Thursday, November 30, 2006

Acts of Communion

The Project

A site-specific project devised as an act of communion between research and practice, absence and presence, amateur and academic.

The Installation
13 - 14 November 2006 12pm - 3.30pm The Powerhouse, Nottingham Trent University

Michael Pinchbeck presents the Church on Rise Park Drama Group's stage directions. The setting - The stage. The time - 1978-1981. The drama group will not be present.

The Performance
22 - 24 November 2006 7.30pm The Church on Rise Park, Nottingham

The Church on Rise Park Drama Group presents Acts of Communion. The setting - The Church Hall. The time – Now. The drama group will be playing themselves.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And the Curtain Falls

Photography: Julian Hughes


This is the bibliography for Acts of Commmunion: The Performance, The Installation, and The Writing. Where citations are used in the rest of the blog and reflexive journals I list the source and date.

APOLLINAIRE, G., 1972, Zone with an English translation by Samuel Beckett. (s.n.): (s.i)

ARTAUD, A., 1938. The Theater and its Double. (s.n.).(s.i)

BARTHES, R., 1977, Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press

BARTHES, R., 1957, Mythologies. New York, Hill and Wang

BAUDRILLARD, J., 2004, Fragments, London: Routledge

BECKETT, S., 1965, Waiting for Godot: a tragicomedy in two acts. (s.n.): (s.i)

BECKETT, S., 1971, Breath and other shorts. (s.n.): (s.i)

BERGER, J., 1965, Success and Failure of Picasso. Middlesex: Penguin

BLAZEVIC, M. and GOULISH, M. ed., 2005, Frakcija No. 35 Spring 2005. Croatia: Bauer

BOAL, A., 2000, Theater of the Oppressed. New Edition. London: Pluto Press

BOCK, V. and VINCENZI, S., 2004, Invisible Dances… From Afar: A show that will never be shown, London: Artsadmin

BROOK, P., 1968, The Empty Space. Middlesex: Penguin

CANETTI, E, 1962, Masse und Macht. London : Gollancz

COPPARD, H and MEADE, C., 1988, The Wedding: exhibition catalogue. (s.n.): (s.i)

CURTIS, R., 1995, Four Weddings and a Funeral. (s.n.): BCA

DARLEY, A., 2000, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacel in New Media Genres, 2000. London: Routledge

DE OLIVEIRA, N., OXLEY and N., PETRY, M. ed., 1996, Installation Art, London: Thames and Hudson

DE OLIVEIRA, N., OXLEY and N., PETRY, M. ed. 2003, installation art in the new millennium: the empire of the senses. London: Thames and Hudson

DEBORD, G., 2002, The Society of the Spectacle, New York: Zone

DERRIDA, J., 2005, Writing and Difference, New York: Routledge

ESSLIN, M., 2000, Antonin Artaud. (s.n.): (s.i)

ESSLIN, M., 1984, Theatre of the Absurd. London: Penguin

ETCHELLS, T., 1999, Certain Fragments. London: Routledge.

FOUCAULT, M., 2006. The Order of Things, New York: Routledge

GABLIK, S., 1995, Conversations before the End of Time. London: Thames and Hudson

GOAT ISLAND, 2000, School Book 2, (s.n.): (s.i)

GOLDBERG, R.,1998, Performance, London: Thames and Hudson

GRAY, C. and MALLINS, J., 2004, Visualizing research :a guide to the research process in art and design. (s.n.): (s.i)

GROSSVOGEL, D, I.,1975, Four Playwrights and a Postscript. 2nd Ed. (s.n.): (s.i)

HARRISON, C. and WOOD, P. ed. 1992, Art in Theory 1900 – 1990. Oxford: Blackwell

HEATHFIELD, A. ed., 2000, Small Acts: Performance, the Millennium and the Marking of Time, London: Black Dog Publishing

