Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm aware I've been letting the dust bunnies accumulate.  This isn't the full spring clean / feather-dust, more two decisive jabs with a spring chicken, to alert you to:

Royal & Derngate Northampton present a Signal to Noise production, Henry and Elizabeth. New theatre piece for home performance, written & directed by Chris Goode; with Philip Bosworth as Henry and Claire Burlington as Elizabeth.

25 June – 4 July, London: contact henryandelizabeth AT chrisgoodeonline DOT com.
5-10 & 12-17 July, Oxford Playhouse, 01865 305305,
19-24 July, Royal & Derngate, Northampton (as above).
27-31 July, Theatre Royal Plymouth, 01752 230440,

& also to:

SoundEye Festival, Cork, Ireland. Chris Goode reads among many others including John Hall, Geoffrey Squires, Maurice Scully, Randolph Healey, Derek Beaulieu, Rachel Blau duPlessis, Medbh McGuckian, Nat Raha, Sara Crangle. 14-18 July. See the SoundEye web site for details.
Next, um, stanza of House of the Future is 99% ready & will be up TOMORROW!

Monday, June 14, 2010

I had a soundbite for the press interviews that went along with our Signal to Noise production of The Tempest in audiences’ own homes. “I’ve always tried to remember,” I’d confide, “that theatre is an experience you have, not a building you go to.” People liked that. And it’s true that an act of theatre can be undertaken anywhere, at any time, by anyone who wants it. But here we all are, sitting in a theatre that is still called a theatre despite only rarely in the last few years hosting any kind of theatre, let alone any theatre that was content to call itself theatre. The editors of the excellent new Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater lament that theatre changes more slowly than poetry does: but poetry is not the name of a kind of building, and buildings, even now, change more slowly than minds do. Ten years on, and about to start rehearsing a new piece for home performance, I would like, speculatively, to invert my soundbite. What if, while retaining our current plurality of performance spaces, both real and virtual, we said that theatre would in the future be distinguished by dint of its happening in a designated theatre building?

Friday, June 11, 2010

In the aftermath of 9/11, and as a consequence of it, two things permanently shifted in my sense of my practice as a theatre maker. // One came in the days immediately after. I had a day job as a charity administrator, in an office within St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. In those few days, many more people came to sit in the church. Mostly they didn’t seem to be praying, they didn’t light candles, there was no visible religious component to their presence. They just needed to wrap a building around themselves, a building with some sort of civic signature. And it seemed to me that there should be a more appropriate building for that function than a church, one that was less loaded with ideology and less intricated in the operations of what we might call the establishment. // The other was an article written some months later by the poet and activist Brian Kim Stefans, in which he described a desire to turn away from ‘internet art’ (his phrase) and towards ‘theatre’. “We need bodies out there,” he wrote, “[. . .] on the streets [where] we live [. . . in] the daylight [. . .] since that is the world in which I was dumped when the planes struck.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Where were you on the day that the blithe elision of live and new media arts became untenable? It was years before Ekow Eshun made his pronouncement on the topic. My company, Signal to Noise, was still in its early days, we’d started to make a little name for ourselves doing performances in people’s homes. One source of inspiration was Pierre Joris’s nomadic poetics manifesto. Dissident cultural activity had to occupy the same circuits that military industrial power used to move information around. The old buildings and monuments, the spectacular sites of institutional control, were no longer meaningfully occupied. I remember posting something online suggesting that the only efficacious political poetry now feasible was the writing of viruses. It seemed like we were living in Tron, battling the neocons on light-cycles. And then, on September 11th 2001, we were reminded, acutely and sensationally, that, to take out of context a brilliant phrase of Utah Phillips, “the past didn’t go anywhere”: buildings and machines and bodies were still on the frontline, and live arts and new media sat in quite antithetically distinct relations with those entities.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I went to see Laurie Anderson’s Delusion at the Barbican a few weeks ago. I think she’s brilliant at subtly establishing the ways in which she needs your attention, and the ways in which your active imaginative participation is required. // Seeing Delusion really reminded me of a passage in Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, in which he describes Marco Polo’s attempts to communicate without language the stories of his travels to Kubla Khan. It goes like this: “The connections between one element of the story and another were not always obvious to the emperor; the objects could have various meanings. [. . .] But what enhanced for Kubla Khan every event or piece of news reported by his inarticulate informer was the space that remained around it, a void not filled with words. The descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited had this virtue: you could wander through them in thought, become lost, stop and enjoy the cool air, or run off.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You might remember that the tagline of John Cameron Mitchell’s film Shortbus is: ‘Voyeurism is participation.’ It’s a maxim that comes back to me whenever people deride the predicament of the seated audience, poor saps, kept in the dark (with all the metaphorical payload that implies). How remiss of theatre to ask its audience to sit so passively. – Well there’s something in that of course. Theatre often does assume a passive audience, but this has nothing to do with the configuration of the theatre auditorium, the seating, the distribution of light. All of those factors need to be considered but the passivity of an audience depends wholly on how successfully and how seductively a stage piece asks for their active engagement. At present we consistently undervalue the work that an audience does in being present and aware of its own presence, in paying attention, in reading and re-reading what it sees and hears, in helping to hold the piece in common: all of which, given the right conditions, it can do in the most conventional pros arch theatre you can imagine.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

