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Notes In Defense of Disaster

28 Jul

986225(During the premiere of When I Was Telling You All I Was Telling You I Was Telling You All I Was at Artery24 at The Soap Factory, the DVD- which was essentially the light and sound and the second performer- gave out. Though it had run previously in the night and tested fine, in front of a live audience, it buckled under the pressure and couldn’t go on. Leaving me to find a new way to finish. Sometimes, though, disaster is success. It is often more interesting.)

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A glass breaks. A video cuts out. Lights flicker, sound dies, someone trips, the band is too drunk to play on. Performative disaster strikes and forces the performance to re-align priorities whilst maintaining the reality of the performance space.

The broken glass activates a very real desire on the part of the audience to see something physically threatening. It is an aesthetic of destruction, which is the desire to see the collapse of a construct.

Disaster is a test of the aptitude and grace of the performer. The execution of perfection is a desperate effort to avoid being publicly tested by disaster.

Much of the survival of the work in these contexts depends on the unity of the performers. When a fractured performance group veers toward disaster, there is little hope of a cathartic or cogent ending, no matter if that ending is not the one originally intended. It is in a unity of purpose that performers can see through the frustrations and limitations of the disaster and through to a clear ending. (This is especially true for solo performance.)

The ability to steer the performance to some semblance of an ending provides a unique and unreproduceable experience for the audience. It is a real-time application of Aristotelian catharsis, in that tragedy has been faced and met. It fuels the thrill of the unexpected, and if the performers have appropriately constructed the rules and dimensions of their performative world, can be a fulfilling, if nerve-wracking ending.

That is to say, the experience of disaster is not unreproduceable- but the effective reproduction of disaster requires it’s perfect execution if it is to maintain the visceral and immediate connection to the audience. Playing with disaster wills it and so demands greater unity, precision and focus on the part of the performers.

Dealing with disaster demands more than the execution of perfection. It tests the goodwill of the audience, the ability of the performer to generate interest in the work and in the investment in the work the performer has instilled in the audience. This is then the performer’s imperative- that the audience must be invested in them, through humor, amazement, schadenfreude, booze, morbid curiosity, anger, somehow, anyhow to effectively and communally deal with disaster.

Which is to say this: If it’s all going to fall to pieces, might as well have everyone along for the ride.

Further Reading:

Jeremey Catterton, Mike Rylander and Cameron Brainerd in Lamb Lays with Lion's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof // Photo Credit: Emma Freeman Photography

Jeremey Catterton, Mike Rylander and Cameron Brainerd in Lamb Lays with Lion's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof // Photo Credit: Emma Freeman Photography

Jeremey Catterton, Artistic Director of Lamb Lays with Lion on The Theatre of Disruption.

Carl Atiya Swanson on Lamb Lays with Lion’s The Little Skeleton That Could Not.

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