OPENLAB session on Friday 11th July 2014: “Performing (the/in) Character.”

Sra. Justa Often I need to remind myself about what is that that I’m working on as a performer. Just by performing, one may rarely encounter a situation that would facilitate reflecting on it. It is more likely to just do it without think much about it. I believe there is a kind of thinking in the doing of the action, but reflection requires not only the thinking of it but also the thinking about it. I certainly think this working in performing without reflecting upon it is still work and is still thinking, don’t get me wrong.

Now, by reflecting on it this work becomes more efficient and as a performer you can become owner of your own artistry. OPENLAB allows me to do that. It offers me, both when I facilitate and when I follow the session another openlabber facilitates, a frame which allows me to reflect not only what does to perform entail but also what does my performing consists of and what is that that I’m working on at any given moment as a performer.

However, I still need to remember to stop and question, “What am I working on?”

In a way I could always summarise it with, “I’m striving for presence as a performer,” but even so one can be more specific about what does presence mean and what is this presence made of (if made of anything). It’s not of course an all-or-nothing feature that performers have (or not). I believe we all have presence, different from person to person as well as ever-changing within any individual from one presential state to another, depending on many factors. Some factors are outside of our control (possibly) but others are factors we can interfere with. I believe this is the kind of work we can do in the studio and on stage (stage which doesn’t need to be only the one within the theatre).

One may also be reminded about what is that that he or she is working on when coming to see other people perform… and this is how I did arrive to this session’s title.

I haven’t seen many performances lately but I have seen some. Ironically the performances that have impressed me the most, not only because of their content and political importance (I’d like to remind you all that this is my personal opinion) but also because of the imperative presence their performers deployed, weren’t dance or theatre but drag shows.

In the period of over a month I have seen live on stage (in different kinds of shows and within different settings) David Hoyle, Panti Bliss and Christeene and they all struck with their presence. I am aware my perception may be biased because what these drags do on stage connects very deeply with issues that preoccupy me and because they engage with subjects I find essential to tackle and fight for and that, in a way, I’d like to include in my own work (only if I knew how to do this!).

However, I wasn’t alone when I watched their performances and the comment, “she has presence, doesn’t she?” was one repeated over and over by those who came with me to see them perform.

I would say it in this way:

They know their shit and they know it so well they can be beyond the script or the improvisation… they are just totally in it, they are it, full embodiment of the action they are carrying out for all of those lucky enough to be there. In one word, they are present.

But what’s their presence based on?

I think that’s an interesting question. One that deserves a post on its own right… so you can read what I wrote “On Presence and Drag Acts” for Bellyflop Mag’s blog.

For now I can tell you which was my first guess about why these three drags were so present. Finally we get to what we did during this OPENLAB session.

So, I reckoned that the common attribute to these three queens of performance art is that they are a persona or a character which is the base for their performances.

I am aware that this is a characteristic common to probably all drags of all colours and flavours, and not all these artists trigger in me the same reaction. However, I wondered whether working on the idea of character could help us as an anchor, as a base camp of our performances. A place where to attend, a source from where to withdraw, at a time that we may not know… a time we may not know where we are or what are we doing and that may be terrifying. A place in which instead we can feel at home during performance, which may be a strange territory/time for many of us.

In fact, I remember Panti Bliss shaking during her performance, shaking maybe because of the adrenaline and the tension that could be cut with a knife on that evening. However, this shaking didn’t stop her and you could feel that even if scary and difficult she had a sense of identity and determination that allow her to continue convinced of what she’d come to do there on that night.

So, on Friday 11 July we were Rob Vesty, Thelma Sharma and myself in the studio. After a guided moving meditation to warm us up and introduce the them of character I improvised the following questions:

  • What am I? What am I being?
  • What am I wanting to be / finding out I am / knowing that I’m being?
  • What am I making myself to be? What am I making of myself? … whether before or after?
  • Am I a person? Am I an animal? Am I a plant? Am I a thing? Am I an event? Am I a concept?
  • Am I alive? Am I dead? Was I ever once upon a time?
  • Am I something or someone that feels, thinks, does?
  • If so, what?
  • Am I what I do? Or, do I do what I am?
  • Is all what I do significant of what I am? If not all, what is significant and what isn’t?
  • Can I be without doing?
  • How little or how much do I need to do in order to be?

This list of questions is obviously neither exclusive nor exhaustive. But after sharing them with Rob and Thelma I ask them (and to myself) to think retrospectively about the moving/doing we had being involved with minutes before.

Could those questions about being help us to notice our performing and see if our performing could be understood as operating within the frame of a character or persona? A character/persona who is both ourselves and at the same time different from ourselves.

We continue playing with this, and we worked towards finding one character to work with after that.

The last part of the session consisted in developing a little plot to play with. I asked to all of us to write down this plot only that I was cheeky. Once we all had written our own plot I asked to pass the plot to the person on our right. I passed mine to Thelma, she gave hers to Rob and I ended with what Rob had written down.

