Well, I did it. Initial feedback seems encouraging and people laughed in the right places and clapped at the end. What more could I hope for?Now seems a good time to see if I fulfilled my original intentions and work out where to go from here. My tutor commented "I think it is fair to say that the final piece was an expression of some of the frustrations you found about doing the piece" and I think she's right, it is fair to say that. However I have also come to realize that, although I was deeply frustrated at times and at other times felt that I could not stay true to my aims, to a certain extent I have fulfilled a lot of my initial criteria. There are other instances where I failed but from that failure I have begun to acquire an awareness of how and why things can go wrong and how to move from that point into future work .I would like to take some of the work I generated in my C.E.P. and move it off-line.The final script featured lines of text from Finish This and also evolved directly out of studying the content and form of that particular blog. I also wanted, for my personal practice to have this opportunity to experiment with taking a piece of work forward beyond the confines of the college defined project length, to run with it and see where I ended up. I've ended up discovering a little of what it means to write for performance rather than for writings sake, but more of that later.Through the course of the original project, links were being made between new writing and existing texts from various media. I would like to continue this progression (i) and also take myself out of the relatively isolated context of the Internet (ii) and begin to bring a physicality to text that currently only inhabits a virtual space (iii). I also wish to continue with the existing collaboration and invite others to participate.
I would like to continue holding my documentation at http://startingthis.blogspot.com/ where my actions and progression through the project are held up to public scrutiny and comment. I am hoping that a rehearsal process can be shaped on-line in much the same way as the original writing was.
(i) I never did link my writing to existing writing in quite the way that I would have liked, I toyed with using song lyrics for a while, staying true to the Finish This ideal of moving a line into a new context to give it new meaning, but I feel that avenue required a separate project as, to do it hurriedly, became trite and forced. I also looked at taking first lines of novels and rearranging them but this only led to more non-performative text presenting the same trouble I had using the Finish This texts in a 'straight' way.
It became quickly apparent that I could not just 'cut and paste' the texts into a script and then perform it, they were not performative texts. Rather, I would have to take inspiration from them and then write new material. This also seemed to be in the spirit of my C.E.P., a line, a word, authored by another, expanded upon to create something entirely new. The original word or phrase was often unidentifiable in its new context but their was always a way to trace it back to it's source through hyperlinks. The audience at the performance was provided with the address' of both Finish This (containing its own links to show the origination of the text components) and this documentation blog, where, should they so choose, they could trace back through the process to see how the piece evolved and where the lines started. In this way, a different group of people have a chance to engage with the work of online community that collaborated to create the primary texts.
(ii) This project was always personally intended to be a collaboration and I believe that the majority of moments of indecision or frustration or unclearness in direction came out of the fact that it remained a solo piece and I became even more isolated in my work.
The project is designed as a solo project but I felt that by blogging regularly about my process I would receive the same support/criticism/suggestion that I had previously. This was not to be.
Right at the very beginning of the project my computer went down and I had no access to the internet. This meant that a lot of my entries were posted, en masse, up to a few weeks after the date that they happened. Although this backdating has had its uses, it has meant that my writing has not had the immediacy and the regular updates that keep a blogs readership reading. Had a reader had the chance to accompany me through the process then more comments may have been engendered. Again because of the backdating, even if a comment had been received on a particular post, the project may have already moved on from there rendering the comment less useful. This also means that it was impossible to pursue the aim of having a rehearsal process shaped by daily suggestion, in much the same way as 'Playing Grounds' ;
Because of the failure of the documentation to function as efficiently on all the level I had intended, I had to come to view the project in a different light. No longer was I going to be presenting a piece of work, polished by a continuing test audience throughout the process. Instead, I was going to be working alone and the performance was to become the moment of experimentation.
Blogging is generally a long process, a regular readership takes time to build up through word of mouth or self promotion. That readership will quickly dwindle if they keep returning to the site and finding nothing new. This is especially true of blog-art and Finish This. The text that is there is unread and stagnant. In order to breath new life into it the blog must continually present something new that incites the reader to want to know its history. I have previously stated that I was unable to attract or maintain the feedback and comments that I sought. However early on in the process I received valuable input from Geof Huth (the earliest collaborator and initial inspiration for Finish This). His input seems to confirm the theory that had I posted regularly to maintain a readership, their comments would have greatly improved the clarity of direction and purpose that I lacked.
