Everything is Theatre?

“Everything is theatre”. It is a refrain we have heard again and again throughout this course. At first it was a statement I found difficult to accept. Yes many things involve a performative act, but do all things have the carefully calculated finesse that is theatre?

While I still find the statement slightly cynical, I have come to realize we do each play a part in the bigger story that is the world.

And it is the world itself that provides the various stages on which we must act.

In London, I felt the above to be most true when we entered Southwark cathedral. The grandeur of the inside was designed to impress. Like those elaborate theatres of the West End, that claim society appreciates the arts, this building acts to say our society appreciates and decorates morality.

The scene is set by a lavish altar and intricate architecture. After a few moments of appreciation, the minister grabs our attention from this altar. He demands an audience and we are not able to refuse him in his placement of power. We are guests (though we did not buy a ticket) and we must watch this performance.

After he began to speak, however, it quickly became evident to me that we were not spectators but actors ourselves. We were part of this grandiose play of morality, and I had forgotten my lines.

We were told to sit down, and as we proceeded to sit or kneel we all agreed to participate in this production. As the minister spoke a prayer, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. This was not a play in which I was meant to have a part. Why had I agreed to take part in it? How had I become an actor when I had only intended to be a spectator? Why did I think there would be a divide between actor and spectator in such an immersive intimate space anyway?

Ultimately, I chose to stage myself out of sight of the alter as the man spoke. I sat, I did not kneel. I kept my eyes open and did not move my mouth or say “amen”. If I was being watched in a production all these signs would tell you how I felt about the proceedings.

Finally, the minister at the altar told us all to “say a prayer together in our own tongues”. At this moment I was the actor who had forgotten all her lines and he was a stage manager putting the words into my mouth. As everyone around me recited the Lord’s Prayer, I tried to remember my lines but could not recite the lines I never knew.

As we continued around the city, to Westminster that same day and to St. Paul’s a bit later, I saw how the marvellous buildings performed. How they created awe, inspired a sense of belonging, and shaped the performance of people as they act out their lives.

In the end, we are all acting an identity everyday, whether it’s true or not true. As such, we must remember to be aware of our surroundings and analyze our journeys as we would a piece of theatre. For in this we can find the hidden meanings, the hypocrisy, and the truth that otherwise evade us and leave us without a spotlight.

Never forget “all the world’s a stage and all the people merely players”.

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“Diana: Her Fashion Story”: exploring performance through costuming

During our trip to London, I visited the “Diana: Her Fashion Story” exhibition at Kensington Palace, where I was expecting to see some pretty clothes owned by a woman I grew up loving, even though she died before I was born. My mom was obsessed with Diana when she was my age, and still pretty much is today, so I suppose my love for “the People’s Princess” was a genetic inheritance passed down through years of books and storytelling. However, after viewing the exhibit, I feel as though I’ve learned so much more about her life and the purposes of her fashion choices.

I said multiple times throughout the tour that I felt like I was walking through someone’s home, which, of course, I was, but it was still an odd feeling to not get the museum-like feel to the space that I was expecting. The entire time I was in that house it was as though I could feel Diana’s ghost following behind me down the hallways, telling me her story, as if I was just looking through her closet rather than viewing her iconic outfits through bulletproof glass. It is this feeling of intimacy that is at the heart of the performative aspects of the exhibit.

On the Kensington Palace website, the exhibit is described as an opportunity to “trace the evolution of Diana, Princess of Wales’ style, from the demure, romantic dresses and other outfits of her first public appearances, to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life.” This exhibit tells a very compelling story, one that people around the world know well; there is a natural progression within the space that makes one feel as if one is watching a staged performance, with beginning, middle, and end.

Costuming plays an essential role in theatrical performances, as we’ve learned from our workshops at Shakespeare’s Globe and our viewing of Anna Deavere Smith’s “Notes From The Field,” where character is intrinsically connected to pieces of clothing. What an actor is wearing and how they choose to, or are told to, wear it are crucial elements to the performance as a whole. Although I’ve spent years learning about Diana and her work, I never realized just how significant her clothing, or, rather, her costumes, were to how the world saw her.

Elizabeth Emanuel, fashion designer for Diana, said in an interview, “there is this language of clothes, and Diana really got to understand that. You can make a real statement and show what you’re feeling at the time [with your fashion choices].” While the world may have admired her and watched her every move through magazines and news stories, it becomes blatantly obvious that her clothing choices were meant to say much more than simply “wow, what a pretty dress,” particularly when they are all laid out in one space for spectators to view. Diana’s fashions choices change dramatically following the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles because there are now protocols and expectations that she must abide by as a member of the royal family. She has just taken on the most important role of her life as wife of the future king of England, and this shows in the clothing choices she begins to make.

Mark Hudson, for the Telegraph, writes in his review of the exhibit: “while Diana, with her fondness for baseball caps and George Michael’s music, might have, on the one hand, been the most modern of royals, her image, as demonstrated here, was founded on the same historical traditions of princely grandeur: traditions which Diana updated and brilliantly, if sometimes unwittingly, manipulated to her own ends.” Her voice is ever present in the decision-making process, as becomes evident by the notes made by Diana on the designer’s sketches hanging on a wall in the exhibit. And yet, at the end of the day, she is told what to wear and how to wear it, and she is forced to build her character within these strict guidelines.

