Plymouth tangle

Working on an artist residency with students at Plymouth University’s School of Humanities and Performing Arts gives a glimpse into their preoccupations and thought processes. These students are having their eyes opened in various ways as a result of the courses they have embarked on and the enthusiasm is palpable in those students who are taking advantage of this moment in their lives and are, in the company of their peers, seeing with new eyes in unexpected ways.

As part of the residency I organised, students worked with combinations and permutations of material generation and methods of collaboration comprising both field and studio research. In addition they participated in sessions with invited guests: a workshop with performance writer Mary Paterson, a presentation on lighting design by Martin Langthorne, alternate modes of attention introduced by Eilon Morris through a series of polyrhythmic exercises, and appropriation of musical structure with musician Boris Hauf. One student said: “thanks for the ‘holy shit’ moment, Boris” and another “it’s like I put on glasses and now I can see.” This same effect of increased awareness and sensation and perspective shift was happening in large and small ways every day.

We engaged in practical work mixed with critical attention and reflection which work hand in hand to increase each individual’s understanding of their own discipline and their own relationship to the work of making live performance.

When a group of four asked could they use the 100-metre rope from my performance (miles & miles with Sophie Grodin) for one of their own I was delighted to agree and their own delight at the prospect of having this resource was testament to the commitment and joy they were finding in the realisation of their own ideas.

There’s plenty of cloudy thought around, and sometimes a lack of interest, but mixing theory with practice and simply getting them to try things out, more often than not, the result was an engagement with material and a new relationship to the work of making performance. My goal was to help them find ways to make work that speaks about what is important to them in particular. Through identifying their own interests they begin to discover clarity, flow, and the energy and enthusiasm needed to spark and support creative work.

Tags: Plymouth University, residency, workshop

Posted on Monday, 15 May 2017 by Karen Christopher

finding the end

this is an excerpt from writing done during our Roehampton DTP residency to finish work on the performance duet miles & miles (this past January)—and we still aren’t really finished—the next deadline is coming up and is backed up by an imminent performance (7th & 8th July 2016, Chisenhale Dance Space)

A resolve has settled in, both a kind of clarity about what has to be done today and a realisation of the limitations a day includes, here, with us, in this room. We are finishing. We are finishing finishing. There’s a special setting on my brain for when the end is near. Maybe there’s more than one option for this setting. Maybe one of them is a kind of panic which produces wild-eyed blindness. Another is a wistful acknowledgement of the limits we face. We have only come this far thus far and the likelihood that we can see the edge is becoming more and more real. It is possible that the unknown possibilities—including dizzying brilliance as well as dim disappointment—are blinking out like spent candles. It is in this moment that we, giggling, came upon a plan to tell ourselves everything was still possible. But how do you fool yourselves when even imagination feels bounded by reality, even if that reality is one manufactured by yourselves?

Let us say we have determined that our show is using a central metaphor or analogy or visual image, surely the possible endings must come in line with the trajectory that springs from this central post, this guiding principle . . . or maybe anything is possible.

Tags: University of Roehampton, DTP, Sophie Grodin, residency, miles & miles, duet, Chisenhale Dance Space

Posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 by Karen Christopher

importing an audience once in a while

a report fragment from our 3-day residency at Roehampton to work on finishing miles & miles

We just have to rehearse this little part and then run the whole section that it comes from. We just need to work this middle bit because the built in looseness of it means that we have to know it very well. It’s hard to convince yourself sometimes that you should learn something that might not even work, that you have to work on it long enough to get good at it and then maybe throw it out. Working on it can make it difficult to throw it out later. You might get attached to it.

She said you have to have dinner with each other in order to be able to pop in and out of just talking to each other and performing the material. She meant it was hard to say where the parts when we were us performing and parts when we were us performing being just us talking. The pressure of it, the pressure of the gaze puts us in an it moment. A moment when it might happen, a moment when the material finds its velocity, its time and place—where something takes shape, gathers a weight. A performance needs an audience in order to be a performance. Even an audience of one counts as an audience. That’s where a director comes in handy—a director is always an audience of the piece. As we are both directing and both in it we have no regular audience. that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in trouble, it means we need to supply that dynamic in a different way. This means importing an audience once in a while. It means bringing in a series of outside eyes. It means subjecting ourselves to the scrutiny of another’s gaze. The energy of the gaze is a kind of compression the gives us the right climate in which to work. It gives us a pillowcase for all of these feathers. These feathers turn into birds and fly away. These thoughts lead to other thoughts and this is the way we develop a train of thoughts—that pathway through our possible trajectories helps clarify direction and limit choices. The reality of sequence or chronology is that it has one kind of grammar in the brain with a kind of dreamlike shorthand of simultaneous knowings and another kind of grammar in the reality outside of our heads which adheres to a kind of linearity associated with speech and writing and the qualities of physical matter. The idea of being hit by a bus vs the actual bus making impact with your own soft body.

