Defining the Applied Performance Model (APM)

The Applied Performance Model (by Edmund Chow, 2012), or APM for short, is a visual representation of nodes that allows performance studies researchers, academics, theatre critics, as well as applied theatre practitioners and drama educators to access a language to articulate one’s positionality within and without the theatrical event. The APM is a versatile tool, that when combined with theoretical frameworks, offers appropriate lexicon to be employed, clarifies one’s positionality, and, more importantly, raises important questions that could be, or should have been, asked without being overly simplistic or reductionistic.

Applied Performance Model (Chow, 2012)

Applied Performance Model (Chow, 2012)

PRIMARY NODES

The basic elements in any performance are (i) actor, (ii) director, (iii) audience, and (iv) art. Dramaturgs have not been included in this rhomboidal relationship because the role and function of dramaturgy can be subsumed by any of the theatre-makers, if at all.

These elements are the primary nodes in the APM, as seen above. This rhomboid is not a fixed feature, but for the sake of simplicity, I have placed the DIRECTOR at the top of the vertical axis because my personal applied theatre bias centres around the director-facilitator as the driving force of the artistic process/product, vis-a-vis the actors-participants who are usually non-actors. In other words, the director’s role in this example has been privileged.

However, if one sees the artistic product as an emergent phenomenon, I would place ART at the apex of the rhomboid.

SECONDARY NODES

The secondary nodes surrounding the rhomboid include (i) context of culture, (ii) context of situation, (iii) context of international relations, (iv) meta-text, (v) text, and (vi) inter-text.

NB. “Context of culture” and “Context of situation” are terminologies borrowed from systemic functional linguistics, originally coined by Bronislaw Malinowski but expanded by Michael Halliday and Raqaiya Hasan, where they have identified two different contexts to explain the usage of language. I quote one sociolinguistics example from their book ‘Language, Context, and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-Semiotic Perspective’ (1989, published by Oxford University Press):

The school itself provides a good example of what in modern jargon could be called an ‘interface’ between the context of situation and the context of culture. For any ‘text’ in school — teacher talk in the classroom, pupil’s notes or essay, passage from a textbook — there is always a context of situation: the lesson, with its concept of what is to be achieved; the relationship of teacher to pupil, or textbook writer to reader; the ‘mode’ of question-and-answer, expository writing, and so on. But these in turn are instance of, and derive their meanings from, the school as an institution in the [context of] culture: the concept of education, and of educational knowledge as distinct from commonsense knowledge; the notion of the curriculum and of school ‘subjects”; the complex role structures of teaching staff, school principals, consultants, inspectorate, department of education, and the like; and the unspoken assumptions about learning and the place of language within it. (Halliday and Hasan, p. 46)

Here, I have used it differently in my applied performance model (APM), but it serves to clarify the ways “contexts” have been talked about in various literatures. When people say, “It depends on the context”, we can now easily identify the contexts occurring on the local, institutional/national or macro/global levels. What happens in the “classroom” (workshop or rehearsal space) is the discrete, localised context of situation, while the institutions governing such practices would be considered part of the context of culture.

Here are my clarifications:

The CONTEXT OF CULTURE refers to the differing levels of context operating on the performance event, be it institutionally, culturally and/or nationally. In an applied theatre setting, for example, the organisation that funds the project or hires the applied theatre practitioner to conduct workshops would have direct influence on how the performances/workshops are run. Up a few notches, this organisation is not independent of the cultural fabric of its own society nor independent of the national policies governing a set of (cultural and political) practices, which have indirect impact on how the performances/workshops are conducted. National Arts Councils, for instance, and the role they play in supporting or limiting a certain type of work cannot be divorced from the national rhetoric of politics and economics.

The CONTEXT OF SITUATION refers to the immediacy of the situation that stems and emerges from the actual artistic process. An applied theatre practitioner, for example, may have to make pedagogical and artistic choices there-and-then in the moment, depending on the needs of the participant-actors. The fluid, effervescent, ephemeral nature of the situation is often overlooked in many performance studies literatures, but what the director-facilitator has to contend with in terms of group dynamics and artistic negotiations are as real and tangible as the other external forces (e.g. funding — which is the context of culture from an organisation’s perspective) acting on the performances/workshops. One case in point is the ‘assessment’ of a production’s aesthetic values. Once we are able to discern which positionality one’s views are motivated by, we can discuss ‘aesthetics’ in more diverse ways without having to subscribe to Kantian notions of beauty and aesthetics.