As Eleri Lynn, exhibition curator, states, “following from the separation from the Prince of Wales, she decided she wanted to be known as a workhorse rather than a clothes horse, so she deliberately started to dress down.” Again, Diana’s clothing changes alongside her role within the royal family.

Each time she puts on an outfit, whether it be a luxurious evening gown in which to dance with John Travolta or a bulletproof vest in which to visit minefields, Diana is making a statement; she is saying something about who she is as a wife, a mother, a woman, an activist, and a human being. She uses her clothing as physical symbols of her intentions, much like costumes and other props might be used in staged performances, such as when she deliberately removes her gloves before shaking hands with an AIDS patient. Her ever-evolving character is put on display under the guise of “fashion” as a way of navigating both the expectations placed upon her by her family and society, as well as her own desires and preferences. Whether it be on stage or in real life, the first thing a spectator will judge someone by is their outward appearance, and Diana knew how to play her role well.

Works cited:

https://www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/explore/diana-her-fashion-story/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwpcLZBRCnARIsAMPBgF22c–815naITUlUkHiIREu5bhKFZmMUZ3-EqqDN9FjuDsifW23A-0aAtAxEALw_wcB

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/diana-fashion-story-kensington-palace-review/amp/

Our First Day in England

On our first full day in the real London, we were exposed to two very different, yet similarly structured performances outside of the theatre. The day began with our first tube ride to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guards, and ended with a gripping photo session at platform 9 and ¾ from the famous Harry Potter series.

We got to the Buckingham Palace gates very early with a perfect view of the left corridor. We believe that this traditional event helps shape the cultural identity in London. We stood waiting at the front of the gates, unsure of what to expect from the traditions of the culture. The culture of a city is greatly shown through the “ideologies (or systems of belief) the city enforces” (Harvie 4). We noticed a small group of military soldiers emerging from the side of the building while marching in a structured formation, followed by an intense inspection from the higher ranks. Then, we heard music in the distance as the marching band approached the Palace gates. They entered marching by following a similar structured formation used by the military soldiers. After this, another marching band approached the Palace, this time followed by the guards in red uniforms to signal the start of the ceremonial changing of the guards.

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Another tube ride later, we arrived at the King’s Cross station (a well-known tube station for Harry Potter fans AKA Potterheads). Upon arrival we were shocked to find a line of approximately one hour to take a photo against the platform 9 and ¾’s wall. Both of us were unfamiliar with the franchise and as a result were able to see through the performance given by the employees, as they reacted like that wall is truly magical. During our time in the queue, the employees enforced strict rules, while still trying to create an immersive environment for the patient Potterheads. Once we made our way to the front of the line we were asked which Potter House we were part of and they wrapped a scarf around our necks to represent our selections for the photo. After collecting our magic wands, we took our place for the photo as an employee threw the scarf up to create a hovering effect. Following the photo, we were immediately rushed into the gift shop and encouraged to purchase the photo that had been professionally taken.

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We are aware that both of these events are examples of performance beyond conventional theatrical spaces, and we are interested in how their ideals of structure differ from, or are similar to, conventional theatre. In Theatre and the City, Harvie claims that “drama has articulated the changing conditions of urban life, be those changes social, material, structural, religious, economic or ideological” (22). We especially saw this when we observed these events as performances for an accepting audience.

The performance of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace followed a rigid and traditional structure. While the audience was free to come and go as they pleased, the guards were required to follow specific steps and patterns of movement in perfect unison. The ceremony has remained unchanged to respect the tradition it represents. This contrasted heavily with what we witnessed at King’s Cross. The performers were free to move around as they pleased to guide the audience and take their photos, however we as audience members were confined to the queue needing to follow the instructions given to us.

Although the structures weren’t the same, it was noticeable when they were broken or disrupted. For example, during the changing of the guards, the strict and prestigious marching band broke into Bruno Mars’ hit single “Uptown Funk”. All the pieces played previously by the band had a traditional and classical sound, so we immediately noticed this interruption to the structure. We believe this disruption was to entertain the audience who may have gotten restless towards the end of the long ceremony. We found that the audience’s role connects to Harvie’s idea that “theatre is a port of urban processes, producing urban experience and thereby producing the city itself” (7), as traditions are beginning to be slightly altered to urban cultures. Another example of interrupted structure happened during our time in the queue at King’s Cross. Unaware that the line continued outside, we cut into the inside line and were aggressively informed that we were not in the correct space. The employee quickly changed his performance from cheerful and welcoming to strict and firm as we, the audience, had broken the structure we were required to conform to.  In this performance it was clear that there was “the possibility that the response of the audience may influence the delivery of the performance, the live presence of spectators and performers in shared time and space (Harvie 15). Even after returning back to the original structures, we as an audience were able to see that an unsteadiness still remained throughout the rest of the performance.

These two events strongly influenced the way that we think about performance outside of the theatre for our remainder of our stay in England. They were a great introduction to the city and helped shaped our views on the remaining cultural aspects.