Dramaturgy in Practice: Wealth’s Last Caprice

……………………………… The show has started. Chris is completing a dotted line on the screen as the audience enter. She is typing. I am typing. She scrolls up to the top of the document projected behind her. It is a will. Her will. She clicks print and walks over to another table where she waits for the print out to be produced. There is no printer today so she says ‘Print print print’, the sound of a printer is playing on a soundtrack as the pages of an old ledger of wills are being turned on the video projection. The fountain penned last wills and testaments a contrast to the printed document in her hand. She staples the will. These are my last words. Clunk. The stapler punctuates the text. Her last words. Typed, printed and stapled. She says she is not wishing to tempt fate and touches the wooden table. She asks me to time one minute for her and tells us what writing her will might be like and all the things she might lose and miss along the way. Lose the plot. Lose the lot. Lose her marbles. She will miss him. Miss her. Miss you. She will miss us. The audience. At the moment there is no audience. Only me. And I am keeping an eye on the time. The minute’s up. I say ‘Time’ and she says ‘I will run out of time’. There is a sense of self-fulfilling prophecy as she predicts the end of the text. Like her will as long as she is alive, the piece is never fully realised. The will is never fully written. It’s a work-in-progress of her life’s work.

Chris shows us everything she owns piled up in her house, everything itemised and catalogued on a spreadsheet that she adds to as part of the performance. Maybe a dress she bought today. Maybe some stationery she purchased on the way to the venue. We see her open up Microsoft Excel and watch her complete the latest entry in this 21st Century version of the ledger book. 2143 items on the list constitute her estate. Her list makes us think about what our list might look like. How many items we might have on it and what the combined cost would be. Her average cost is £7.65. She repeats the cost three times and then says ‘That doesn’t tell us very much.’ Their value is not real but sentimental, what they represent; our memories, the moments that become attached to the object on the list, the comments in the margins, emotional footnotes. She shows us the first object, a French dictionary that was her only belonging when she arrived in the UK. She feels like she is inviting us into her house for the first time. I have been to Chris’ house. I have sat where the objects on the screen sit now. Chris talks about presents she has received. She holds her hands against the screen to pick out the presents she has been given on her skin. ‘This present’ means both ‘this present’ I received and ‘this present’ moment when I received it.

All is lost. All is lost. All is lost. How does it feel to have nothing. Nothing to remind you of the past. 

Chris’ work could be asking questions about the role of the outside eye. We have nothing to remind us of what we have seen, what was where, unless we write it down like this. But at the moment, as I am writing this, Chris is still performing. She has moved onto the next scene. So in writing this, I am betraying her. I have a responsibility here. To be faithful to her somehow. To be useful to her somehow. She talked today about how some companies might consider the dramaturg to be be an intruder but she thought it was a necessity. When I asked her what she might call the dramaturg if not an intruder she said she would get back to me but she thought it might be something like a detective. It made me think of what Tim Etchells said about how Forced Entertainment make their work. He described it as ‘eliminating things from their enquiries.’ The dramaturg pursues different lines of enquiry through the work and as they ask the artist questions, as they suggest what the artist might be saying even though they might not know they are saying it, they eliminate things from their enquiries.

It is a postscript. It is a performance. It is written, it is read, it is spoken.

What I write now is weaving its way in and out of what Chris is saying now. We are alone in a rehearsal space and she is saying one thing and I am saying another. Occasionally what I write comes into focus, aligns with what she says. At other times we are on different planes, different lines of enquiry, different time zones. We reach a point when she cries. She is reading from her will. Leaving objects she loves to the people she loves. Taking off her clothes, her ring, her shoes. I realise how personal this work is and how precious it is to be sharing it. I realise that by writing this here and now, however much I try to watch the work more than the computer screen, I am not fully present in the moment. The moment in which she is giving me this. This present moment. This present. So I think it is time to stop typing.

So to make this document valid it needs to be signed and witnessed.

She asks if she can borrow a pen. I give her my pen. She asks me to sign her will. While the will is passed around the audience for someone to sign it, she tells us what books we might get, what our heirlooms might be. But perhaps the most important memento mori will be our memory of this performance. Of someone we don’t know, telling us about what it might mean to be left behind.

But what is left? What is left? What is left is so much more..

We are left with a slideshow of family photos, weddings, valentines, hen nights and balloons heading into the sky. She switches off the projector. She closes the laptop. She says thank you. And she leaves the stage. Afterwards she tells me that the job of a dramaturg is like catching butterflies, without a net.

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