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.
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.
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.