Themes in Performance Studies of most use to facilitators and educators in experiential, outdoor and adventure learning are
- Performance Studies as a mode of researching and understanding the world.
- Performance as experiential learning.
- Ritual and liminal space.
- Play including Maya-lila and deep play.
- Performativity and the making of meaning.
Performance Studies as a Mode of Researching and Understanding the World.
What is Performance Studies ?
Schechner’s form of Performance Studies comes out of theatrical performance but views performance in everyday life as being on a continuum with theatre. Performance Studies (PS) as a discipline is the means by which he does this. The reason he says PS developed was because seeing things ‘as’ performance evolved as a way of better understanding the dynamics of action, doing and witnessing in the world. These are core elements of experiential learning. Also in the age of the internet the relationship between performance as action showing behaviour and performance as just doing that action, unseen is highly relevant. Showing action requires a witness. In experiential learning, as with art and performance the witness can be the self or the audience. I think this makes PS as a mode of inquiry relevant to experiintial learning.
Performance as Experiential Learning.
Victor Turners Social Drama
The ideas of Victor Turner are central to seeing experiential learning as performance. Turner was interested in the role of witnessing and crisis in drama and how being aware of crisis and thus being able to resolve it is played out through drama, literature. In experiential learning the individual is witness to their own drama, and through action, resolves it (or not). This links to ideas of performativity explored below. Turner is also interested in liminal spaces in which transitions and crisis can be resolved or stability restored. Drama enacts and resolves social dramas. This resolution is played out in groups experiencing challenge or novelty requiring new ways of being. It is part of experiential learning.
What is Performance ?
Performance from a PS point of view is not only about studying aesthetic performances, on stage or through film, but also about social performances. Erving Goffman is important to PS and says ‘A “performance” may be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants’ Thus a painting in a gallery can be seen as performance. Schechner says that art whilst has traditionally understood as a mimesis or model of reality, arts also creates it’s own reality and interacts with social life. By using PS we can see expeiential leaning as performance, and as such it makes outdoor and adventure learning available for different approaches and interpretations. For me the end point is to make something that can be witnessed by participants and other people as art. I think this more options available for learners and facilitators. It also lends itself conscious expression of experience as having an aesthetic quality. Thus the best way to research the aesthetics of outdoor learning could be through art.
The idea of restored behaviour is that everything we do has within it elements which we have done or rehearsed before. But their is in this the scope to try a new configuration or improvisation and be or do something which you are not. Grotowlski called this the Via Negativa because it is a bout being not what you were. Lao Tzu said ‘When I stop being what I am I become what I might be’. Experiential outdoor and adventure learning use ‘the novel situation’ as a central mode of working. PS suggests this is inherently performative.
This suggests that we can see what happens in experiential learning ‘as’ performance. So the Goffman quote about performance as an action in which any ‘given participant… influence(s) in any way any of the other participants’ could be used to support the role of facilitator, or the venue or any participant in a venture. A painting can be a participant as much as an actor. Something that ‘is’ performance is behaviour which shows doing, and is a useful way of processing experience. Working with art and performance invites the doing of showing of doing as both a form of processing, sharing and an expression of the aesthetic. My suggestion is that aesthetic experiences are more impactful and meaningful for participants.
Make Believe/ Make Belief
This is a central idea that crosses over from PS to experiential, outdoor and adventure learning. In ‘make believe’ we experience one thing as another. It happens in play, art, theatre, politics. We see Macbeth and experience three actresses as if they were witches. We do a step across on a ropes course and experience it ‘as if’ we might fall. But by doing the step across we ‘make belief’ in the person that they can overcome fear. They make believe they may fall but know they cannot, and in doing so we make their beliefs about themselves change. This is related to ‘performative’ covered lower down. This is a big idea that needs to be expanded on elsewhere on the site. But with extreme sports, or in a war zone, or on a motorbike, no amount of performance, no amount of ‘make believe’ can hide the very accurate belief, that this could kill you. Schechner talks later about ‘Deep play and dark play’ as forms of performance where risks are real. But what is of interest to adventure learning however how you manage the shift between ‘make believe’ and ‘make belief’. I will write more about this elsewhere. But here Jeb Corliss goes of Table Mountain in a wing suit. ‘Make believe’ and ‘Make belief’ are not clear states but they influence each other. Corliss is, at first, quite rightly afraid. It is a sign of danger. I suspect his is in ‘make believe’ at first. He does this deadly thing ‘as if’ it were not deadly. He couldn’t do it otherwise. Then the experience puts him into ‘make belief’, it makes him believe he does not need to be afraid anymore. So he crashes. Make believe and make belief are not discrete states. But their relationship can be seen in mental illness, firewalking, gaslighting, child rearing, education, on and on. This aspect of PS is a very interesting an powerful idea.