HEATHFIELD, A. ed., 2004, Live: Art and Performance, London: Tate Publishing

JONES, C. A., 1993, A History of Nottingham School of Design. Nottingham: NTU

KAYE. N., 1994, Post-modernism and Performance. London: MacMillan Press

LACAN, J., 1988, Freud's papers on technique 1953-1954. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

LACAN, J., 1988, The ego in Freud's theory and in the technique of psychoanalysis 1954-1955. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

LAING, R. D., 1999, Self and others. 2nd Ed. (s.n.): (s.i)

LAING, R. D.,1999, The divided self :an existential study in sanity and madness. 2nd Ed. (s.n.): (s.i)

LECOQ, J., 2002, The Moving Body, London: Methuen

NEWLING, J., 2004, Stamping Uncertainty. (s.n): SWPA

ODDEY, A.,1994, Devising Theatre, London: Routledge

PEREC, G., 1999 2nd ed., Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, London: Penguin

SAVRAN, D.,1986, Breaking the Rules, Michigan: UMI

SCHECHNER, R., 2002, Performance Studies, London: Routledge

SCHECHNER, R., 2005, Performance Theory, New York: Routledge

SMITH, J., 2005, Jacques Derrida: Live Theory, New York: Continuum

SONTAG, S., 1977, Illness as Metaphor, London: Penguin

WILLET, J. and MANHEIM, R., ed., 1970, Bertolt Brecht collected plays Vol 1. (s.n.): (s.i)


Interview with Nottingham Trent University's Platform magazine.

What was it that first made you interested in the field of theatre and playwriting?

Interestingly - amateur dramatics. My dad was always performing in a play at the Church on Rise Park and I used to go along. When I was old enough I would have a small non-speaking part and then I was a main character in a play there in 1993. I talked about the show in my interview to get into Lancaster University to study theatre and that was that. I've never been that interested in playwriting as such, more the possibilities of performance. I write but I don't consider myself a playwright. My work takes on a variety of forms including text. I find scripts quite restrictive. I was involved in devising work with Metro-boulot-dodo - a theatre company I founded on graduating. But it is the most appropriate method for the MA project. And it was the most appropriate method for The White Album at Nottingham Playhouse. I think it depends on the context. In the mainstream or traditional context I'm a playwright but I am interested in how I can challenge theatrical convention within those specific contexts.

Why did you choose to come back to Nottingham to continue your academic study?

I returned to Nottingham two years ago and decided to undertake the MA after speaking to friends who were on the Performance and Live Art course last year. I had always wanted to get back into academic study but ten years on the road with MBD put that on hold. I felt the time was right to reflect on my current thinking as a writer and artist. I was working on The White Album and a four year live art project The Long and Winding Road. NTU seemed the best place to develop a multi-disciplinary practice within a critical and supportive framework.

How are you finding the course at Nottingham Trent?

It has been a Long and Winding Road. The course has challenged the way I think about the work I make and invigorated my practice. It has given me the confidence and ability to work in other media and helped to untrain my theatrical brain. At the same time - working as an amateur and an academic - I have remembered why I love what it is I do. More than anything - and I don't know why I had to do an MA to discover this - I have learnt that less is more.

Acts Of Communion is going to be showing in Nottingham this week. When you thought of the idea for this play, did you have Rise Park Church specifically in mind?

Acts of Communion is a site-specific project. The play was written with the Church on Rise Park Drama Group. I wanted to explore the acts of communion that take place in the church hall. Weddings. Christenings. Funerals. Plays. My work draws on self and site as source and I chose to respond to the space using amateur dramatics as it seemed the most appropriate medium and is in itself an act of communion. It was important to return to the church hall where I had discovered performance as both an amateur and an academic. As part of the project, I created an installation with the drama group's old stage blocks in the Powerhouse with stage directions from the plays performed upon them. The plays collided in an act of communion in an empty space and the amateur stage was transposed into an academic context.