(iii) Returning to the studio and attempting to bring a physicality to the text was a more difficult process than I had anticipated. The aforementioned, unexpected, continuing isolation, bred frustration and ultimately negativity about my own abilities to create and communicate. I had to learn to work through this negativity in order that I did not 'freeze' completely. The negativity was counter productive and led to, fiercely critical, self-editing and an inability to present anything. I think the communication failure came out of trying to pursue to many ideas. There were so many themes and styles that had come out of the original project that I, initially, felt unable to reject, that I never committed to a single idea and thoroughly worked with it, explored it. I should have realized earlier that I couldn't cover everything in a project with such a short duration and should have simplified exactly what it was that I was trying to communicate. At the time I was to precious about trying to include all the levels that I wanted that in the end the performance may only have strongly communicated that I was frustrated and struggling with myself within the project.
All of this provided confirmation that I wish to continue practicing as a writer but that I would like to work on projects that allow me to write concurrently with a rehearsal process, the performers and the writer taking inspiration and feeding back into each others work throughout a rehearsal process. I admire the approach that Timberlake Wertenbaker undertook in writing 'Our Country's Good', writing material for the next days rehearsal based on transcripts and ideas from that days rehearsal. In this way the work was continually evolving out of what had gone before until a final script emerged. I attempted a similar process of evolving the text from the previously written (for example, the list of phrases taken from the original texts evolved over time into a list of awkward feeling when frozen into inaction but still contained key words and moments from the original text) but couldn't adequately work with it in the studio and observe myself working with it at the same time. In my next project for my degree I will be working with a director and two performers and we will attempt to work like Wertenbaker to devise new theatre.
Preparing a script, especially with the prescriptive staging that I became interested in, was also difficult when I didn't try it in the space. What looks good on paper doesn't necessarily translate and therefore there is a world of difference between writing and writing for performance. I feel that unless one has years of experience in writing for performance then one must continually try, assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the writing in the space, preferably with an 'outside eye' or two present. It's a symbiotic process between writer and what happens in the space. I seemed to lose site of this fact and internalized my work until I wasn't sure if I was saying what I thought I was saying. This could also explain where issues of performance clarity came about, themes that were obvious to me, knowing the body of work as I did, may not have even been present.
I could also have been helped if I had stuck to my side of the Contract for Working. On a practical level, I remained in contact with my tutor and informed her of my whereabouts, progress reports were available at Start This, but when I needed help I shied away from asking. This came out of the frustration I was feeling that I should be 'doing better' and the embarrassment I felt when presenting something I didn't feel was 'ready'. This was a counter-productive attitude that meant that I did not receive as much as I could have, and wasn't always amenable to, the support/advice/criticism that we had negotiated. 'Rod' and 'own back' spring to mind.
What did I want?
To put a little of the process of creating the Finish This texts into my product - I considered telling, in a performative way, the story of the interaction that created the original texts but in the end it was more important to focus on what it was about the project that excited me, being the centre of writers/voices and facilitating a conversation that created something new out of the old. I tried to take this into the piece by showing the protagonist responding to an outside voice and fighting to present something new out of the repetition and fear of repetition that they were given. I have realized, after the fact, that this outside voice was me talking also to me. How isolated and introspective could I get? Of course I would struggle to present something new when my source material was past or internal. I believe that in the future I will have to look outside of that which I know, look to the new to find the new.
To express something of the format of blogging - This again is something for the future, should I take on the work I have done for this project, it would be interesting to present the piece, as Geof Huth suggested, looped, in a variety of locations and times, for a variety of audiences, then invite them to comment. This would be an attempt to mimic the way in which a blog interacts with its audience. In the end the piece could continually shift in response to its on and off-line feedback and in that way emulate how blog content and style shifts through time in response to its readership. This would be a good way to free the performance up and help to lessen frustration/stagnation in the devising and performing process. In this way I would be engineering an obsolete voice from the past into influencing present and future work, an aim I didn't explore fully. New life is breathed into the "cobweblog" by what comes out of it.
