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Text and Performance Quarterly


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The Space Between: Phenomenologies of Audience, Performer, and Place


for Three Performances of Menopause and Desire
Christie Logan

To cite this Article Logan, Christie'The Space Between: Phenomenologies of Audience, Performer, and Place for Three
Performances of Menopause and Desire', Text and Performance Quarterly, 25: 3, 282 — 289
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10462930500210057
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10462930500210057

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Text and Performance Quarterly
Vol. 25, No. 3, July 2005, pp. 282 /289

The Space Between: Phenomenologies


of Audience, Performer, and Place for
Three Performances of Menopause
and Desire
Christie Logan
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Because I’ve had the good fortune to see this performance at three different locales, in
three different contexts, for three different audiences, I have the opportunity to
analyze differences in my experience as audience for each event, and as participant
observer of each audience. Not surprisingly, the various performances were distinct,
in ways subtle and incidental, visible and formative. In retrospect, I’m struck with the
ways in which the intersections of performer performing, place and context, and
audience generated different dynamics, different experiences, and perhaps different
meanings as the text and scripted actions were articulated in each site.
I begin with Elin Diamond’s claim that ‘‘performance is always a doing and a thing
done’’ (1). As audience for each of these performances, I will examine the ‘‘certain
embodied acts, in specific sites, witnessed by others’’ while being intensely aware that
I am also attempting to explicate ‘‘the thing done, the completed event framed in
time and space and remembered, misremembered, interpreted, and passionately
revisited across a pre-existing discursive field’’ (1). Indeed, my responses to this
performance piece can be seen as constituting a discursive field, with added layers for
each successive encounter with Menopause and Desire.
The three venues for performance are related as locales, but distinct in how each
evolved into a specific space with a particular ambiance* zeitgeist, if you will* and
/ /

rhythm for each performance. This zeitgeist is phenomenologically created as


performer and audience converge in a setting and the performance evolves. Extending
Michel de Certeau’s distinction between ‘‘place’’ and ‘‘space’’ to a theatrical venue is
useful for examining that venue’s transformation once an audience and performer
move into it.1 Where place denotes a static physical location (its enduring reality),
‘‘[a] space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by

Christie Logan is Professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Northridge.


Correspondence to: Professor Christie Logan, Communication Studies, California State University,
Northridge, Northridge, CA 91330-8257, USA. Email: christie.logan@csun.edu

ISSN 1046-2937 (print)/ISSN 1479-5760 (online) # 2005 National Communication Association


DOI: 10.1080/10462930500210057
The Space Between 283

the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced
by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a
polyvalent way’’ (de Certeau 117). A place becomes space when it is collaboratively
changed; mere physical context becomes animated as it is ‘‘actualized’’ in interactions.
Especially in live performance, this co-production of space is inherently performative
and progressive. De Certeau continues, ‘‘space is like the word when it is spoken, that
is, when it is caught in the ambiguity of an actualization, transformed into a term
dependent upon many different conventions, situated as the act of the present (or of a
time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts’’ (117).
This dynamic imbued, and still defines, my first interaction with a performance of
Menopause and Desire, at the Lake Superior Festival hosted by Professor Gary
Balfantz in November, 2002. The festival was small enough to be completely
plenary* all participants were able to see all the performances brought by attending
/
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schools and featured faculty performers. We gathered, workshopped, discussed, and


performed in one big room with a raised platform stage at one end. Lee’s
performance came on the second night of a three-day festival. The performance
space by this point was familiar and malleable, a truly transformable space layered
with ghostings of all the performance work we’d done there. Any audience coming in
to a venue brings with it experiences, assumptions, and expectations, and we also
came in as an already formed creative community, jazzed at the prospect of what was
to come.2 I can still see the stage and set pieces draped with Mardi Gras beads; the
pink boa worn by Desire in the ‘‘Dialogue between Menopause and Desire’’; the
bucket and rubber gloves at the side, waiting for ‘‘Cleaning the Refrigerator.’’ A small
table and chair, a stool. A spare and simply composed set; a place awaiting
transformation into space. Then the opening music, and Lee comes out.
The performance was magical, wondrous, and thrilling for us all. This was one of
those peak performance experiences, where we all rode waves of energy and emotion
flowing back and forth, weaving the audience and performer into the same action.
We* audience and performer* seemed in perfect concert as Lee moved us through
/ /

