Happy Monday, writers! Recently I asked playwright and past Frequency instructor, Casey Llewellyn, about writing and performance. Enjoy!
Casey, how has performance changed the way you think about writing? Or, conversely, how has writing changed the way you think about performance?
I’m not really sure how to separate these things: performance and writing. I view performance (another word could be enactment, maybe ritual) as the most fundamental way of expressing. Animals do it. Humans did it before text. It’s very closely related to just living.
I find theater and performance (as art media) essential because they address God, the self, the body and the community extremely directly in each instance of happening. Other media, like writing, don’t necessarily do this. So performance is a very close idea for me, and it is the frame through which I understand much of myself and the world as well as my entire art practice which includes writing.
Recently, my teacher Marcus Gardley referred to a play as a spell. This is one way in which I relate writing and performance. Unlike a text intended to end on the page, a play is a spell which makes a performance happen. Text on a page can also be an enactment (or at least can involve an acknowledgment of the fact that writing is the result of an action and involve that action in the text itself) like telling is an action. I enter the writing process very much thinking of it as a kind of enactment or performance or very closely related to those, no matter which medium I am working in.
In a more down-to-earth way of answering your question, working in both writing and performance separately as well as together takes an excessive weight off of each and allows me to leave more space open in my work. Writing is material that may become a play or performance, therefore will have another energy cutting across it. Rewrites will happen in relation to rehearsals in rooms, and the text does not have to be (should not be) complete in itself. Performance of an action can also be complicated (left open) by the energy of a telling (writing) cutting across in a different direction, resting in a different place. The gap between is precious. There is air, play.
Writing can get heavy. So I like writing not as an end, but as an action I engage in. In theater, we don’t have the idea of our work as an object, with all of its implied separateness from anything else. Theater is unstill, passing, with no clear edges. Unobjectifiable (though people are trying really hard!). Non-existent without people whose job it is to be outside of it: the audience. But since their presence is necessary, they are also inside! It keeps going on! So that unholdableness which is like life helps me enter the unholdable of writing which of course is everything too and relax in there. Oriented as a writer, not toward an object.
Casey Llewellyn’s work interrogates identity, collectivity, and form. Her work has been shown in her apartment, at Collect Pond, Brown University, Pratt Institute, Haverford and Pomona Colleges, and at Dixon Place. Works for theater include: The Mechanical Opera Company Presents: Zaide! A Desperate Stab, Obsession Piece, The Body which is the Town…, The Pipeline and Everyone, The Quiet Way (also director and performer), Existing Conditions (co-written with Claudia Rankine), and I Love Dick, an adaptation for theater of the book by Chris Kraus (also director). Performance works include: Come in. Be with me. Don’t Touch me., Piece for Vibrating Chair, Obsession Piece 1: In Your Room, and What is Happening Right Now. She is currently working on an adaption of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town commissioned by The Foundry Theatre to premier in New York in 2014 and her first novella Freeing Our Natural Voices/Freeing this Voice/Talking. Casey has developed work at MacDowell and Millay Colonies and is currently studying writing for performance at Brown with Erik Ehn where she is the recipient of the Lucille Lortel Fellowship in Playwriting and is a playwriting instructor. She has a B.A. in Theatre from Columbia University with a concentration in directing and is the Assistant Editor of PLAY A JOURNAL OF PLAYS. She makes theater as Public Emotions.