View Full Version : "Few seats left" reply: some books

Daniel Forlano
01-06-01, 12:56 PM
Considerations and Terms for the Street Performance Reader

Dear Robert, et al.,

I would like to add a few thoughts of my own about the recent dialogue concerning the documentation of street performance. I would also like to bring to your attention an already published book.

No doubt performance is ephemeral. That is it's joy, that is it's sorrow.

The following book has successfully tackled many of the problems you are facing as you try to define the terms of your proposed manuscript. The text is so heavy and rich with information that I can only begin to illuminate its worth:

"[The Twentieth Century Performance Reader] contains selected twentieth-century texts on performance that, together, help define the field. The selections are primarily statements or writings about performance itself: these are supplemented by key critical and theoretical texts that have helped to define or codify what artists themselves have produced. It is a book for those interested in performance in the twentieth century – a celebration of those who have led the way and who have been prime innovators. It contains writings by directors, choreographers, composers, devisers, writers and critics, as well as performers, that show how the field of performance has developed through our time. Texts speak for themselves and the ideas that they contain can be seen in relation to each other."

Beautiful. What I learn from this is that in order to give literary justice to the performing world (in our case the street performing world) and coherency for the reader, the terms used to “write” a book about performance must primarily take the act of performance as its’ subject and the practitioners of the art as its’ authors. This, as opposed an author who interprets and thereby filters performance through his/her own eyes. Take the excerpts: “together, help define the field...celebration...texts speak for themselves...in relation to each other.”
It is not an uncommon affect for a street performer to leave the viewer speechless. Performance is difficult to talk about. We see in a performance what we want to see. Agreeing on what we see is nearly impossible and becomes a competitive pursuit. What the editors of “The Twentieth Century Performance Reader” have done is create a living text, a literary performance. The book cannot be objectively defined to purport any particular view, chronologic, aesthetic, thematic or otherwise. The pleasure of reading such a book is that it can be opened from any page. The writings are not long but they are well documented and cross referenced. Chapter to chapter the writings vary so much in style that no author no matter how accomplished could create such an effect. The same is true of the street performing community: we speak best for ourselves and what we want to say we say in our show and why we say it no one else knows.
Take the following passages:

"This book allows the reader choice in the ways in which it can be used. It is not prescriptive, and therefor is not organized according to either chronological or thematic categories. After each text there is a summary that anchors it historically. There then follow some brief suggestions as to immediate connections with other authors and texts. (...)
The texts are deliberately organized alphabetically rather than chronologically but we have included a chronological list at the end, for interest. We wish to avoid spurious intimations that artists, simply by following each other chronologically, develop the idea of performance or, even worse, are part of a cultural evolution. (...)
Each text is followed by a contextual summary. Each summary gives some key facts about the author (...) followed by cross references (...)."

It also gives sources for further reading.
So many books about variety performance that I have read stray from the performances and performers themselves and become pompous, boring historical statements quick to collect dust. I imagine the most applicable book about street performers is one that functions as a consortium where a selection of the vast diversity of acts across the world and through time are brought together and presented, as texts on performance, free of geographic location or time, and that the very book in which they are compiled is a statement in itself. Something more like what the performers.net forums do for us but naturally in edited print quality form and specifically addressing the topic of performance. I imagine someone like Ira Glass being interested in such a book.
After all, if you begin to compile the chapters based on thematic constraints you have to ask yourself what purpose it serves, what statement you are trying to make about geography or time, and performance. But I think that strays from the more interesting topic of performance itself. Performance is ephemeral. So too can be a book about it. Steer free of second hand descriptions, generalizations and quantification's – let the texts speak for themselves. It does not matter if we juggle, talk, conjure, play, sing if we have something meaningful to say about our process of creating our acts and our acts themselves. But do provide the cross-references, further readings, and summaries about our inventions, achievements and innovations.

The above excerpts are from: The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, edited by Michael Huxley and Noel Witts, Routledge: 1996.
Some of the better known contributors include: Laurie Anderson, Antonin Artaud, Julian Beck, Bertolt Brecht, Trisha Brown, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Isadora Duncan, Philip Glass, Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Yvonne Rainer to name a few. Rather than continue to try to explain what the book already so eloquently achieves I will hope you get a copy yourself.
I would also like to add that Routledge has published a book Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology (Routledge: 1998). It is a vast and inclusive anthology of street performance defined by the most exhaustive terms. It, too, is an anthology, giving respect to performance as a living art form. A citation as opposed to a reiteration of the form.


[This message has been edited by Daniel Forlano (edited 04-13-2001).]