In 2008 I made my first piece in collaboration with the actor Jonny Liron. It was called Hey Mathew and it was, among other things, an attempt to make a piece of theatre that was genuinely candid in its staging of queer erotics without simulation, without coyness and without much regard for where the line is normally drawn. // Towards the beginning of the process Jonny and I went away for a weekend to start working on this sexual content. The only ground rule we had was that I would, as the saying goes, look but not touch. Everything else we negotiated as we went along. Some of the work was as challenging aesthetically as it was complex ethically, and we talked a great deal, making sure we were both OK, figuring out how to pay close enough attention to what we wanted. What I particularly remember from that weekend, though, and this remains my most striking emotional memory of it, was that no matter how difficult, how searching the conversation got around the intellectual underwriting of the work, still every time Jonny got a hard-on, I got one too. The blood in his body speaking directly to the blood in mine.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eleven years ago I started a company called Signal to Noise, which borrowed its name from the idea in cybernetics that wherever information is moving around, it is also changed in transit. It gets scuffed, broken up. The liveness of theatre, especially but not only when it is permitted to be fully itself, means that it has a sure tendency towards this kind of turbulence, quite a low signal to noise ratio. I wanted to make work that was full of noise, full of turbulence, that celebrated (rather than attempting to suppress) the qualities of theatre that make it theatre, that make it unpredictable and ephemeral and resistant to commodification. // After our first show, a wildly turbulent queer sci-fi dance-theatre epic, somebody who saw it said he felt sad to imagine that I might think all the signals were somehow lost, that nothing remained but a kind of chaos and cacophany. But for me the signal that survived was the most important thing. Not because of the thing itself, but because of the thing behind the thing. Communication might fail, but the desire to communicate was always somehow preserved in all the noise.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


The worst thing about this model of simulated interactivity is that it reduces wanting to its capitalist effigy, ‘freedom of choice’. So I can wander round this corridor rather than that one, I can choose to follow this rather than that strand of the story, just as I can choose Pringles in a pink tube which taste like fabric conditioner or Pringles in a green tube which taste like a yeast infection. What I may not do, as those who have stepped out of line in such performances will often attest, is interrogate the premises of my own freedom, and the structures that prevent me from exercising my freedom beyond the cold mechanics of a pre-authorised array of choices in which my own personal investment is nugatory or indecipherable. // To want something, to want something, at least in relation to the possibility of working creatively with that desire and beyond the horizons of commodity movement and templated gratification, is an act that requires an intellectual commitment and a sophisticated level of sensitivity to the body’s own data processing. Wanting is deep, and it is culturally urgent, and it begins with wanting desire itself.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Calling Fiona Shaw “utter shit” is not what most advocates of interactivity have in mind. This in itself is indicative. What’s at stake is control. As an audience we are generally required to lend our participation on terms that we can take or leave but not normally negotiate. There’s plenty of so-called interactive work in digital media that is doing little more than elaborately decorating the same curt binary: you can click here, or you can fuck off. What we have become used to is a simulation of interactivity, in which not having a seat, say, is a denatured proxy for having a real stake in the proceedings and the necessary information to form the basis of a genuine decision-making process. What I’m reminded of above all is the way in which liberal democracies are strengthened by their own visible toleration of dissent. Protest marches are quickly and cleanly absorbed in the name of exemplary freedom and democracy, and the right to strike is hygenically curtailed in the courts, while the freedom to be able to speak without being a mouthpiece for institutional violence is everywhere obliterated.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


A friend of mine once went to see Fiona Shaw performing Beckett’s Happy Days, and hated it. After the final words were spoken, and the stage lights had dimmed, right then in that little niche of reverent blackout time before the inevitable rapturous ovation, my friend, without entirely intending to, found himself saying aloud: “Utter shit.” All eyes turned on him and he now describes it as the most embarrassing moment of his life. The level of embarrassment he experienced seems to me to reflect the violence of the situation. For some, that violence will appear to be contained in my friend’s exquisitely timed heckle, just as those in the seats around him clearly adjudged his wounding remark – wounding not just to the actress on stage but to the silence that was rightfully hers – to be a violent act. But isn’t it rather that my friend was acting in self-defence, in the refusal of a tyrannical violence that the whole apparatus of that theatre event is designed to uphold? That system demands a total complicity, and our choices are three: silent assent and collusion; tacit distantiation; or to speak, and thus ventriloquize the violence that inheres in the situation.