Theatre as Organism –

Theatre as Organism …
Where the heart beats and the life blood flows between

Hayley Williams-Hindle – Outside In featured artist  (2021) (not all of the images in this exploration / collection are shown here)

The liminal spaces which form the pathways and corridors between the third spaces in which we seek communal gathering, entertainment and escapism, are where I feel belonging. 20 Years in events management in the entertainment industry has formed a familiarity and comfort with those narrow, directional, sparse places. At the same time, my personal antipathy and aversion to being in the path of the onstage limelight is cemented. 

This is akin to van Gennep’s (1960) idea of liminality and his conceptualisation of the threshold between two transitory spaces: separation (from original state) and incorporation (into a new state of being). The middle state of in-betweenness is often characterised by ambiguity, uncertainty and loss of control but also holds potential for change and transformation.

a layered image - ball of string, minotaur sat on a green armchair, and some dimly lit stairs leading to an escape sign.

The parallels, as a Neuro-divergent person (autism / adhd) with feeling ‘outside’ of the gathering places are not subtle. But these in-between pathways are not a maze; designed to trick and puzzle the navigator – they are instead a labyrinth – and walking them is, for me, an exercise in meditative movement according to that most ancient of traditions. (and modern too – since the labyrinth is also a practical exercise used with autistic people. The aim being for individuals to find unthreatening space in an open room)

From here, the associations with myth and monster proliferate – the threads cast across this adhd mind attaching in unexpected places; Perhaps the Minotaur of Greek myth is a benign being. Not a monster at all, but even so condemned to the shadows by wild speculation about a beastly and most in-human nature. 

a theatre foyer space. layered with webs of thread. A monster.
Theatre as organism

This animal (wo)man is not bullish and macho, using the excuse of instinct to dominate and mask – as Picasso mused. Instead, I imagine the visceral strength transformed into a recognition of shared humanity as we encounter and reckon with this experience of liminality. The string which the (duplicitous) hero of myth relies on to navigate the maze, is here woven in the waiting times and becomes a knitted blanket; perhaps the end of the skein will be offered out to lost wanderers, ready to unravel and mark the path and passageways back into the open.

Film, lino-cut, photograph, digital collage. 

Here is a short film – a meditation in echoing environmental sound, and image. Walking the labyrinth of that building, that third space. Do the sounds of those building bowels register as menacing and eerie, or comforting and resonant of home to you? 

I’ve played with collage and layering of images. My stewarding/ guiding minotaur in a cozy corner with lamps and cushions. In shadow a feared thing, but in light observed as neutral other. Not blocking passageways but inviting along and through. 

The string images are reflective tangles. Woven mess that finds some symmetry in the re-configuring. This is also the fascia; the connective tissue within the beating heart of the place. Alive and pulsing with movement and creativity – reconfiguring itself in continuous tensegrity – only as all of the component parts of the theatre ‘body’ recognise and honour their interdependence. (Pertinent particularly in Covid times – the play cannot go on without the audience. But nor can it go on without the lighting and sound and box office and marketing and technicians and stage hands and stewards and concessions operators and and…) 

Background

This idea sprang from my training in somatics – specifically how memory is held within the body viscerally, and how our connective tissue or ‘fascia’ facilitates connection, communication and support through the whole organism. And the fascinating knowledge of how stillness calcifies; and the impulse to ‘hold still’ and prevent pain in our mammalian bodies in fact induces the pain that we have been trying to avoid with that stillness.

Having spent the first half of my career in this sector working ‘front of house’ in theatre venues, the liminal ‘in between’ spaces of corridors and escape passages are where I have known belonging. These are the spaces that I have had jurisdiction over in my appointed roles – to keep clear and to allow flow through.

Corridors and entrances are not gathering places – they pulsate with movement; with transit. There is something here that resonates for me about what it means to feel marginalised. So this idea started as a reflection on that separation, that cultural othering, and progressed to a wider exploration of ‘Theatre’ as organism – of venues calcifying during mandated Covid closures.

Theatres and entertainment venues in the UK were shut down March 23rd 2020.  Without movement, audiences, work – the whole organism starts to calcify. In spite of brilliant pockets of creative work and adaptations to new circumstances, this hasn’t been the common experience within the creative sector, and referred pain and multi-organ stress are increasingly in evidence.

I imagined this realisation of a concept initially as an instalment of as many layers of fascial (connective tissue) webbing in these liminal theatre spaces that connect the whole, as each day lapsed. Another layer as each day of venue closure passes. The second closure of venues has forced a re-evaluation of that initial concept as an ‘installation after the fact of first lockdown’. But the re-reckoning proves a rich ground for further exposition of the metaphor. 

This was a rich and fruitful time working with Deborah Robinson at New Art Gallery Walsall to be mentored through this work.