It has been said that your work disregards theatrical convention. Is it your purpose to try and break to mould of what is seen to be traditional theatre?

Absolutely. We performed the play last night and even though people thought it was 'different' it was still a success. I think because it belongs to the drama group, to the community, to the church. I strive to balance thought provoking with entertaining and I am interested in how we can explore new vocabularies, new ways of working in traditional contexts. A piece of writing the length of a record with a non-linear narrative at the Nottingham Playhouse. A play within a play in the Church on Rise Park where the drama group perform themselves. We make our own moulds.

Do you have any more future productions in mind for Nottingham that we can look out for?

The Long and Winding Road is ongoing. I drive a car from Nottingham to Liverpool over four years. The car is packed with mementoes wrapped in brown paper and string, tagged and logged. In 2008, I drive the car into the River Mersey. I am looking for opportunities to show the work and invite people to join me on the journey of a drivetime. For more information or to become a member of the steering committee please contact

And lastly, do you have any pointers for current students or future playwrights?

Less is more.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Performance Evaluation II

Part two

It is 2am and I am still awake. I am suffering from the post-show adrenalin rush that my Dad and other members' of the drama group have talked about in the interviews. The show went well. The audience responded enthusiastically to the style and content and though some people thought it was 'different' it was a 'good different' not an 'indifferent'. The drama group was inspired by the positive reception and this was by far the best run we have done. The fact that my mum is mentioned early on in the text makes it seem a part of the action if she is called upon.

HARRY What happens if I forget one?

MICHAEL It's OK. My mum's the prompt.

There were some moments when the audience involved themselves in the performance. When one of the cast mentioned 'Big D' - a hardware shop that used to be a feature of the shopping parade in the 1980s - one of the audience was heard to say 'That's going back a bit.' When Harry said Kath was getting ready for the funeral. Someone in the audience whispered in a worried way 'Whose funeral?' For the mostpart the audience were happy to follow the fragmented narrative and perhaps the material that triggered more laughter than I thought it would served as an anchorpoint. The local connection was important but the content was not exclusively engaged with by the local community. In fact if there is a sense of community it is the audience themselves. The teabreak saw academics chatting with churchgoers. Solicitors talking to teachers. None of whom had met before the show. All of whom were sharing an act of communion.

There were technical hiccups. We lost four lanterns in two nights. Half way through the first show one of the two surviving lights fizzled out of action. The technician spent 20 minutes wandering around at the back of the church hall trying to fix it and so the show continued in half-light. The lights we did have had to be operated manually so the act of switching on and switching off was visible to the audience. The lighting stands were gaffer taped to the PVC windows and the curtains were open. This - in the same way as the installation - is somehow turning the mechanics of performance inside out. There is no pretense here. Apart from onstage. On and off.

I was asked to deliver the housekeeping duties. This lent an interesting circularity to the evening. I found myself saying 'Ladies and Gentlemen thank you all for coming etc.' The motif of my MC character recurring. Bookending the double bill. I was intrigued by how much this might frame or outline the context of performance, the boundaries of amateur dramatics. There was an interesting intervention during the tea break. My mum was serving tea and coffee on her own. Noone else from the drama group was available to help. Because they were all in costume they didn't want to be seen in the auditorium before the show. Their costumes are their own clothes and in fact one of them is dressed in his own clothes as a caterer - so it seems odd to feel too in character to cater. Anyway it was resolved but it raised interesting questions about presence and pretense. We are there but we are not there. We are ourselves but we are not ourselves. We are onstage but we are pretending to be offstage. We are offstage but we are pretending to be onstage. We are the Church on Rise Park Drama Group but when do we stop performing.

