i'm writing this blog having bowed out almost halfway through a 5-hour performance organised with boni cairncross at alaska projects. that's a performance quit and a fail within 3 days*.
this morning i had already fucked up the beginning (thanks to my 5:30am alarm not going off) and after 90 minutes of skype connection/internet awfulness, i pulled my end of it.
within half a second of the last skype drop-out, i realised a few things that prompted me to pull the plug:
- i was not actually performing to anyone - thanks to the live connect to sydney dropping out, and the rest of my fellow residents at performance space still trying asleep and hating me.
- the sound of my own voice over and over again (without an audience) is the complete antithesis of my work. i needed boni or others to make this perfomance worthwhile for me - i believe that a speaker needs a listener, and a listener needs a speaker.
- the tech wasn't ever going to work and the performance was supposed to be about the endurance of speaking and listening, rather than the endurance of tech.
- it just wasn't right.
i texted boni:
"i'm going to have to log a DNF. the tech is not happening and the listening isn't either. go forth and i'll see you at the end"
i had quit.
"it'll be alright on the night"
today's performance was something we'd been planning for months, actually. we had talked about the score, discussed what we'd wear, done a tech run two days earlier that ran really nicely and i set up everything perfectly last night before i went to bed.
after a terrible night's sleep and waking up too early, i woke up properly to a phone call from boni, 30 minutes after our start time. 45 minutes after i was supposed to first call in. FUCK.
i got dressed very quickly, sans underwear, basic make-up, deodorant, that's it.
i connected everything quickly (thanks to said preparation), but the sound from sydney was awful. i couldn't hear boni at all and i just had to start somewhere in the middle of a 15-page score.
we were out of sync, but i just read and read, recording and struggling with trying to just ignore the drop-outs and barely hearing boni.
when skype flaked out again and again, i just played the recording in the space. my PA system was popping loudly - scaring the shit out of residents here in performance space. when skype connected again, i kept reading. i don't think i was actually live for all that long. i don't know. but it was awful. all of it.
and it was awful with the only "audience" being two pissed off artists who had been woken up and frightened. and a stack of other people trying desperately to not hear me so that they could sleep until a reasonable hour on sunday morning (it was 7am BST). i couldn't even redeem the performance by having it be witnessed.
we called a 5-minute interval at 8 so that we could start again and synchronise. skype and/or the internet failed again. it was after that i decided to quit.
like a marathon runner who quits after 10 miles. like sally robbins.
so what do you do when it's not alright on the night?
when, despite the best preparation, it fucks up completely and you make a godawful mess of it? when even the salvage is not really worth salvaging? how much do you suffer needlessly?
when do you quit? if you're an australian, you never quit. marina abramovic never quits.
perhaps this means i don't have what it takes to make great work. i'm not willing to suffer enough.
malcom gladwell wrote about choking and panic in sport, but in a performance it's not quite the same. or is it?
must live art be experienced live?
this question is part of the ongoing investigation that boni and i have been part of. it's also something that, due to programs like Skype and the proliferation of documentation, is a question that is crucial to live arts practice.
unlike boni, i had no audience when my tech failed. i had a room full of sleeping bodies and two artists sitting outside trying to not listen: no one to experience the work, to witness the struggle, to find meaning in the expression of sound and words. and in fact, i was too conscious of the lack. of their turned backs.
perhaps i didn't think far enough outside the box.
perhaps the idea of an antagonistic audience could have been enough to sustain the work.
but at the time, in the moment, it wasn't. and the place of 'live-ness' - witness, became more important to my performance practice than i thought.
either way, it has been another difficult opportunity for me to learn more about performing. i don't like not winning, even when i know that it's good for me.
and i do wish that i had been able to support boni in her marathon, in her quest to investigate relay and liveness. perhaps i still have.
*i did a work the other night that failed because it was naff. very naff. i'll write about failure soon.