the many emotional arcs and re-membered, re-embodied moments of this piece.
Meiling Cheng’s description of this magic is apt. As performer, Lee was ‘‘the
perceptual center who gleans, assembles, and sifts from diverse sources* memories,
/

diaries, family albums, ancestral lore, cultural fictions, outright fabrications* the
/

heterogeneous fragments of a self-in-progress’’ (196). It is the performed self-in-


progress who calls us into the space and duration of the performance; we become
audience selves-in-progress. Lee initiated the performative action of bringing us in,
making a space for us and then with us. She became ‘‘the body actively creating the
‘locus’ [an audience] will inhabit for a certain duration’’ (196), and we gladly joined
her there. This phenomenological shift engenders and sustains the space that exists
for the duration of the performance, and then only in memory. Cheng describes it
thus: ‘‘Every component in this scenario is temporary: the live action, the affective
locus inhabited by a heterogeneous congregation, and the perceptions of dialogic
exchange and communion are all gauged, manipulated, and adjourned by time’’
(196 97).
/
284 C. Logan

This phenomenology of place, audience, and performer performing is brought into


relief, if not intensified in its operations, in autobiographical or autoethnographic
performance* what Meiling Cheng calls ‘‘self performance,’’ a term that is most apt
/

for Menopause and Desire. The subject presented is the artist herself, but an engaged
audience apprehends a larger subject, multiple subjects in her particular experiences.
Cheng describes this complicity and reciprocity thus: ‘‘Self performance proffers a
sheltered arena for a subjugated individual to publicly name, disclose, and legitimize
her/his selfhood and otherness* the secret collage of strangeness that affects us all’’
/

(195, second emphasis added). At the festival, the performed event and its animate
space evolved in the interstices and conjunctions of human beings confronting their
own idiosyncrasy and intersubjectivity; its character emerged from the generous
reciprocity of strangers who formed a transient collective of others. For me, one of
the lessons of this particular performance was that we are all, in some ways, others.
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A similar dynamic characterized the performance at the National Communication


Association convention in November 2003, though without the acknowledged
intimacy and intense collectivity, the outright jubilation, of the festival. The physical
venue carried the traces of its current history as had the festival room, but had a
different ambiance. This meeting room was familiar to us; it had housed Performance
Studies Division programs for the prior two days of the convention. This room had
been used primarily for scholarly talk and academic presentations, so its ambiance
was collegial and collaborative but not so personalized and invested as the festival
room. The room was huge* it easily would hold a hundred audience members, on
/

two tiers of seating. There was a raised platform in front* roughly twice as wide as
/

the festival stage. As before, the stage set was spare and expressive* the beads, the
/

boa, the bucket and gloves, the table and chair. The room was somewhat cavernous,
with high ceilings and the oddly ornate walls of hotel convention rooms. For the
performance, the room was filled with Performance Studies Division colleagues and
also with folks from other divisions who were intrigued by the title and came to see
what they could experience and learn. This was a motivated and knowledgeable
audience, some experienced artists* writers, performers, and directors * others
/ /

experienced and dedicated audience.


As audience for this performance, I was much more aware of the rhythms that
move us through the ten poems of the three scenes. Partly because I was familiar with
the script, I could focus on the progression of immediately performed moments that
take us* performer and audience* on the journey through the piece. In this space,
/ /

I discerned more clearly the collage of disparate memories and stories that emerge as
unified for the audience as we participate in the progressive present of enactment. In
the shared space and time of performance we collaborate to create this felt unity.
Cheng writes, ‘‘I submit that the subjectivity portrayed and enacted by a self
performer is both decentered (as traces that scatter all over the piece) and recentered
(as auto-inscriptions acted out here-and-now in a communal/theatrical site)’’ (196).
The self performed is provisional and emergent: ‘‘There is no predetermined self-
identity worn by the artist like a set costume. On the contrary, the artist’s
performative action itself constitutes, displays, and disseminates the impressions of
The Space Between 285

a self through time. Thus, self performance presents nothing but shards of an
individual life temporarily illuminated for the occasional gathering of witnessing
others’’ (198). The attending participation of these witnessing others is essential for
this kind of performance. The ten interconnected poems of Menopause and Desire are
intensely personal and unflinchingly honest. In eight of the ten poems, Jenkins
explicitly addresses the audience.3 It is clear: our presence is the reason she speaks;
our shared location offers the space for performance.
The episodic structure of the performance (poem shift poem shift etc.) makes
/ / / /