I am proud of Acts of Communion. I am proud of the process. I am proud of the product. I am proud of how it has developed my thinking and relocated my practice. This evaluation will continue over time. We will edit a film for the drama group. Compile photographic and written documentation. But this is the end. The MA finishes next week. The written deadline is today. There are some people I have to thank. The Church on Rise Park Drama Group. The audience. Kevin Edwards for constant support. Frank Abbott. Alain Ayers. All at NTU. Any others for whose ommission from this list I sincerely apologise.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Performance Evaluation I

Part one

This evaluation is in two parts. Part one written before the first public performance and part two written afterwards. Tonight we had the last dress rehearsal. Lights. Costume. Action. Lines were learnt. Shloer was poured. People went to the toilet. We took pictures.

It is difficult for me to evaluate the performance objectively because I have become so connected to the process and so conscious of the act of communion that is taking place. It is absolutely not about the quality of the work it is the quality of the experience - for those performing and those witnessing. We see beyond the rough edges, the bed sheets used as masking, the homemade programmes, the house lights being switched off onstage and we immerse ourselves in the enthusiasm. I don't really know how people will respond to the performance. It is different, but not that different from the other show in the double bill. Perhaps Breakfast for One has a clearer narrative and more defined characters but in some ways the narrative of Acts of Communion is the drama group defining the narrative and finding that the characters they are playing are actually themselves.

This is my main concern. Usually the audience's positive response is because of seeing people they know do things they wouldn't usually do. This is the attraction for many of amateur dramatics in the first place. The question is, in casting them as themselves, have I removed this vital piece of make-believe? The illusion is no more. We declare ourselves to be who we are and where we are. The Church Hall.

The piece is written to be delivered fast. The learning of lines. The pouring of Shloer. The movements from wedding to christening. The toasts. All slow it down. I wonder if this exposes the writing's frailties and makes the onstage action less dynamic. If people do not follow the narrative flow then there is not much for them to look at. Even the Evening Post photographer was disappointed there were no props. I wrote the wedding and the christening when I was doubting the project and doubting myself. You can tell. It does not have the confidence of the raffle and the funeral and it is interesting that we all perk up as soon as Ian and Louise start to draw tickets. This could be relief after what has come before but I believe these scenes are stronger because they were written after I made my breakthrough over the summer. What I learned from the MA. Less is more.

With hindsight I wish I could have had more time to develop the earlier sections of the writing to improve them. Make them less complicated. Make them more confident. But within the amateur dramatic framework you have strict line learning deadlines. In this respect I failed due to a lack of focus at these stages. I was still trying to make this act dovetail with another act. So that the absence in this one would be a presence in the other and vice versa. In some ways as the ideas developed so did the theme - the acts of communion that take place there. Weddings. Christenings. Funerals. Plays. I found that this part of the project dealt more with the stage presence and the presence of pretense. Absence is only hinted at but in the sense of what is not there. A cake. A Bride. A Groom. A baby. A table. Absence as in loss or change. Nothing is left of my childhood.

There will always be changes I could have made. I would have liked to have worked with silence. Have a missing scene. A dance routine where everyone has an invisible partner. But these 'could haves' and 'would haves' could go on forever. The scenes I am still not happy with are still there and we have to make them work. We will see tomorrow night whether the audience object to the style and content. There are moments I am proud of. Dealing with the taboo of life after death in a church play by having the character who dies come back as the woman who played her. Jonathan reading the wedding cards from members of the drama group that are sitting beside him. The Raffle. Overall I am more proud of the process than the product. I will miss meeting on a Wednesday night. I have known the church and the drama group in a different and brighter light. We have shared an act of communion in making the show. I hope that comes across in the writing. That this is our voice not my voice. I wanted to explore the acts of communion that take place here. I only hope the audience will feel the same way. To acts of communion.

The Evening Post

Over the last eight months, we've rehearsed 17 times, we've worked on six different versions of the script, we've drunk 142 cups of coffee, we've taken delivery of a new stage, we've received regional press coverage in the Evening Post and obtained sponsorship from Shloer. What you're about to see is the result.