This allowed us to know at least the actions that one other person was about to perform. We performed this little plot one by one and for the other two people who were audience. Within this frame each of us had the chance to work on our own performance using the character as our anchor and, at the same time, to witness a plot we knew being performed by another person. The idea was that maybe, by seeing someone else performing the instructions we had written down, we could differentiate between what we do and what we are (as characters, of course) and maybe understand something else about the idea of using a character.

I’m now sharing with you some of my musings during the session. Consider that they are mainly automatic writing and therefore they represent an unedited stream of consciousness. I have added/deleted/change punctuation to facilitate its reading.

There are many ways and almost not only one; not all the things we do are significant of what we are… even if what we are being is also that that we are doing when we are trying to be… (or even just when we are finding out what is that we are being as we are embodying it).

We don’t necessarily try to need to try to do much… doing much eventually confuses us and doesn’t let us see… the forest doesn’t let us see the tree.


Antonio de la Fe

BULL…    →


Intense (actually too intense)… more of almost a show for others… to understand. Nothing but to make them know what he want’s them to know but somehow failing… and having a distorted vision of what reality is by making its own, the one that helps it (or it believes son) to continue moving forward (only if it knew…).


It (I) always says, “NO.”


Antonio de la Fe

This is the little plot I performed and had been written by Robert Vesty:

Sing a whispered song in the corner of the room and pretend I’ve lost my ancestors.

At some point look at Thelma / Antonio as if they are them.

Feel the heat of hot sand under my foot.

Breath sigh of relief.

Move around the room like a mine-sweeper.

Robert Vesty

OPENLAB session on Friday 4th July 2014: “Action // Non-action.”

In this session we were Debbie Kent and myself.

A morning to try out slack jawed, sharp eyed, non-action, eyes shut, eyes open, eyes unfocussed, mindful and mindless action.

To generate questions…

To enjoy the playspace/workspace of the studio.

Some questions which came to me on reflection:

  1. What elements do I want to have in improvisation?
  2. How does attention work?
  3. What function and place do random elements of movement, sound, word or gesture have?

As a response to the session Debbie and I practice automatic writing and this is what we obtained:


Here’s my writing from Friday, as well as a couple of thoughts that seemed important. I have added a little punctuation to make it a bit more readable, but haven’t changed anything:

Is there such a thing as really free writing or free thinking or freedom of movement? We try to crease ourselves of our personal history when we enter the room (the Room) but we can’t wash all of it off, it’s in our bones, int holds us up, it structures us. There is no such thing as nothing, everything is with you, everything is here and now for the taking and sharing and borrowing temporarily, for dipping into the stream of it, the flow. The archive is there: a sign on the door. It’s all down there in the darkness of the archive; flowing, swilling around, like the puddled floors in Stalker, a deep pool of clear water for washing in, for cleansing ourselves, that covers its contents – the files free-floating from the archive, words drifting off pages, the dots of the i’s (eyes) (I’s) flying free and swept up in the currents of murky mucky water everything a mess a soup of words and paper and stuff just general stuff batteries and bits and pieces and memories and holes and spots and marks and specks and blemishes and squares and horizontal planes and set-squares and elbows and knees and cages made of human ribs and jawbones that become missiles an printer ink, a murky pool of printer ink spreading and obliterating the darkness and the squares of light like a pool of amniotic fluid holding supporting embracing the maybes that will birth one day, today, later today will see all the maybes brought to possibility to probability to realisation. The possible objects arranged carefully on the plane of the floor, each of them in/visible. Two important things discovered (or rediscovered) in the session: You are always in a relationship with the space, it’s good to acknowledge that and take good care of it. (A solo performer is never alone – there are three in relationship: the performer, the audience and the space.) What attracts your attention is never entirely random – it attracts you because it resonates with something inside you ( a preoccupation, a mood, a memory, a habit…). You don’t have to examine why but it’s interesting to be aware of it. 

I enjoyed that session so much – I felt really productive and revelatory.

Debbie Kent.


Thelma’s (my own):

I wrote about some aspects that caught my attention in the performances which followed exercises to play with what was attended to.

Moving between opposites. Moving in the light towards the black holes. New moves brew in hands, the eyes dart, settle, find it hard to still their search.

The sound of annoyance. The sounds that feed tan anger a longing.

The body hanging on its frame then turning from its pivot.

The slump. Enjoy the upthrust out and the collapse.

Go to another place, pick up the picking after the market’s over. A rolling orange skin browning in a patch. A bright cabbage leaf. The sun keeps pouring in the dot on the eye. Interruption. Persistence. Linger.

I love to linger to appreciate. I jump on before it’s over. How do I know when to leave.

I leave quickly, afraid to outstay my welcome. Why not risk it. Risk being unwelcome: to grate, to irrigate, to scratch velcro fastenings, to resent. The next room – what a relief. More…

Thelma Sharma.