I don’t often attend ‘performance art’. There’s something about it that feels so contrived that it’s trying much too hard to prove itself worthy of recognition. I headed to Tacita Dean’s ‘Event For A Stage’ in Bay 17 of Carriageworks confident that I was going to see exactly that. Ego and wank personified. What I didn’t expect was how much I was going to enjoy it, how many questions it raised and how many ideas it generated.
The ‘Artist’ Dean utilises the ‘Actor’, Stephen Dillane (yes- that’s Stannis Baratheon for all you GoT fans) to occupy the performance space, a blank canvas, theatre-in-the-round, banks of audience surrounding it. The ‘Actor’, as he is referred to in the piece, circles the space as audience enter and we are almost oblivious to the fact that the performance has already begun as two cameras plot his every move and we all scramble for seats that feel the least intimidating for what might happen in the next forty minutes. There’s a microphone hanging from centre stage and as we settle and become conscious of the Actor’s presence, we are ready to enter the contract between actor and audience and begin that integral or sacred relationship of the theatre.
The performance is essentially a monologue and yet it feels much more than that because Dillane is not the only person on stage, although he comprehensively fills it. There are the cameras, their operators and to the side, seated in one of the front rows of the audience, there’s the ‘Artist’, as she is referred to in the program, Tacita Dean. Dean hands Dillane pages of script throughout the performance and it leads him to segueway into the elements of theatre and the role of the actor within it and in due course takes us into another level of our own consciousness of the contract we sign as audience in what we accept on stage and what we don’t.
Dillane as the Actor bridges text between real life and the artifice of acting, the role as opposed to the man, and tries to explain not only his rationale for taking on this event for a stage but his awareness as he acts upon it. It allows us to question our role in watching it, or theatre in general, and makes us believe that in many ways, we are also a character in a play. The constant references to self-consciousness and being exposed is not unlike our choices as audience in where we sit and how we behave. This is drummed home later when we are left to our own devices as Dillane/Actor leaves the space and we sit in our own silence for some time, waiting for the action to continue. The cameras are still rolling. The performance is still going. We, however, are very conscious that any movement or sound we make will attract attention, raise our own level of self-consciousness and we therefore sit silently, not wanting to acknowledge how uncomfortable we are all feeling right now.
Dillane/Actor/Dean/Artist uses the contrast of material and narrative to explore lots of interesting questions or ideas- the role of memory, of imitation, of the tropes and rhythm of dialogue and conversation, of status, of text and of art and life and whether each makes the other better or at least bearable. This is a performance that asks more questions than it answers and we observe the Actor’s battle with the questions as they arise. It is part story-telling, part recounting conversations and part seemingly autobiographical. Most of all, it is captivating.
Dillane has a voice like honey- hypnotising and likeable from the onset and although he uses it with great variety, he is easy to listen to throughout. And I couldn’t tell you if his ‘real’ stories were in fact true and that made the artifice of the stage even more interesting- the blurred lines of art and life in action. Dillane is engaging and skilled and makes every moment count.
I’m so glad I didn’t let my own preconceptions of what I was about to see turn me off entering the space and taking the risk of watching this show. I was glad for the questions and the experience and although this event for a stage had a very short run here, I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the recordings and how it might further explore the self-conscious art of art itself. I was converted.