The Get In

Today we assembled the stage for this week's performances at The Church on Rise Park. Usually, with the old stage it would take ten people two days. This morning it took four people one hour. We rehearsed this afternoon in front of a small audience. The show is coming together but slowly. As lines are learned and movements rehearsed. It'll be alright on the night etc. But the night is one rehearsal away. We are amateurs. I am reminded of a line from The White Album. John Lennon talking to Donovan on the Maharishi's roof about his mother teaching him how to play the banjo. 'An amateur practises until he gets it right. A professional practises until he can't get it wrong.' We only have to get it right. But if we don't it's alright. My mum's the prompt.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

MA Exposition

The MA Exposition launches on Friday night at the same time as the last night of the performance. Due to the difficulty of documenting the project at such short notice I have submitted a slideshow of images from the process to a soundtrack of interviews with the drama group. It seems to capture the aims of the project without presenting itself as the artwork. It is difficult to demonstrate the breadth of research and practice in a four minute showreel but I wanted to focus on the idea of amateur dramatics as a form of escape for which the EXIT sign has become a project motif. I wanted this film to be the voice of the drama group, of which I am now a member again.

The film raises issues of the role of the drama group in the church and the local community, the role of drama in the members' lives, and the feelings they have for it and get from it. It also features Harry talking about how he learns his lines - the inspiration for the installation - and an image of the stage blocks as they were found in the store room. I am keen for people to interpret this slideshow as a snapshot of the creative process I have undertaken in researching, developing, realising and documenting Acts of Communion.

Installation Evaluation

It was important to install the stage blocks into the Powerhouse as they were found at the Church on Rise Park. I configured them at the same angle to the door as they had been arranged when we entered the store room to collect them. The transplantantion from amateur to academic, from offstage to onstage was complete.

By opening doors that were usually left closed during performance, by switching on the working lights, by taking down the tabs I was turning the venue inside out. By playing the stage directions - the words that were never meant to be heard - with silences where there are lines - I was turning the material inside out. By arranging the stage blocks as I found them I was commenting on the memory of performance that resides within the wood and exposing visible traces of their theatrical history - palimpsests of paint, scraps of brickwork wallpaper, fliers wedged beneath the wood.

The technical equipment was arranged around and inside the stage blocks and made as visible as possible - wires trailing, LCD displays glowing. It occurred to me, during very useful and challenging discussions with Frank Abbott, that this was installative not performative, and any attempt to use stage lighting, or hide or tape down trailing wires would go against the anti-theatrical nature of the installation. To some extent I had to learn how to unprogramme my theatrical training. I come from a world where everything is meant to be hidden. There would be no presence of pretence here. I had experimented earlier with hiding the amps beneath the stage blocks but it made more sense for the mechanics of the installation to be on show, like the mechanics of performance (stage directions) heard in the audio, and the mechanics of the theatre (backstage area) exposed in the Powerhouse. I wanted visitors to feel they could walk around the backstage area, the green room, the toilets ('at the end of the corridor on the left') the kitchen, the technical cupboard. Everything became a part of the installation, an abandoned script, the scaffold tower, a blue gel on the floor, a drum kit, a fire exit.

I was interested in the proliferation of Fire Exit signs now visible in the venue. Exit as stage direction. In contrast to the handpainted sign at The Church on Rise Park, these were illuminated and came with strict health and safety guidelines. In conversation with Sophia Lycouris about how distracting these can be in a performance environment, it occurred to me that by exposing these signs and not wanting to hide them I was making this act of Acts of Communion site-specific to the Powerhouse. I had always assumed the 'site' in 'site-specific project' referred to the stage - the stage as the 'site' - and the installation could happen anywhere, but in this incarnation, the 'site' was the venue. The empty performance space, with the buzz of the working lights, the seating bank 'at ease' and the light outside the venue door which says 'Performance in Progress' deliberately left off. The work was intended to be encountered in this space in a way in which this space is rarely used. In fact, given the Powerhouse's uncertain future, it could be seen as a eulogy for the space's own performative past, involving as it did the detritus of performance.