the progression of the piece seem linear, but it is not. Also, the staging of shifts
between pieces makes it seem there is closure, but it’s an illusion. Jenkins completes a
scenario or story, shifts position and we move on with her. There are many emotional
and intellectual arcs in the performance, but few tidy resolutions. As we progress
through the three scenes, themes, threads, and traces appear, disappear, reappear.
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Here in this space, I experienced the emotional progression as more kaleidoscopic,


circular or perhaps helical, and this requires a motivated and reflective audience.
The convention audience was up to the task; once again, the audience was engaged
and coalesced into a collective. Our responses were organic, and the energy flowed
between performer and audience; there seemed to be a unity of focus and a
willingness to join the performer in the space between. The chuckles, outright
laughter, silences, and stillness among the audience seemed to me to become more
collective as the performance progressed. This coalescence of commitment and
engagement was clear to me with the number of hands that went up once the
postshow discussion started; additionally, the liveliness of our discussion demon-
strated the audience’s investment in this shared experience.
In autobiographical or self performance, the performed self is not only provisional
and emergent, she’s also dependent on the cooperation, even the collusion, of the
audience. These ‘‘shards,’’ these traces of memory, of yearning, of regret, and of
possibility, require the audience’s collective focus and emotional collaboration. So
what happens when an audience stays discrete, when it resists this collusion?
Audiences, as Gingrich-Philbrook reminds us, are free agents: ‘‘Whatever register I, as
a personal narrator, choose, I, as an audience member, will sometimes play along with
and sometimes resist, often in ratio, the textual cues I offer’’ (vii). This notion of an
autonomous* perhaps even contrary* audience helps me make sense of the very
/ /

different performance of Menopause and Desire on my campus in October 2003. This


event was mere weeks before the NCA performance, yet it is an anomaly in its
dynamics and outcomes.
The campus performance took place in a small music recital hall, so the acoustics
were fantastic. The seating was raked around the stage, beginning at stage level. We
liked this room, found it intimate and theatrical. The stage was wider than the
other two stages but was set as before. Too late, I noticed in the performance that
the set and the performer seemed swallowed in the bare spaces on the expanse of
stage. I should have brought the playing area in more tightly to center, I realized.4
We only had time for a cue-to-cue rehearsal, which we completed a scant thirty
minutes before curtain. The audience was small and scattered throughout the room.
286 C. Logan

In retrospect I see that this venue was fraught with empty places* within the /

audience as well as the space between audience and stage. The audience was
fragmented demographically, comprising students (mostly in their early twenties)
and several members of the campus feminist network (mostly of my cohort, late
forties to sixties in age). Perhaps these younger students were aware of the ‘‘other’’
audience; perhaps this made them more reflexive, more reticent in responding as a
result. Perhaps too this ‘‘other’’ audience of older women faculty was aware of the
students’ reticence, more reflexive themselves.
Whatever the reasons, in de Certeau’s terms, the place stayed inanimate. I was
running sound in the back of the room and could see the entire venue. It seemed
to me the physical gaps in the audience took on a palpable presence* of emptiness,
/

bounded by stillness* that extended to the stage. Rather than ‘‘intersections of


/

mobile elements’’ (de Certeau 117) that would animate the space through interac-
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tions, these gaps became fixed, the audience more and more still. The audience
was attentive and involved intellectually, but never came to life as in the other
performances. I’m still trying to unpack why, and we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll
make a stab at it.
For this audience, their participation seemed to be more intellectual and detached
than either of the other venues. Though we weren’t in a classroom, the zeitgeist made
it one. As in a traditional lecture-style classroom, the audience was silent; this silence
was occasionally broken by laughter, but it had the effect of an anomaly, perhaps even
an intrusion, and faded fairly quickly. As the performance progressed, the laughter
was scattered, individual, and ultimately more awkward and suppressed. A
performer’s intuitive response then is to kick up the energy level, try harder to fill
the space, to bring the audience into the ‘‘affective locus’’ of her self performance, to
engender our collaboration and complicity in this shared space and time (Cheng
196 97). This is exhausting, hyperintense work, and it’s not surprising that Lee’s
/

experience of the performance was more dire than it was for the audience; her
characterization of it was much worse than the reports I later received from the
audience. After the performance Lee said to me, ‘‘I felt all alone out there.’’ Indeed, it
seemed she was. We could not construct the space between, we could not seem to
bridge the gap between performer and audience* even audience and audience. The
/

spaces between these disparate elements were intact and static.


