Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Inside the Black Margin: An Essay in Words and Images

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Inside the Black Margin: An Essay in Words and Images

Article excerpt

Note: Coloured versions of the images used in this article may be found as a slideshow at www.latrobe.edu.au/humanities/research/research-journals/ australasian-drama-studies/issues/issue-61/Tru bridge

When we blink, or when we close our eyes, an indistinct black margin closes like a curtain upon our vision of the world. What exists in this space around the spectral frame? What exists in those moments before the curtain opens, where it closes momentarily for a scene change, or where it marks the end of a performance? In the darkness we are returned to the space within, the space of dreaming - either inside the brain's casement or inside the space of the auditorium. This is a place crowded with everyday concerns, distractions, anxieties, memories and associations. Thus the architecture of the theatre is also an architecture of the mind - a model of perception, expectation and introspection. The theatre curtain opens and closes within this architecture, each movement erasing all that precedes it - a clearing of perspectives. In its passage, spaces are both destroyed and reborn. It is there before lights illuminate the vacuum of the stage, and the myriad designs, gestures and words that follow. Finally the curtain returns from the margins, to wipe the space clean, and close the proscenium from us - as eyelids on a sleeping body, or the discreet edges on a television image that will close upon a speck of shrinking light.

This article examines the theatre curtain as a performing design component in contemporary and historic theatre practices, considering its impact upon the landscapes of contemporary theatre, and its legacy in the New Zealand terrain in order to suggest social, political and ecological possibilities for performance design in the twenty-first century. An ontological - as opposed to representational - approach is adopted, wherein the curtain is viewed as something more than a container for political and cultural memories, being also a site for disruptions in perception and spectatorship. Performance design provides the primary methodology and viewpoint, as a discipline that considers the structuring of architectural, social and conceptual encounters between the public and the spectacle. As a synthesis of practice and theory, the article uses a new performance design work by the author to examine these concerns. Ecology in Fifths was presented for a development season in November 2011 as part of the Massey University College of Creative Arts Blow Festival. Conceived as a pastoral tragedy that considers the myths and anxieties in the New Zealand landscape, the work arranges its audience on four sides of a square playing space, creating a theatre without curtains, and rejecting the need for the concealment and theatrical mystery that the curtain provides.

In Ghosts: Death's Double and the Phenomenon of Theatre (2006) Alice Rayner describes a 'curtain-less context' in the modernist, or proto-postmodernist, works of Brecht, Piscator and Kantor; 'where the destruction of inside/outside and the elimination of a concealing curtain suggest a move to an "outside" beyond the boundaries but also a move to an infinite inside and an indefinite overlap between the phantoms of signification with production and labor'.1 It is seldom that the curtain is given this attention as a component of the performance experience, as it is often considered a concern of the stage manager and not the design. Rayner reveals as much when she says: 'Does anyone ask: What does that curtain mean? What does it signify or represent? One is more likely to ask: What does that curtain hide? What is behind it?'2 However, within the context of a visual arts or performance design practice, everything is considered a sign and it is found that, above all else, the theatre curtain signifies theatre·, it carries with it all the historical associations or 'embellage' that make it seem kitsch or even outdated on a contemporary stage, or the subject of so much theatre-play from the likes of Jerome Bel, Romeo Castellucci or Forced Entertainment. …

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