During my PhD studies at the University of Toronto, I had the great privilege of having for my supervisor Shakespearean scholar par excellence Alexander (Sandy) Leggatt. This was back when I was writing about the phenomenology of Shakespearean metatheatre. Receiving my degree in November 2003, I think perhaps I was one of Dr. Leggatt’s last students before he retired from teaching. One of the many pieces of advice from him that I have taken to heart in my own research is never ignore the thing that doesn’t fit. Although it is tempting to cherry-pick examples and to set aside elements in a play or production that don’t appear at first glance to fit your desired view, resist this temptation. Pay attention to the odd sock. Invariably what happens is that upon further consideration, not only does the odd sock come to fit into the analysis, it more often than not becomes central to my view of the work.
Here is an odd sock from the play I am currently writing about– 300 Tapes produced by Public Recordings. 300 Tapes, co-created by Ame Henderson and Bobby Theodore with actors Joe Cobden, Frank Cox-O’Connell, and Brendan Gall, and sound designer Anna Friz, and others, is essentially a verbatim play. Rather than collect testimony as a journalist might, 300 Tapes begins with an autobiographical devising task; each of the three actors was instructed to record 100 short autobiographical stories using a micro-cassette recorder. As the stories were recorded, the tapes were brought into rehearsal where they were handed to another actor who then performed them ‘cold,’ auto-reciting live what he hears on the tape.
My analysis tackles the innate epistemological insecurity of verbatim theatre which although it promises direct access to testimony is inevitably subject to poststructural scepticism. It is this scepticism which unravels verbatim as a documentary genre insisting that there can be no objective underlying real and that all realities are representations. With this in mind, my analysis considers how 300 Tapes thematizes error and uncertainty, re-performing misfires of transmission or reception to align this content specifically with the ‘failures’ of verbatim form.
According to the devising rule of 300 Tapes, the stories are autobiographical and as such are accounts of historical events. As I show in the analysis, almost all the stories selected for performance, not only enact documentary failure through performance, but also tell stories of failed communication or replication. One story however struck me as an anomaly. In Cobden’s story dubbed ‘3 Flights,’ he recounts flying from Toronto to Montreal, to Toronto and back to Montreal in one day for various work projects. He concludes this account with “and that makes me the best ever. . . . That, and . . .” And then his thoughts spin off imagining all the marvellous art projects that he will create. He is ‘gonna’ to do a carbon footprint project that involves walking around on carbon paper or perhaps in shoes made of carbon paper. He is ‘gonna’ to write a book about the intersections between hacking and dancing. He is ‘gonna’ screen print the bottom of a skateboard with the word ‘Taliban’ and present it to celebrity skater Tony Hawk. He is “gonna totally reinvent the colours pink and grey” (Cobden ‘3 Flights’). This story is unique among those included in the performance plan in that it is not historically autobiographical but rather performatively projects that self into the future, with all the things “I’m gonna do.” And by association who I’m gonna be, i.e., “the best ever.”
At first this had me stymied and very tempted to delete this example. But after some time, it occurred to me that this story is a perfect example of fabrication, not lying, but actual fabrication as creative making. In the context then of 300 Tapes’s concern with change through mutation manifested both in its form and in the content of the selected stories, this future-oriented embroidery demonstrates the results of those mutative changes. It is also interesting to note that for each of his proposed projects, Joe/Brendan also accounts for its documentation as a blog or a book or a presentation at “an obscure arts festival in Afghanistan,” or as a film on a website. His projects are both the work itself and (like so much live art) their documentation. Like the tapes and their data in 300 Tapes, documentary representations of the event are as much part of the work as the original live action. ‘3 Flights’ eschews the attachment of verbatim to a real-world historical past, and by doing so in the context of the other stories, neatly encapsulates the play’s investment in the fecund possibilities of reiterative replication where the stories become unmoored from autobiographical ownership, from semantic sense, and from reality.
This example makes me really happy. My best wishes in 2017 for all you odd sock seekers out there!
Image credit: © Leahathome | Dreamstime.com – Woven Colorful Sock Friends Photo