Falling in Place: Place and its Imaginary in Making Performance

Author: Sam Haren

Haren, Sam, 2008 Falling in Place: Place and its Imaginary in Making Performance, Flinders University, School of Humanities

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Abstract

This study began with a personal recognition of the importance of space in my creative process. As a theatre director, I need to see and feel the space for a work before I know how to direct or create the performance. Once I know what the space is — everything falls into place. This fascination with space in my creative process has triggered a larger investigation into the operations of place in the making of contemporary performance. The first part of the thesis embarks on a series of theoretical and creative journeys to learn more about place and how it is positioned within contemporary performance. It journeys through contemporary theory on place in the work of Gaston Bachelard, Edward S. Casey, Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and Marc Auge. These theorists think about place as a product of human dwelling and social production, and its conceived dimensions as psychic structures for a culture that embodies the fantasies, desires and visions of our places. The thesis traces my physical journey from Australia to the Wooster Group in New York City and Forced Entertainment in Sheffield where I observed and worked with two significant contemporary performance companies, each in their own place. The Wooster Group has maintained an ongoing ‘osmotic’ relationship with SoHo, absorbing the underground experimentations of performance makers in the 1960s, to the retail experimentations of Prada today in the now gentrified district. Similarly, Forced Entertainment has lived through a rejuvenation of Sheffield, which is examined in relation to a shift in the company’s aesthetic and style. I also encountered these companies and another, Societas Raffaello Sanzio, at festivals in Australia. Societas Raffaello Sanzio avoid endless repetition on tour with Tragedia Endogonidia — a project that creates a new work for each place it performs in — balancing the desires of the international performing arts market with a portable strategy towards place. The second part of the thesis returns to examine the imaginaries of Australia and Adelaide, the nation and city in which I work. It considers the impact of these imaginaries in a performance laboratory called The Rope Project, which explores Adelaide’s myth of ‘The Family’ and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Lacan’s notion of the imaginary is used to examine the ‘national imaginary’ of Australia as place where people disappear, an imaginary maintained by representations that imbue the Australian landscape with a hostile agency. The thesis argues that the erasure implicit in the colonial concept of terra nullius has informed a national imaginary obsessed with disappearance. A dossier of The Rope Project reveals the myth of ‘The Family’ explored as a representation in the performance laboratory. ‘The Family’ is the result of two competing imaginaries connected to the city of Adelaide: its founding utopian imaginary, the ‘Athens of the South’, and its horror-inverse, ‘The World’s Murder Capital’. This mythology was generated as a conservative backlash to the social reforms of Premier Don Dunstan and maintains a perceived connection between homosexuality and deviance. The thesis offers in conclusion fresh insights into the use of the imaginary and lived aspects of place in the creation of new performance works.

Keywords: performance,place,adelaide,australia,family,disappearance
Subject: Drama

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2008
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Prof Julie Holledge