[Essay:] Rearticulating the Distinction Between Theatre and Performance. My Personal Definitions.
Recognition of stimulus | Reaction to stimulus: fictionalisation or expulsion (performance / organic performance) | Recognition of a recipient (theatre / contractual performance)
There exists in all of us, no matter one's age, race, gender or level of intellect, a degree of instinct and consciousness and the ability to think, to cognise, to process information. One key aspect of this condition is the ability and propensity to imagine and conceptualise, and, most significantly here, the relationship between the body and the mind which grants the individual with the ability to perform. There are two main types of thought: cognition and meta-cognition, i.e. thinking, and thinking about thinking. The ability to think, perceptible in all living creatures, is one premise of my personal definition of performance. The ability to think about thinking, this is theatre.
Whatever we consider, think and feel has no necessary impact on anyone, on anything or even on ourselves. It is simply a mental and biological, instinctive and innate process. This tool of imagination is a tool of fiction. In thinking, we transform physical or conceptual informations into thoughts; we fictionalise the world in order to perceive and digest it. It is no struggle to relate such a process of generating fiction to performance. Our ability to imagine, to predict, to foresee, to relive, remember and invent is a performative aspect of the psyche. If we are angry, we may recall -- perhaps with some mental imagery -- the things that have made us angry, or we may imagine what we'd like to do to the person, being or thing that has caused our anger. This I refer to as fictionalisation, and it occurs after information has been recognised either consciously or subconsciously by the psyche. Fictionalisation is an internal performance of sorts. it is the mind's initial way of processing the information we have received, a technique, one could say, that is used by the Freudian Ich (Ego) to postulate how it should react to what has been done to the Es (Id). However, we may also choose, rather than to allow this anger to brew in thought, in our minds, to expel it, frantically waving our arms, screaming, cursing, etc. This I refer to as expulsion, and it has the same function as fictionalisation but, instead of the process of thinking, it is the process of physicalising thought; it is thought expelled into the material world through the body.
This is quite an isolated process. When we fictionalise or expel information in this way, we are not necessarily thinking about our impact on or the significance of other people, other animals or objects or even ourselves. For example, when we automatically pull our fingers away from a burning surface, we are not thinking until perhaps afterwards about our own safety, about how bad the burning could have been or about the embarrassing presence of the gazing other; instead, we simply act instinctively, unthinking. In this way, the way we deal with information is unconscious. Because the processes of fictionalisation and expulsion are unconscious, they can find themselves enacted in dreams, in fantasies and in fears… With all of this in mind, a definition for performance becomes: the automatic and unconscious reaction to stimuli once such stimuli have been recognised by the psyche. This performance type I refer to as organic performance.
Theatre, however, as alluded to above, is a meta-cognition; it is the conscious recognition that these processes, i.e. performances, have taken place –– or, indeed, are taking place. Once the dream has ended, once we've pulled our hands away from the heat source, we remember and we reflect, much like we do when attending the conventional theatre. This recognition I refer to as recipience. I shall elaborate: imagine you have a small child who bursts into a tantrum. This is a performance, for it is an expulsion of otherwise uncommunicable emotions and feelings, unmet desires, and thoughts. Once we recognise that the child is performing, we enter irreversibly and unnegotiably into a theatrical contract with them, and we are forced to perform alongside them: we walk away from them or we stand still and demonstrate our disapproval or perhaps we concede and give the child what we think they want. The child in this instance is the performer and we have become an audience member of sorts, a witness, a participant in the event. Being that the performance is an expulsion of information, we receive it (hence 'recipience'), and we are forced to react to it, but the main difference here is that we are conscious that we have received the information, and we now react consciously to it, not instinctively and naturally as we would in performance.
To complicate things, though, this tantrum could also become theatre in itself. Instead of expelling feeling, emotion, desire and thought naturally and unthinkingly, as perhaps was originally the case, once the child notices we are reacting –– or perhaps the child sees a stranger looking on and acts up even more, knowing that the resulting embarrassment we will feel from their gaze might encourage us to concede quicker –– the child enters itself into a theatrical contract, too. The child is aware that its performance (containing its emotional data) is being received, and so any further performance from the child is decisive and deliberate, not instinctive and unthinking. In this way, theatre is a form of self-recognition, self-analysis, self-policing and, of course, metacognition. It recognises and demands that the self be included in the performance(s) of another.
To complicate things even further, one can enter into a theatrical contract with imagined persons or groups as well as real. I shall elucidate: you have a job interview, and you look at your daily planner and see 'interview' written down for tomorrow. This is the recognition of a stimulus. Without thinking, you start imagining the route you'll have to take tomorrow to get there. This is fictionalisation. Next, you sit down and breathe slowly to remain calm. This is expulsion. Then, you imagine yourself in the interview, talking to yourself and rehearsing –– the word 'rehearsing' should not be taken overlooked here –– what you will say to the interviewer. Here, a shift happens, and you start considering what the interviewer will be thinking about you and thus how you are presenting [performing] the desired information on your abilities and traits to them. You imagine what they might generally look like, where they will be positioned in the scene, how they are sitting, whether or not they are engaged and responsive, what they sound like, what they're saying to you… this is theatre, and in its most traditional form: suddenly, we have a setting, a plot, lines, characters… You have recognised that the information you're giving about yourself will be received by someone (or, rather, is being received by the imaginary interviewer in front of you in this very moment), and so you change the way you perform the information in order to accommodate this recipient.
When we praise ourselves for the good-sounding phrases we used in our imagined interviews, or when, disappointed, we depreciate ourselves for sounding terrible, when we laugh at ourselves or fill with pride, or when we repeat the phrases again and again to remember them or to rearticulate them, we become the recipients of our own performances; we enter into a theatrical contract with ourselves.
As soon as we acknowledge an onlooker, someone who is both the recipient of the information we provide and the provider of information that we are to receive, whether this is a real or imagined person or even us ourselves as we self-criticise and metacognise, and as soon as we start to tailor our performances, to rehearse them, to police them, this becomes theatre. This second performance type I refer to as contractual performance.
In summary, performance is a mediator between the internal and the external worlds. When this is acknowledged, be it in everyday life by ordinary people or by performance scholars and critics, this becomes theatre. Theatre is thus a recognised form of art, where art is a form of expression and expulsion. Performance is both inside and outside the mind and body of the individual, and theatre, in its obnoxious and ubiquitous presence, is inside and outside the mind and body of the group.
Amongst the fairies, giants, witches and trolls, kings and queens, princes and princesses, there is one figure in particular who skulks through and across the fairytale world and haunts our imaginatio