Performance, Place and Allotments: Feast or Famine?

Mackey, Sally (2007) Performance, Place and Allotments: Feast or Famine? Contemporary Theatre Review, 17 (2). pp. 181-191. ISSN 1477-2264


Interrogations into ‘place’ have been undertaken in performance theory in tandem with an increasing transdisciplinary positioning and interest in the concept. There is still a lack of clarity about the particularity of place-based performance however. How is it differentiated from, say, site-specific performance? Can place be distinguished from site as a focus for performance projects?

Pearson and Shanks describe site-specific performances as ‘conceived for, mounted within and conditioned by the particulars of found spaces, existing social situations or locations, both used and disused ... They are inseparable from their sites, the only contexts within which they are intelligible’. Place-based performance, I am suggesting, assumes a strongly specific site but expects more from its participants. Place is a contested concept; I am reading it, following Escobar, ‘in an empirical and analytical sense – that is, as a category of thought and as a constructed reality’. Here, place is interpreted as a perceived environment or geographical area with which individuals (or groups) believe they have a personal relationship; there is a psychological interaction between person and location. It follows, then, that a performance of place would demonstrate the materiality and psychological construction of that place. I am suggesting Feast as an example of such a demonstration where there is evidence that participants’ responses to the combination of site and performance were intrinsically connected with their subjective locus and where the impact of the event affected their understanding and experience of that place.

This article uses Feast, then, to articulate an emerging theory of the performance of place asking how performance can impact upon participants’ understandings of place and what function performance can have in demonstrating place. Feast was set on a London allotment as part of a major theatre ‘Enquiry’ by LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre). In moving towards a theory of the performance of place therefore, the article engages briefly with LIFT, the Enquiry, ecology and allotments.


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