To have the text read by its original authors - this was not practical due to continental differences in location but as I have previously said, I should have experimented with truly outside voices and then my response may have been fresher and more genuine.
To progress the he/she personas created in Finish This - This never happened, to do this I don't think that I would wish to perform, I would rather take two actors and work with them using the source text to create a more character driven piece, again using the work informing the writing informing the work approach.
To provide very detailed stage directions - This is something I looked at and the presented piece was informed by that research but to truly achieve the precision of Beckett I'd need his experience, genius or to work as previously stated within a system of constant testing of the writing.
To explore notions of repetition, remembering, forgetting, starting, stopping, the inability to these things and the consequences of that - I think I should have taken just one of these to run with, conversely by narrowing my thematics I would've widened my options in writing and performance, given myself time to look at something in depth rather than skirt lightly round all of them.
To present something stripped back and uncluttered - see above! The staging was simple as well as props and lighting (not costume - my frock was a giant fifties ball-gown and I looked like the fat kid at a five year olds tea party!) but the contents of the piece was not specific enough in it's themes and what generally emerged was "an expression of some of the frustrations you found about doing the piece".
To present a accessible, short, contemporary piece to an intimate audience - Check.
A key moment for me, possibly my 'Miracle Moment" was the decision to use this line within the piece:
I want you, too, to have this experience
so that we are more alike
so that we are closer, bound together, sharing a point of view
This line is directly lifted from Finish This and before that from the weblog My Life by Lyn Heijinian (blogger unknown) and before that from the book 'My Life' by Lyn Heijinian. I felt that all the way through the piece I had, at the most basic, just been trying to share a little text with an audience but I was only addressing them indirectly and sometimes obscurely through the tape. What better way of achieving this fundamental aim than to just say a line from Finish This to them? The line worked on that level and also through it's content, the protagonist meant every word and as a writer it somes up the experience of writing to share.
Out of the frustrations and difficulties I encountered I have begun to create my own system of tools for writing/devising including specifying a form for content, (although I feel this should be placed later in the process than I did and should arise out of experimentation rather than stylistic choices) this form could be specific to an individual performance and by placing restrictions or limitations upon the writer their worked would be influenced by these arbitrary rules and hopefully culminate in an internal logic for the piece and a code for the performers to work with and in. This theory needs further looking at, hopefully I will be able to try it for my end of year performance but be willing to reject the strict limitations if they prove creatively disabling.
There seems to be an awful lot of documentation considering the relative shortness of the project. This is because, having started backdating, I allowed myself to continue so I could really take a look at where thing went right and wrong and how they affected me. Had I tried to do documentation of this length within the month confines of the project, I can't see that I would have had any time to write creatively, although had all gone swimmingly, the daily posts would be more about inviting and responding to comment and evaluating that days rehearsal rather than a retrospective document and subsequently a shorter document.
What I produced during the course of this project is not as important as how I got there. The piece is a work in process and I feel that should the work continue under the suggestions and circumstances I have outlined above, that it would still culminate in a shifting outcome that reflects the forms and conventions of weblogging. And this project, in the end, has been less important in terms of fulfilling designated aims than it has to the understandings I have gained into the direction, strengths, weaknesses and hopes for the future of my practice. It seems that by undergoing such a struggle to create/write I have been forced to question my actions/responses much more deeply than I would if I'd breezed through with few problems. I may not have been totally successful in achieving what I set out to but my priorities shifted and what I've learnt in the end will probably be of greater benefit to my writing as a whole.
Blogging and collaborative writing within the realms of blog-art are relatively new forms (as is blog-art itself), it's hard to find examples of other work in this area as there is very little. Examples of collaboratively written blogs as art or space based work from blogs are few and far between. For my dissertation I will be exploring this further and hoping to generate forum based conversations on the subject.
I'm confident the dearth of information and examples will change over time. Blogging as a medium is continually growing with something like 7000 new blogs started daily and out of this number more and more artists, recently including Forced Entertainment are seeing how useful the form can be not only as documentation but also an aid to process and art piece in its own right. As the community grows conventions will emerge that the blog-artist can use or fight against, either way the discussion and work will be opened out and the new blog-artist will have precedents to support and inform their choices.