Features Performance Published 10 August 2012

Paper Stages

Andy Field talks about Forest Fringe's new performance space, Paper Stages, a book of provocations, scores, texts and performance-based interventions co-authored by twenty artists who have collaborated with Forest Fringe over the years. Inspired by the Fluxus movement and Happenings of the 1960s, Paper Stages is both a gentle protest and an intriguing proposition for a performance encounter. Paper Stages is intended to continue the life of the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh, spilling out onto the streets and in audience's imaginations whilst interrupting and intervening in the city's festival rhythms whilst Forest Fringe continues the search for a home for 2013. On the right hand side, a sneak preview of Greg McLaren's introduction to the book.
Diana Damian Martin

Diana: Paper Stages sets out to construct a particular performance space, one that expands without any clearly defined limits, but also engages in a different kind of conversation. It strikes me as both a gentle protest and an endeavour to inscribe the ethos of Forest Fringe in this wider landscape. Where does it exist for you, and how did it come about?

Andy: Having been so associated in the past with a venue that we no longer had access to, this was always likely to be a challenging and interesting year for us. We wanted to find a way of demonstrating something that we’ve felt for quite a while – namely that Forest Fringe is paradoxically more evasive and yet more substantial than the old bricks and poor acoustics of Bristo Hall. We wanted to create a project that articulated the things we most value in the idea of Forest Fringe – a sense of communality, a challenge to received ideas of how things should be done, a playful sense of adventure. It’s lovely to hear you describe it as a gentle protest; I think that’s how we think of almost everything we do. Perhaps also a generous protest; a resistance that has inscribed within it an invitation to help us imagine an alternative.

It seems that in the mix of provocations, instruction based performances, scores to be read and curated encounters, there’s a conversation emerging between document, space, agent and audience which has- and I say this tentatively- been an underlying and playful presence throughout the work presented by Forest Fringe. How you think the territory of the book can be navigated in this respect?

I think a lot of the artists that we work with are interesting in the materiality of publishing and ways in which our little community might engage with it on our own terms. Search Party published a book to accompany their recent project Save Me and Bryony Kimmings has recently started asking about how we might engage with the question of documenting the kind of work we make. I think of Paper Stages as a contribution to that conversation; perhaps suggesting that our best approach to the world of publishing might be to see it as a medium for performance, rather than a medium for documentation.

Paper Stages begins as part of the wider, nomadic and accidental community of the Edinburgh Fringe, travels through the city’s streets, chosen secret hide-outs and atmospheric public places. How does that relationship develop, and how much has it influenced the development of the book?

I think we’ve always been fascinated by the layers of narrative that accumulate in Edinburgh’s streets during the festival like so many discarded flyers. The paradoxical conflict between a festival’s carnivalesque subversiveness and the increasingly corporatised and hierarchical function of the festival as business. Add to that the history of Edinburgh itself and the simple movement of so many people through the city. The familiarity that people have with not just the city but the city in this particular state. We’ve often tried to find ways of writing over or writing through those layers. For example, a couple of years ago we created The Ghost Festival, a festival of imaginary events for Edinburgh. I suppose Paper Stages is an extension of this ongoing exploration of Edinburgh and the festival and what the microcosmic conflicts playing out in that environment might tell us about ourselves.

It seems that in its design and construction, Paper Stages is more of an infrastructure of provocations, gestures, ideas and encounters, rather than a fixed platform that seeks to contain that. What do you feel are the hopes and aims of the project?

I think the main aim of the project was always to something that existed most fully in the moment of the audience’s encounter with it. To make a space in which the audience can play. Perhaps the most important inspiration for the piece was George Brecht’s Water Yam. Brecht said that his aim with that was “ensuring that the details of everyday life, the random constellations of objects that surround us, stop going unnoticed.” I think to a certain extent the same is true of Paper Stages.

Text seems to be an interesting springboard for stimulating or containing action- be it in accumulating co-authored, accidental poetry or in inhabiting a space, creating new connections or reconsidering old ones. Is there a wider, playful, narrative that emerges from the collection of works?

I honestly don’t know. Quite possibly. I hope that each person that gets a copy might navigate their own way through it, chancing upon unanticipated themes and accidental narratives.

How is the book curated? Can you tell us about the process of putting all the pieces together, and how much it differed from the usual ways in which Forest Fringe works?

As with everything Forest Fringe, we tried to allow the artists to make use of this space in whatever way they chose. Forest Fringe is not often about curating shows. It’s about working with artists we love and trusting them to make the best use of the opportunities we are able to give them. In this case especially I feel that openness worked really well. As the submissions started to come in I was absolutely delighted by how different they all were, by the various directions in which the artists had gone; the numerous ways in which they’d chosen to make use of this unusual space.

The currency in which Paper Stages operates is a one hour time donation. Can you tell us more about that?

That’s the book’s first performance, so you’ve always started to do Paper Stages before you’re even holding a copy of it. I liked the idea of treating this hour like a performance, something akin to John Cage’s 0’00; an hour spent considering whatever it is that you are asked to do in a slightly different way. Also of course I hope it might be a gentle way to interrogate what the value of an hour is in Edinburgh, where so many of the shows are almost exactly 60 minutes long. I liked the idea that whilst not having a physical space we could still be making a positive contribution to the fabric of the city. Reminding people that Edinburgh is a place not a month.

Paper Stages is a concentration of moments, and as such it dispels the usual timings and conventions of the live encounter. How do you feel it engages with the live?

I hope its relationship with the live is knotty and unpredictable. The way we think about performance is still so shaped by the kind of oppositions popularised by Peggy Phelan and Richard Schechner; this valorisation of liveness and presence as sacred and absolute. I think maybe there’s space to think in more complicated ways about what is live and what isn’t.

Paper Stages will be launching at Hunt and Darton Cafe on the 11th August in Edinburgh as part of the Fringe Festival. For more information visit the Forest Fringe website.


Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.



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