Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure
Routledge – 2010 – 256 pages
What does it mean to "fail" in performance? How might staging failure reveal theatre’s potential to expand our understanding of social, political and everyday reality? What can we learn from performances that expose and then celebrate their ability to fail?
In Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure, Sara Jane Bailes begins with Samuel Beckett and considers failure in performance as a hopeful strategy. She examines the work of internationally acclaimed UK and US experimental theatre companies Forced Entertainment, Goat Island and Elevator Repair Service, addressing accepted narratives about artistic and cultural value in contemporary theatre-making. Her discussion draws on examples where misfire, the accidental and the intentionally amateur challenge our perception of skill and virtuosity in such diverse modes of performance as slapstick and punk.
Detailed rehearsal and performance analysis are used to engage theory and contextualise practice, extending the dialogue between theatre arts, live art and postmodern dance. The result is a critical account of performance theatre that offers essential reading for practitioners, scholars and students of Performance, Theatre and Dance Studies.
'Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure illuminates a vital arena of contemporary art practice with a rare combination of rigor, respect, and insight.' - Una Chaudhuri, New York University
'A crucial intervention into the politics of contemporary performance. It combines theoretical sophistication with a richly detailed engagmement with the experience of performance.' - Nicholas Ridout, Queen Mary, University of London
‘Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure represents a compelling and stimulating addition to current debates surrounding the turn against virtuosity and the appropriation of signs of amateurism in contemporary western experimental theatre and Live Art. This is the first monograph dedicated to the subject of failure in contemporary experimental performance, and its investigation is detailed and nuanced. This book will provide an invaluable resource for theatre-makers, scholars, and critics as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students studying experimental performance and Live Art.’ – Sarah Gorman, Contemporary Theatre Review
1. Introduction: Failure and Representation 2. World(s) after a Different Image: Marxism, Slapstick, Punk 3. Profane Illumination: Theatre and Forced Entertainment 4. News from Nowhere: Goat Island Performance Group 5. Dislocations of Practice: Elevator Repair Service 6. Afterword
Sara Jane Bailes is a theatre-maker and Senior Lecturer in Performance Studies at the University of Sussex. She teaches experimental theatre and the conversation between art practice and ideology.