Reflecting Performative Dramaturgy

Framing. Any event that takes place before an audience bears the potential of being meaningful if it is framed by the notion of ‚taking place within a given time’. Thus during each step of the artistic process the function of dramaturgy is to take into consideration potential and existing framing procedures.

Translation. Staged events are bound to making sense of and by the audience who by interpreting become the authors of the performance. Thus dramaturgy deals with three issues of translation: a. How does the artist transform his/her concept into working practice (translation from thinking into doing)? b. Which aesthetic strategies does the artist make use of in the art work? (codification) 3. How does the art work communicate to the audience? (translation of codes)

Sense. Meaning is created by paradigmatic substitution of events with the audience attributing content, off stage. For example the spectator reads: this gesture is meant as salutation, or a waving hand, or as an intentional movement or an involuntary tick of the actor. Sense is a selective concatenation of units in the process of time, the logic of an enchaînement of movements. Sense is not expressed by one single unit, but rather by succession (ordering on time-line) of these units. Without a following one, the precedent unit doesn’t make sense.

Temporality. Dramaturgy creates the inherent logic of a (dance) performance by focussing on temporal structures. Whereas choreography produces space, creating it with bodies moving towards and with each other, (dance) dramaturgy organizes the temporality of events in space, their temporal relation to each other: succession and duration of events which organize events in order to become scenes.

Codification. The artistic process is a visible result of a double translation from concept into rehearsal, and from rehearsal into the art work. Neither concept, rehearsal process, and art work, nor the process of translation do reside outside cultural modes. Since the logic of a given artistic practice is conditioned by cultural habits (codes), the process necessarily exceeds authorial intention and is always already effectuated by pre-given acts, incorporated knowledge and embodied habits. This double bind secures cultural accessibility for the audience if it shares e.g. similar cultural background and is thus able to follow the codes laid out in the work. Dramaturgy takes on a binocular perspective that keeps an eye on both encoding (inherent structuring of work) and decoding (cultural reading of work). If for the sake of artistic innovation, codes intact are violated (avantgarde), if decoding within the given cultural contract is arbitrarily rendered impossible, dramaturgy has to mark the act of artistic violation ‚as the act of artistic violation’ within the given codes, has to frame aesthetic aberration as being part of codification. If not, every intended violation of cultural codes is in danger of failing, being simply white noise for the audience.

Ideology. If dramaturgy temporalizes events, the process of which leads to a structure that orders sense and thus enables encoding/decoding of meaning; thus, dramaturgy can’t help bringing forth ideology. Dramaturgy is not simply establishing a neutral container of content, it rather creates content that affirms or defies power structures. Dramaturgy of contemporary dance for example often opts for parataxis of theatrical events in order not to affirm the power of cultural representation.

Practice. The work of dramaturgy is a practice as opposed to analytical theory such as performance analysis or reviews. Dramaturgy is emphatically inherent to the artistic process, and occurs in the same time as the process takes place. Being conceived as an artistic practice, it is never too early (like books) or too late (like analytical reviews), doesn’t simply superimpose precedent academic research or scientific knowledge on the process. For dramaturgy (as a practice) does not structure pre-given meaning and applies it to the work, but rather creates sense that has not been revealed so far. Let’s call it performative dramaturgy from now on.

Visualization. Performative dramaturgy doesn’t start with the rehearsal process as the process of rehearsing is already informed by earlier artistic decisions. These decisions have been informed by a pre-selection that is subject to in- and exclusions; the artistic process starts when the concept is communicated to a third party. What is said, what is the usage of words, how is the concept conveyed, what hasn’t been said, stays in the dark? Where is discourse precise, where is it metaphorical, or even rhetorical? Further on, the dramaturgical take on the process – this is decisive – should visualize the concept and give it a ‚body’, materialize it by an object. What would be the objects that are considered to be useful? What kinds of objects are used? And more importantly, how are these objects arranged in space? What is their temporal relation to each other, to the surrounding space, to the users? And later on, if these objects are replaced by bodies, dancers, performers in the given set-up, how would they experience the structure of this arrangement?

Physicality. The role of the classic dramaturg as it is understood by classic theatre is being halfway in and out; s/he looks from outside, from the perspective of a pre-given text, from a pre-existing thought, for the text material is ‚already’ existing, the sense of which ‚simply’ has to be transformed into another media, into another container of meaning. The dramaturg in this understanding is like the literary text: Off stage. The classic dramaturg thus acts like the defender of the Holy Grail aka the dramatic text. His eloquence is in favour of the text, the document, his silence is the silence of the text. Therefore, text-based dramaturgy is the work of literature. Performative dramaturgy does not administrate sense that is to be applied from outside the artistic process, it is creative by ‚a physical doing of form from within’. Doing dramaturgy does not simulate a process on a piece of paper, it rather executes form in time and space, gives a body to thinking. A body that literally walks through what can be called ‚structure of events’: a layout of scenes, of events on the floor creating a landscape of thoughts in space; a structural constellation of bodies which represent scenes, units, events and their relation to each other. Visualizing and embodying by performing the structure itself. Emancipating from an idea on paper by placing the idea into time and space, giving it a body. Sharing creative power, thus sharing responsibility rather than thinking around the process. Developing dramaturgy in a visible group process rather than empowering one single person from outside ‚who knows’. Performative dramaturgy takes on experience and the bodies involved as specific, as singular sites of physical knowledge. Instead of merely delivering text books, photos, concepts, instead of relying on documents, it is enmeshed in the art process, in its monumentality, in its unmountable corpus and the experience hereof.

Experience. Performative dramaturgy is both experimental and experiential. It’s an art form, not a science.

A previous version of the text is published in: Haitzinger, Fenböck (ed.): Denkfiguren – Performatives zwischen Bewegen, Schreiben und Erfinden. epdodium 2010