Dust, Red Ribbon, and Spatial Awareness || Grad School, Week 2

My second official week as a scenographer taught me a few things:

  1. The origin of sound can be a very complex thing
  2. Sound is blind
  3. Having a play is just as much a methodology as any other rubbish we’ve had shoved down our throats in dramatic education
  4. Meaning doesn’t always have to be the precursor for a performance

I’m well aware that I just threw a whole load of shite at you, but I promise I will give you a bit of context for each of those if you just keep reading.

The origin of sound can be a very complex thing.

One of the artistic explorations we went on this week in the scenography cluster involved revisiting the Swiss Cottage Library – but, this time, we brought sound recorders.

Now these weren’t your average low-budget recorder that only picked up sound if you held it directly to the source. No, no, no… these were the sort of recorders that picked up sound whether you wanted it to or not. From the incessant squeaking of my Doc Martens to the scuffing of books against shelves, I could hear EVERYTHING.

This was a good thing because it brought me to the realisation that there are a lot more sounds in a library than meets the eye. This was a really bizarre thing because I had no idea whether or not the sounds I was hearing in my headphones were from the “real world” or if I was hearing them via the recorder.

This weird displacement of sound brought about the idea that the origin of a sound is not something that is always clear. I found myself thinking about this for the rest of the week as I began to relate it back to my independent piece (which you can find more information about here).

How does the uncertainty of the origin of sound relate to the uncertainty of the origin of knowledge?

Of stereotypes?

Of gender roles?

Sound is blind.

Hear me out.

When we did that exercise with the recorders in the library, I did a lot of looking down at my journal as I recorded the things I was hearing or found interesting.

In the process of doing so, I discovered that if I didn’t look up from my page, I wouldn’t necessarily know right away that I was in a library.

The specific moment in which this idea came into my head was when I was stood in the atrium of the building. I could hear heavy doors closing, high heels traipsing across the floor, mumbled phone conversations, continuous crying from the children’s book area, and beeping of the door as people entered the building.

If I didn’t know any better, I would think I was in a hospital.

This brought me to come up with the idea that sound is blind.

What I mean by this is that sound is independent of sight, really, in that that which you hear needn’t necessarily be in cohesion with that which you see.

Sure, this is an interesting performative feature, but it is also something that happens in daily life. Imagine you are sitting on a train and the woman across from you is on the phone. You aren’t trying to eavesdrop, but we all know what trains are like. You overhear her saying how happy she is that the person on the other line received a promotion at work, how much they deserved it. She goes on and on about these feelings of utter happiness, but you can see her face… it looks dejected. The scene is set like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel – she looks out the window, fiddles with the sleeve of her jumper, and feigns a happy voice in order to cover up the reality of the situation.

What the person hears on the other line is in direct opposition with that which is existing right in front of you. The sound is separate from the sight. It is blind.

Having a play around is just as much a methodology as any other rubbish we’ve had shoved down our throats in dramatic education

Right, so I didn’t mean for this to sound quite as aggressive as it did. But, I think it’s really important that theatre artists never lose their sense of play.

Now, I don’t mean “play” as in a noun, a scripted piece of work with a beginning, middle, and an end. No, I mean the verb play, as in mess around with for fun.

Like throwing a roll of red ribbon up to the ceiling in an effort to get it to drape over the beam-like structures and laughing as a storm of dust cascades down to the floor.

Or like rolling out a massive tube of paper and shaking it about like a manic tidal wave.

My colleagues and I didn’t have some deep intention and we weren’t trying to implement some sort of technique we’d read about. We were told to use the space in which our seminar was held in order to create a short piece… and we did so by playing.

I can honestly say that I have never felt more aware of the various elements of a space before. The possibilities of the room really opened up once we explored them through play.

Meaning doesn’t always have to be the precursor for a performance

This is probably the lesson that I found most useful this week.

As a person who constantly thinks and visualises in metaphors, it can be very difficult for me to not apply meaning to everything I do.

The aforementioned exercise with the red ribbon was the perfect example for me to encounter because it showed me that it is possible to create a piece without having a clear idea of what you are trying to say first.

See, after we made the piece, we started talking about what it made us think of. Our tutor, Andreas, said it made him think of balance as a concept, as well as balance in the structure of the room. This got my group, made up of three females including myself, thinking about the power balance that exists between women. We talked about how women can sometimes tear each other down through modes of manipulation and puppeteering, rather than building each other up through acts of feminism.

This meaning came about AFTER we’d created the first draft of the piece, which allowed us to take an idea that we built from the space alone and build on it with other methods of composition.

I think this is an important exercise because, in a way, it gets artists to think in the mindset of a spectator who may not have the same metaphoric mind.

What would someone else see just from the elements they are presented with?

What are you saying with your piece to someone who has no prior knowledge of your process?

Needless to say, it’s been an eventful week.

I’m really excited by the growth that I can see myself taking part in through this experience and I cannot wait to see what comes next.



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