There is a sense of absence as you enter the empty space to experience the stage directions from four acts of four plays performed on these abandoned stage blocks. Absence of narrative. Absence of physicality. Absence of action. Absence of emotion. Interestingly, two visitors to the installation, perhaps liberated by experiencing the work alone, chose to enact the stage directions they heard and film them. Sitting down, drinking from invisible cups of tea, laughing or sighing, as the disembodied voice described these actions. Physicalising perhaps what happens in our heads when we experience the work. We complete the picture. The theatrical act is made imagined. The collisions and echoes between the four acts of different lengths generate endless coincidences and feed a master narrative understanding of the work, impossible to physicalise, a world where one act's silence is filled with another act's action.

Overall, I was happy with the way the installation took shape and responded to the resonances of the space. There were moments when the porters would walk through the installation to make a cup of tea. The boiling kettle in the kitchen then became an extra layer of sound and mirrored moments in the recordings when doors slam, buses brake and kettles boil. I recorded the audio at home after finding that the amateur style best suited the amateur content. A technician would wander in to find a light. Again the work situates itself in this world of off-duty performance. Perhaps a world where the amateur meets the academic, the performed meets the unperformed, as in Richard Schechner's 'performance mobius strip.'

'real life - pretending - acting on stage - simulating - real life' Schechner, R., Performance Studies, 2002, London: Routledge

Interestingly this progression is present in the performance but it seems more forced. Here it happened without prompting, without writing, without acting. I am becoming aware that this installation seems a more appropriate vocabulary for and expression of my aims for the project. The absence of performer(s) and the importance of the encounter with the work in an empty space seems more pertinent to my research questions and this idea of 'to puzzle'.

I will develop the installation visually, aurally, technically and experiment with the work in different contexts and in different configurations. Criticisms I could make of this work in progress was that the configuration of stage blocks and technical equipment could have seemed 'too considered.' It was simply a case of placing it in an available space to see how people would interact with it. I agree it was 'considered' but I feel this what I am on the MA to do.

Interestingly perhaps only because this is a performance space do the problematics of placing the work 'centre-stage' surface, drawing as it does on the performer / audience relationship. If the work was exhibited in a gallery space then perhaps this would not be an issue.

I feel that this installation marks an important shift in my thinking from performance / live artist to visual artist and it is interesting that it is a shift I am more than comfortable with. I am beginning to think that the performance could be my last act and I will work more in the visual / installative medium in the future thanks to this MA.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No Exit

‘I suggest we call ourselves - wait! - absentees. Have you been - been absent for long?’ - Jean-Paul Sartre. No Exit (p75), Four Contemporary French Plays. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Random House, 1967.

The empty space

'I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage' - Peter Brook, The Empty Space


The moment.
The now.
Thrown back on your own devices. I will not help you with this. You have to ‘deal’. Which means cope with un-meaning. Or with the possibility of un-meaning. Or cope with not coping. Or with me not meaning. The trembling of this moment.'

- Live: Art and Performance, Tim Etchells p217

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Installation Text

The Church on Rise Park Drama Group


The Chiltern Hundreds
By William Douglas Home

The action takes place in the sitting-room of Lister Castle. Summer, 1945.

Act I

Scene 1 – General Election Day. Lunch Time.
Scene 2 – The next morning. Breakfast Time.


Fish Out Of Water
By Derek Benfield

The action takes place in the lounge of an hotel on the Italian Riviera.

Act I

Afternoon of a hot summer’s day.


Wedding of the Year
By Norman Robbins

The action takes place in the living room of the Murchinson home.

Act I

Scene 1 – Saturday morning
Scene 2 – That afternoon


Pickle in Paradise
By Sam Bate

The action takes place in Paradise – the home of the wealthy Fairfield sisters.

Act I

A summer afternoon