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dressing room discourse

Authored by Visnja Rogosic, Fulbright Visiting Scholar

The dressing room conversation with Morgan von Prelle Pecelli, the co-curator of Prelude 10 – on the spectator-performer, individual-community, scholar-practitioner and past-present relations.

VR: Reading curator’s and dramaturge’s notes, I have found many references to historical avant-garde and neo-avant-garde history of performing arts, however, no reference to Prelude’s immediate past. What is the relation of Prelude 10 to the previous ones?

MPP: It’s smaller, tighter and more compact. That said we did shift a couple of things. In 2008 I was the dramaturge and worked closely with Andy (Horwitz) and Geoffrey (Jackson Scott). It was the first time we really tried to structure the flow of the days. In 2008 we were talking about the form: performance art versus contemporary dance, the difference between the white cube and the black box practice… And in 2009 we were looking at the different practices through which the art is getting made: hybrid practices, political practices – where political was a lower case “p”, more human political, etc. The question in 2010 is why live experience is so important to all of us. To some extent there was a through line of the last three years. We kept talking about audience engagement and participation. To me, that’s really the question about live. It’s not so much the question of live versus mediated, I’m not interested in that divide, I’m interested in what is it that draws audience members to become alive, wake up, participate, engage and become thoughtful human beings and why is that an important thing that they are socially engaging with each other, whether it is through live human contact or whether it’s through mediated contact. It’s still a living being activity. The artwork that we all produce is the kind of work that asks audiences to doubt the world that they live in, to question it, to come together with each other into dialogue as opposed to other aesthetic practices that confirm the world and help you to forget your day…

VR: In relation to that, for the first part of the program – “Communication” – you chose communitarian over individual form of communication, and I am particularly interested in two aspects of your choice. The first is the reason for affirming the egalitarian concept of community by referring to Turner’s concept of “communitas”, which seems rather risky, given that in the past decades the world has witnessed the failure of both artistic and political egalitarian endeavours. The inability to establish and maintain egalitarian artistic collectives in the 1960s and the disintegration of a number of communist political systems during the 1990s are probably the first things to come to mind. Also, with “communitas”, you evoke very important issues such as audience elimination, social activism and the primacy of community over the individual which is as big a question as the “egg or chicken” one. So, if it is the egalitarian community that you want, what do you need it for? What’s the aim?

MPP: I’m sitting watching Rich Maxwell’s show “Ads” recently – it came out in January. There was an audience of seventy people but there were no live performers on the stage at all, it was entirely virtually created so that you were watching video of one person talking about their beliefs, or their relationship to the world in some sort of way…

VR: Not performed somewhere at the same time, but just projected? Cinema?

MPP: Cinema! But it was so stripped down, so simple. There was such a raw simplicity to the way that Rich directed, the way that the language came through and the way these people were just standing totally emotionally naked on stage, that you really were brought into it but not in a way that you forgot everybody else around you. In the normal movie theatre you forget there’s anybody else, you forget you have a body and you are lost in the movie, and that’s true for a lot of theatre as well. In this scenario the lights were up on the audience just a little bit, so that I could see who’s around me and feel them and hear them laughing and hear them responding. Because they were the only living energy in the room, I became really super aware of how I was connected to the people in that audience who I know very deeply, the people who I don’t know so deeply, very aware of what we all shared together when we were responding, or when some were responding and others weren’t, and what that meant. It reminded me of why I leave my apartment where I’m watching the video all by myself. It’s still more likely that I will go spend $25 to go see the piece to the theatre with sixty other bodies around me. So that’s the real crux of it. There is a social activity to it, even if you go by yourself, even if you’re actually an audience of one going through an installation piece where you’re the only person who can be the audience at that time and then somebody follows you ten minutes behind. There is still some kind of social interaction going on there.

VR: Such as gathering and dispersion of audience before and after the performance?

MPP: Yes, that social connecting is part of humanness and art being alive. Am I going back to Marxian definition of human? Definitely. I’m not, however, necessarily trying to go to a capital “S” socialist – just remembering that this is a social activity as well. It is dangerous because it can be used to indoctrinate us towards all kinds of directions.  I think this type of work is constantly saying “is that the social reality you want?” rather than saying “this is the social reality in which you live.” And that is also our relation to the avant-garde – to question it rather than just reproduce it.