For these young students, this was probably difficult material. The show deals with
serious mysteries* of love that transcends sexuality; of loss, aging, regret, and the
/

power of reflection and renewal* that they may have little or no experience with.
/

Perhaps they take these more seriously as a result* or at the least more abstractly. For
/

many scenes in the script, younger audiences may not have the lived experience to
help them understand the irony, humor, and sometimes flippant treatment of painful
and profound memories. The tone may seem shocking to them because of this.5 With
age comes an awareness of the complexities of experience, its multidimensionality, its
ambiguity, and the redemptive power of using humor to express these complexities.
With age comes the comforting insight that the self is provisional, that change is our
The Space Between 287

only certainty. As Bob Dylan wryly sings, ‘‘Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m
younger than that now.’’6
These audience dynamics brought the sequencing of the script into relief for me,
and now the collage that emerged at NCA was more bricolage, the pieces had sharper
edges as we moved through the performance. Here, I saw that, in juxtaposition, the
poems don’t align in a fluid path* these pieces bump up against each other and take
/

us on sharp turns and twists. If we think too much, perhaps these feel like we’re
pitching and lurching along. Allow me to imagine some of these moments for this
audience. From ‘‘Civil Service, NYC,’’ which introduces the theme of the title, we
move to ‘‘You Made Me Love You,’’ which celebrates and then mourns the complex,
risky relationship of a professor with her student protégé. It seemed that for this
bifurcated, reflexive audience, neither the faculty nor the students knew what to make
of this, how they should judge this relationship. Was it taboo? As a category of
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relationship on our campus, yes, it was. Was it exploitive? Doesn’t seem so, but who
can say? Was it consensual? What about the power relationship? These questions take
on heightened meaning at the end when Lee confesses her advice to him, ‘‘I think
you’d better stay here with me.’’ As the audience reflexively struggles with this
conundrum, we move quickly to the camp performance of ‘‘Dialogue with
Menopause and Desire’’: Desire the hyperfeminine embodiment of the giggly sexpot,
a parody of gender stereotype complete with pink feather boa; Menopause the cranky,
‘‘poor me’’ caricatured embodiment of the dried up, postsexual woman. Imagine the
doubling of consciousness for this bifurcated audience. Was this parody? Was this
unintentional affirmation of traditional stereotypes? Did this scene play, in Eve
Sedgwick’s phrase, as ‘‘kinda subversive, kinda hegemonic’’ (35)? Did the audience
fall out along this binary, or did some see an interwoven complexity? Its politics* /

and therefore its meanings* were dispersed, dependent on an audience member’s


/

chosen focus. Here again, perhaps the faculty/student audience and classroom climate
heightened reflexivity and stillness. This piece, like many camp performances, needs
an active, vocal audience to keep it afloat. This audience was silent, still.
In ‘‘Scene 2: Geography of Desire,’’ we move from the quite amusing story of the
452 positions brochure (‘‘really, only 432’’) into ‘‘What to Do When You Find Out
You Have Breast Cancer’’* a 180 degree shift from hilarity to seriousness and
/

urgency. The use of second-person address underlines the implicit threat of random
victimage we associate with this disease. In addition, we witness the pain of
discovering false friendships, at the worst possible time. By the end of this powerful
poem, we hear affirmation (‘‘You’re a whole woman inside and out’’) but this is
voiced in the midst of uncertainty (‘‘even if you don’t know how it’s all going to
end’’). As we reflect on this, we’re taken into Mardi Gras chaos in ‘‘Show Us Your
Tits’’* a sometimes frenetic mix of camp, realism, challenge, and reflection, with
/

quick shifts back and forth from present to past, bravado to insecurity, outer to inner
monologue. This piece does ultimately provide some closure in the affirming beauty
of loving sexuality, and also sets up the final gesture of emancipation that ends the
show. ‘‘Bureau of Appropriate Self-disclosure’’ seems apt after all that we’ve
witnessed, and enables us to take a breath. From here, the progression seems more
288 C. Logan

