes, Fewer Emergencies suggests an impending disaster through three characters speaking reassuring clichés in between observations of horror. Crimp supplies no stage directions or character names, nor does he suggest a location for any of these pieces. The vagueness of the play’s environment, joined with such unusual images through dialogue, offers an opportunity to experiment with using site as a way to help tell the play’s story. What has resulted is pure interpretation with only the dialogue to use as clues. This is what my directorial training had taught me in terms of approaching a text. However, as this particular play-text offers no definite place, the use of site might be too imposing. What might happen to such an open text when placed within a real location instead of the representational staging within a theatre building? I initially planned to stage this play in a field close to a wooded area where the spectator needed to stand in order to hear the play’s three characters. I was intrigued by how an ‘undefined’ site might serve as a ‘performer’ of the play-text. However, after several rehearsals, the frequent rains made the field too wet to work with in any effective matter as the actors had considerable trouble moving through the grass. Also, and perhaps more importantly, there was not enough in that environment to engage the actors for the remainder of the play-text. Not only was the site undefined, it was also without any variation that could somehow inform the narrative within the play-text. We've moved it into the shower room inside the pavilion and found that, while this site was defined, that definition actually helped to inform the text in unusual ways. One thinks of a shower room as a place to get clean. As the actors are fully dressed while showering, there is an interesting suggestion that occurs in using a site in an ‘incorrect’ manner. They are not using the showers to wash themselves within the context of the play-text, but instead are using them to obtain secret codes that might be hidden within the site. Therefore, while we are using a defined space, we are using it in relation to character objectives rather than the implied usage of the site itself. Is this approach precise enough to de-contexualize the inherent associations of the shower room? If not, is the act of using the features of a space for an objective related to the play-text itself enough to justify the use of the space? Using the shower room presents another interesting issue in that now, instead of using three very different sites, I'm using one site (plus the car) in three very different ways. The pavilion building has several rooms of varying shapes. Each of the main rooms has a separate entrance. It's an interesting way of using the space in that we really are using what is already there in ways that respond to the play-text. Can it create specificity for this production that could not be created within a theatre auditorium?