Here, I include an additional context which I have found to be particularly useful, especially in my ethnographic observations of Afghan performances. The CONTEXT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS refers to the global forces acting upon the event, be it from international donors, foreign media, and/or diplomatic relations between states and nations. By and large, they also represent the audiences from a distance, not the immediate and intended audiences of the performance event, represented earlier as one of the primary nodes. Even though they are secondary audiences, their impact on the ART may have a greater impact because of market forces.They are responsible, to a large extent, in constructing or representing the ART, or the identity of the artistic community, to a wider global audience.

On the bottom part of the APM, there are three different texts, explained below as such:

The META-TEXT represents the frameholder by which any academic researcher places a preferred theoretical framework or critical lens to discuss about the performance event. Because each theoretical framework has its own theoretical jargon, the language used to critically analyse the event will therefore be different. For example, if ‘Feminism’ were used as a theoretical framework, the associated terms might include the body (embodiment), equal rights, justice, male gaze, objectification (subject vs object relations), class (cf. Marx), power (cf. Foucault), gender, sexuality (cf. Butler), agency, rape, privilege, and the like.

The TEXT represents the ART as PRODUCT, in whatever form or genre it might take. The imaginary line from DIRECTOR to TEXT also represents the TEXT, but ART as PROCESS. In some applied theatre contexts, especially in drama education classes, there is no tangible, visible performance that is staged; drama teachers prefer to have their students be their own actors and audiences through what is called a process drama, so the delineation of roles have now merged, so the “text” ends when the series of workshops ends. In performance studies, the TEXT is the panoply of activities ranging from sports, rites, rituals and ceremonies to circus, happenings, theatre performances and political demonstrations, and everything else in between.

Also in Performance Studies terminology, META-TEXT refers to Richard Schechner’s ‘performance as‘, whereas TEXT refers to ‘performance is‘. More precisely, anything can be seen ‘as’ performance, if its behaviour is critically analysed. On the other hand, only a community can decide if that ‘thing’ or ‘event’ is a performance or not, based on certain cultural codes. Schechner writes:

In performance studies, texts, architecture, visual arts, or any other item or artifact of art or culture are not studied as such. When texts, architecture, visual arts, or anything else are looked at by performance studies, they are studied “as” performances. That is, they are regarded as practices, events, and behaviors, not as “objects” or “things.” Thus, performance studies does not “read” an action or ask what “text” is being enacted. Rather, performance studies inquires about the “behavior” of, for example, a painting: the ways it interacts with those who view it, thus evoking different reactions and meanings, and how it changes meaning over time and in different contexts; under what circumstances it was created and exhibited; and how the gallery or building displaying it shapes its presentations. These kinds of performance studies questions can be asked of any event or material object. Of course, when performance studies deals with behavior—artistic, everyday, ritual, playful, and so on—the questions asked are closer to how performance theorists have traditionally approached theatre and the other performing arts. (Schechner, pp. x-xi, in ‘Teaching Performance Studies’, edited by Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer. Emphasis mine.)

Expanding on the notion that different contexts yield different meanings, it is now understandable why the APM has explicitly identified three contexts, as explained earlier.

INTER-TEXT, the last of the three texts, refers to the changing meanings of a TEXT, primarily because its original meaning had been interlaced with other TEXTS, resulting in a newer TEXT for a more globalised audience. This is also commonly known as intertextuality. A subset of INTER-TEXT is HYPERTEXT, another feature where one TEXT links to another TEXT, so a global audience often reads the original TEXT with other TEXTS in mind. This is borrowed from the computer internet terminology where a user can click on a link and be brought to a new website.

The versatility and applicability of the Applied Performance Model will be put to the test in later posts, where more contemporary examples will be used for critical discussions.

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