VR: If Prelude is about both, community and participation, it seems that the way the theme of the second day – “Provocation” – is elaborated in the program, assumes a certain inequality between the performer and the audience, focusing on how performer might provoke the audience. Do you think that chosen projects also question the way audience provokes performers, changes their “mental picture”?

MPP: The interwar period avant-garde in Europe or Alfred Jarry even before – the way they talk about them in the biographies – were creating provocations but the audience was pushing back quite viscerally, throwing stuff, fainting. What depresses me a little bit, is that every time I go to see a show here, particularly the ones that I think are quite mediocre and boring or the ones that are provocative, is that everybody sits quite docile and doesn’t respond. And I feel that there is some aspect in which the audience has given up its power to respond, to provoke back, to engage the performers in ways that performers didn’t anticipate or plan for. What is going on with Ann Liv Young right now is fascinating; she is getting censored by PS1, to my understanding of what’s going on there. What she’s been doing with that character Sherry is really getting into people’s faces. She is creating situations where she has no control over how that person is going to respond and she is pushing that envelope so hard that people are actually responding and getting in her face and getting upset about it. Even those of us who are making provocative work, aren’t trying to construct a particular response in the audience and we don’t expect them to have any other response than the one we have. I’m not sure what to do about that, except try and have that kind of conversation with audiences. I focus on the subtle provocation practice that does not say “you should go do this, think this”, they just make you start to itch. It’s still up to the audience member. They still maintain a level of autonomy to create the meaning from the work, to create their understanding from the work and also to create whatever direction they shift in. So the provocations aren’t proscriptive, they are encouraging somehow.

VR: How does the liminal university surrounding influence Prelude?

MPP: I feel like we should be thriving in this half way space between the university students and the scholars and the professional practitioners but I think we haven’t quite nailed it and that’s why we keep playing with its format. From what I’ve seen in the last few years (and I could be wrong – we don’t have any real data, so this is just an impression) –is that the practitioners are there but the scholars and the students aren’t… I have no idea where they are or what they’re doing. They don’t seem to be fully engaging even when we have brought them in our panels. We have not figured out how to really key in and perhaps some of it is that the focus is on the professional practitioners. The focus of the festival is to provide content but we are also trying to provide engaging conversations about that content. It is a preview of work that is to come – all the shows are going to be which is amazing. It’s a huge trailer for the contemporary performance theatre sector for the whole year, which is phenomenal.

VR: It’s a new genre in fact…

MPP: Yes, but it can’t just be that and I think particularly because it’s in a university setting it has to have also this base for the community to come together and talk to each other.

VR: Do you feel that’s missing?

MPP: There’s definitely conversation, people come and talk about all kind of things and those conversations go on and beyond and they happen afterwards but it’s all the practitioners coming together. The scholars, the writers and the students aren’t engaging in that conversation. There are two totally different worlds and they never meet, in spite of the fact that the writers are writing and the students are studying these practitioners but they aren’t actually talking to each other ever.

VR: Do you think that’s a general problem, because I see it in Croatia all the time…

MPP: It’s a huge problem here. I work at PS122 and we just co-edited The Live Art Almanac Vol. 2 with Live Art UK and Performance Space in Sydney, Australia and they wanted practitioners’ writings, their own voice, not scholarly articles. We had a hell of a time getting any US based artists to submit anything because they are not used to writing about their own work or thinking about it in those kinds of ways because they don’t talk to the scholars. And I think they’re suffering for it. The reviewers don’t understand them, the journal articles don’t really talk about them, there is very little communication happening around the artists beyond the show. And it’s not about inviting the audience to check out the work in progress and give feedback – it is having conversations with them about that kind of work, about politics, about anything, anything…

VR: And what’s relevant will eventually come out…

MPP: Exactly. That’s why we shifted from the panels to a round table. We kept having the panels where artists were speaking in monologues and it was starting to drive me nuts after two years. It’s an experiment where eight to ten of us are sitting around the table and, by the fact that we are facing each other, we’ll have a conversation. It forces the audience out of it but hopefully the audience will have a richer experience because maybe some drama will actually happen.

Edited by Arwen Lowbridge

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