Academic journal article About Performance

Rehearsal as Cartography: Some Challenges for Metaphor and Practice

Academic journal article About Performance

Rehearsal as Cartography: Some Challenges for Metaphor and Practice

Article excerpt

An actor's movement, a physical boundary such as a stage floor, or something more ephemeral like a focused light or social conventions-any of diese can transform a space into a place of performance. At this moment of transformation, performers and audiences enter into the collaborative project of generating more fictional places within the performance space, while the performance space continues to coexist with the literal space of the building or area. Each of these spaces or places carries a distinct set of connotations and values, and each of them entails a particular mode of imagination to understand what is happening within it. The literal space of a stage, a "playing area," or a rehearsal room can be measured in real numbers according to its dimensions, but the fact of its being a stage or a rehearsal room lends it particular immeasurable significance for those who work on or in it. Then again, theatre-makers imbue the performance space with even more specific meanings by intentionally manipulating the arrangement of bodies and objects and by drawing attention to the spatiality of the action, thereby creating locations or environments that are not "real" in any sense except that they are imaginatively inhabited by actors and audiences.

Theatrical space is therefore a multiple space, a space that is many places at once, some literal, some figurative, some immediately "felt," some rationally abstracted. This interplay of abstract spaces and emotionally lived-in places is the very stuff of the rehearsal process. Actors and directors use the rehearsal period to try out interpretations, techniques, and movements until they find the most effective method of correlating the spaces of the stage and the set to the places of the drama. Rehearsals provide an opportunity for artists to identify and hopefully resolve the difficulties they themselves have with both space and place, as well as to anticipate what problems audience members might have. This negotiation of overlapping places and spaces is so ingrained into the tools and processes of theatre-making that most practitioners handle the coexistence of multiple spaces quite effectively with little awareness of the complexity involved.

From an analytic point of view, however, the multiplicity of the rehearsal space can tangle efforts to think and write critically about what happens in the spaces and places where theatre artists work. Critical analysis itself has its basis in the principles of scientific rationalism and the approximation of unbiased objectivity, which favor the geometric (Cartesian) concept of space as unified, empty, homogenous, and singular, but a critical analysis of the rehearsal space and the rehearsal process must be able to handle spaces that are multiple, meaningful, and often fractured.

I would like to begin here by looking at some common theoretical models for spatial analysis and the difficulties that occur when they are applied to the analysis of theatrical rehearsal. With these difficulties in mind, I will lay out the metaphor of map-making as a potentially useful theoretical model for understanding and talking about the construction and interrelation of spaces and places in theatrical rehearsal. Cartographers, like performers, are in the business of relating real and imagined places to real spaces on portable media through the use of conventional, stylised representations. In conclusion, I will examine how my own notion that theatrical rehearsal is best understood as a process of map-making highlights an important issue-performances, like maps, have the potential to become coercive or colonialist "drawings" of die world if the creative choices at the heart of the cartographic process are masked rather than made visible. My discussion here is self-consciously "conceptheavy" and interested in an overview painted in broad strokes, which means that I will indicate and then bypass many of the "exit ramps" along this road that lead to more detailed examinations of specific rehearsal practices. …

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