Ritual and Liminal Space
Liminal and Liminoid
I came across this in Hurricane Island Outward Bound. Community leaders and people like Robert Bly were talking about the loss of rights of passage and lack of initiation into adulthood. I was reading ‘King, Warrior, Magician, Lover’ by Moore and Gillette. I had a series of conversations with manager called John Howard about the Outward Bound course as an initiation ritual or right of passage. We were hoping to move young people from being offenders to non-offenders. We looked at the classic three expeditions of a long course as elements of initiation as described by Arnold Van Gennep. We agreed that the middle expedition was where most work was done in terms of transitioning from child to adult. This is Van Genneps liminal phase. Victor Turner talked about lininoid experiences as being big important experiences where old ideas were challenged and new ones explored. The act of going to a residential or on a DofE expedition, or skipping school and attending a Youth Strike 4 Climate demo are liminoid experiences. PS ideas can help inform this as an idea into work with groups and individual.
Transformation and Transportation
Schechner talks more about the ritual and the liminal space her. He says that the person undergoing the ritual experiences transformation, and the person facilitating the ritual moves the initiate through the ritual providing transportation. The former changes but the latter person exits the ritual unchanged. But in the middle liminal phase, described as ‘betwixt and between’ both the transformed and the transformer adopt a liminal state. To me this is interesting because as facilitators we do go through the same experiences as the facilitated but in a different way. This suggests to me the scope to better use experiences of residentials and outdoor and adventure activities as rites of passage.
Play, Maya-lila and Deep Play
PS sees play as having four elements as defined by Roger Caillois. Competitive play, chance, imaginative play and ilinx or dizziness. All of these are present in experiential, outdoor and adventure learning. As such play contrasts with ritual with ritual being serious and play being, well more playful. Play is how we learn as children, but the capacity to play can be loast to adults. Victor Turner said play was creative but untrustworthy. Play drives performance and ritual directs it. Work in experiential learning should be playful and creative but containing and directive. In outdoor and adventure learning and in experiential learning there is scope for all participants to have some control over how ritual exerts control. Ideas from PS offer may be able offer a thread of discourse in which creativity, the arts, and performance can add novel elements to experience, but elements that have, over time been shown to be powerful and productive.
Maya describes the Indian philosphy that life is an illusion and the universe, which controls our lives, likes to be playful and unpredictable. The healthy way, spiritually and bodily, to deal with this is to be playful with the boundary between chance and destiny. In formal education this playfulness is effectively eradicated. In experiential learning it is embraced. In Greek this interplay was expressed through Apollo and Dionysus. In theatre this is role and performer. In outdoor learning this is place and experience. In art this is form and content. In Tao it is Yin and Yang.
Deep play is an idea ascribed to Jeremy Bentham and developed by Clifford Geertz and describes play in which the outcomes can be ruinous. Bentham thought it evil, Geertz thought it enriching. In relation to Adventure or Extreme sports Deep Play has been boosted by the visibility a GoPro and a YouTube Channel can bring. This also raises questions about Deep Play as a commodity or a life choice. Mortality rates in the UK are going down over time both as gross numbers and workplace fatalities. This article from the Guardian shows you what people die of these days. Adventure Tourism is rife. Deep Play is a tricky subject. GoApe ropes courses and kilometre zip wires give thrills and no risk. But the idea of this as play and performance certainly fits. Work and life are generally safe. In Hugh Cunninghams ‘The Invention of Childhood’ he tells us that even as recently as the Victorian age, 1 in 4 children survived to make three years. I have no figures but I have to assume that even Deep Play is safer now. I was a great fan of Leo Dickinson who did the first filmed ascent of the North face of the Eiger in 1970. In his book ‘Filming the Impossible‘ he recounts years of serious adventure. He was a prolific parachutist but ends his book with a story. He recounts how he went to get his car fixed after he did a nine stack night jump with lights. A picture of the jump was in the car. The elderly mechanic took an interest. Dickinson asked if he had ever done a parachute jump. ‘Oh aye.’ the mechanic replied ‘Out of a Lancaster. We had lights too – the fuel tanks exploded and 2000 gallons of petrol caught light.’ Dickinson asked if he had done may jumps. ‘Oh no lad. Just the one’. Sometimes it isn’t play.
Whilst this is the last entry for facilitators. it is in some ways the most significant for our purposes. Performative derives from JL Austins idea of the Performative Utterance. A performative utterance would be saying something like ‘I do!’ in a marriage ceremony. The uttering of the words changes the world. By saying it I make something changes. I change from a bachelor to a married man (at least if my bride says the same and nobody pipes up when ask ‘Does anybody know any just impediment…’). Schechner maintains that the the performative came before the word, the utterance, as historically language came out of embodiment. Performance generally has a more fixed aspect in that it is often tied to in the script. A performance of Macbeth will generally be the same each night. Improvised theatre is more of a performative. Queer Theory and Judith Butlers (and Simone de Beauvoirs) ideas relating to gender are examples of performative. One becomes a woman by what one does not what one is. Being queer in public is taboo so being queer in public diminishes the taboo. From the outdoors, the Mass Trespass of Kinder was performative. By acting as if going on the moors was not trespassing it became not trespassing. By being not afraid on a high ropes step-across one becomes unafraid.
His book as a PDF can be downloaded below.