fluid to the end of the performance. Scene 3 begins with the quick humor of ‘‘A Sign’’
and then moves into memory and reflections on experience, wisdom, and age. The
last two poems, ‘‘The Dyke March 2002 2003’’ and ‘‘Cleaning the Refrigerator,’’ seem
/

to me most seamless in their juxtaposition. They pick up themes and threads that
have appeared, vanished, reemerged. In ‘‘The Dyke March 2002 2003,’’ I find a lovely
/

modulation of themes of age and youth, loss and rediscovery, tradition and
innovation, and the past and the future. ‘‘Cleaning the Refrigerator’’ brings back
the self-critiquing humor and wit of earlier moments. This metaphoric cleansing is an
act of renewal that takes us to the final gesture of the show, whereby the earlier taunt
of ‘‘show us your tits’’ is coopted and personal freedom and clarity are reborn.
For my campus audience, this performance posed challenges and risks not present
in the other venues. I think some of these conflicts they brought with them; others
were constrained by physical space, and others emerged as the performance
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progressed. There was no fidgeting* they were clearly paying attention* but the
/ /

trajectories, the arcs of this attention were plural, varied, individual; phenomen-
ologies focused inward, became more isolated. This audience seemed to be engaging
with the intellectual ideas, themes, and issues of the piece, but was somehow unable
to collaborate phenomenologically, to construct a performance space that is ‘‘the
affective locus inhabited by a heterogeneous congregation . . . of dialogic exchange
and communion’’ (Cheng 196). The space between was vast and vacant* despite the /

efforts of performer and activities of audience.


This performance was vastly different from the other two, and thus enables insight
into how the intersections of audience, performer, and place uniquely construct ‘‘the
doing’’ of performance. The old theatre adage is still apt: the audience is always the
wild card. We can predict but can’t control what they will do. We also know there is
an inherent suspense in the progressive present of performance. Once we enter that
space, as performer and audience, anything can happen. We can succeed and we can
fail, in any ratio or combination. We can certainly learn from successes, failures, and
mixed results. But most importantly, we have to try.

Notes
[1] I am indebted to Vivian M. Patraka’s insightful application of de Certeau’s distinction in her
analysis of performed space in US holocaust museums. It engendered this extension and
application to traditional live performance space as constructed in the intersections of
physical place, audience, and performer.
[2] We who take students to festivals know the exhilarating feeling of being in the creative throes
of a festival, where we collaborate on impulse with near strangers, and it seems possible to
create anything. I think there is a special character to a festival community, and, in my
experience, no one fosters this better than Gary Balfantz.
[3] The exceptions are interesting as anomalies. ‘‘The Dialogue with Menopause and Desire’’ is
introduced in first person, then moves into an onstage two-character scene that doesn’t
acknowledge the audience. Later, in ‘‘The Bureau of Appropriate Self-disclosure,’’ Lee plays
the befuddled and inept agent sent to shut her up using offstage focus */a lovely bit of
performance irony and synchrony: she has momentarily disappeared, and thus, so have we.
The Space Between 289

[4] Confirmation of this came when a student who had also seen the festival production said
that she wished that Lee had all her props and set pieces here, for the local performance. The
student actually remembered a refrigerator on stage at the festival, and she missed it here
(there never was a fridge).
[5] I want to thank an anonymous reviewer of this submission for raising this possibility.
[6] Okay, so he was only twenty-three years old at the time, but hey, it’s Bob Dylan.

References
Cheng, Meiling. In Other Los Angeleses: Multicentric Performance Art . Berkeley: U of California P,
2002.
de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life . Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: U of California P,
1984.
Diamond, Elin, ed. Performance and Cultural Politics . New York: Routledge, 1996.
Dylan, Bob. ‘‘My Back Pages.’’ Another Side of Bob Dylan . Columbia Records, 1964.
Gingrich-Philbrook, Craig. ‘‘Editor’s Introduction.’’ The Personal and Political in Solo Performance .
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Spec. issue of Text and Performance Quarterly 20 (2000): vii /x.


Patraka, Vivian M. ‘‘Spectacles of Suffering: Performing Presence, Absence, and Historical Memory
at U.S. Holocaust Museums.’’ Performance and Cultural Politics . Ed. Elin Diamond. New
York: Routledge, 1996. 89 /107.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. ‘‘Queer Performativity: Henry James’s The Art of the Novel.’’ Gay and
Lesbian Quarterly 1 (1993): 1 /16.