Tags: University of Roehampton, DTP, Sophie Grodin, residency, duet, miles & miles

Posted on Thursday, 28 January 2016 by Karen Christopher

collaboration, surprise, and mayhem

The duet residencies

From Contemporary Theatre Review's 'Interventions' page:

Reflections on what makes an ideal artist’s residency, with reports on two residencies I undertook at the University of Roehampton in London in early 2015: one with Chris Goode, another with Lucy Cash.


You may recognize the writing in this essay from some less edited words relating to these residencies in earlier blog entries.

Tags: University of Roehampton, DTP, residency description, mayhem, residency, Lucy Cash, Chris Goode

Posted on Monday, 2 November 2015 by Karen Christopher

what happens in the room

(Notes following a residency with Lucy Cash at the University of Roehampton, Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance; week commencing 16 February 2015. For more context to this residency, see here)

You make a seal with an individual or a series of individuals and this seal creates an involuntary contract which writes itself according to the chemistry between you.

As you work together in a studio as we have, you sense and test what the rules of this contract are. you discover what is possible and the further you test, the more you learn about what is possible.

In this way the working arrangement is much like a particular view of fate or the possibilities that life at large presents. There are a constellation of prefigurations but there is also a set of variables and those rely on how you manage to use what is there practically and emotionally and magically in front of you.

On the first day in this 5-day studio residency Lucy asked me what it was like to work with the different duet partners I’ve been working with. It was hard to say without setting up a model for Lucy—people can only be the way they are—I do find I am a different creature with different people, my palate of responses is calibrated to what I perceive in the action between us.

Lucy and I misunderstood each other several times about very fundamental parts of what we were doing. But taking the long view, our focus was on making material, these moments simply continued to propel us toward what we were aiming at. Like walking robots who are designed to walk via a series of stumbles and tumbles, thus surmounting the robot’s most difficult obstacle—the pitfalls of perambulation—we agree to consider the mental stumble, the thought stutters part of how we communicate with each other rather than a sign of its impossibility.

Normally we conceived or composed a performance directive and then followed it. As a result of something I said, Lucy produced this sequence in reverse. I performed an action and then she pronounced a directive. I was surprised. Surprised is good. There is potential in surprise.

I was thinking through the parts of the event and what built it—reverse engineering a moment in which water is spilled into a river on the floor as a product of the directive: “Using gravity, stick liquid to a surface.” In this case, the directive came after the action and reversed the direction of thought from my point of view. The confusion of intention and action and the mis-chronology offer alternate spectacles and lead to re-thinking the constituent parts of a cascading chain of events, the flow of details, the unblending of a mixture, the spread then of a tumult, now visible as separate parts with separate functions yet all as one in their natural state. A post-mortem only possible post-mortem.

Everything we had mentioned or focussed on, acted upon us, even the incidental played a part in how we activated the ideas in the room. There was an abandoned water bottle in the room. I removed it only to retrieve it later when I needed a river. The students watching said: “you didn’t worry about the part that didn’t work, you just found another approach, you didn’t stop to dwell on that, you just kept going” — without stalling from the inertia of a failing plan we had changed tactics and, drawing from a chain of events set in motion by every single thing that had happened earlier that day, we carried on attempting to pull performance material into the here and now. We hadn’t noticed the switch and now the students were teaching us what we’d done.

How does one keep one’s head in the moment? Post-moment is all we seem to have. Moment is a gift to post-moment in the same way that everything I do is a gift to future-Karen and either sets future-Karen up well or not-so-well but is always a present in good faith.

But all is still not yet clear, even if I squint my eyes. From the vantage point of day’s end (of which we had five) this is now the moment when the light dies and the colours shed their names. And here now I wish to say that it became clear and then cloudy again; the material a creature which loomed and then slid back into the dark waters. I saw before its retreat, a possibility of the individual parts coming together to perform as colours do and then falling apart into something less than meaning. The creature not quite formed. Try again tomorrow. And yet contours were visible. An interdependent collection at a range of distances. A toll booth that adds up the proceeds, a voice that continues after the parade has passed. And if we continue working, the contours will stop slipping and eventually we will see through the fog to the performance taking shape in the clearing.

We read from a Bridget Riley interview: she says the colours and shapes participate in the event conceived by herself. We read from Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter the assemblage of both intentional influence and the natural properties of materials conspire to create event and the equal participation of human intention and material action and interaction make a single voice or land on a surface together to present one layer of event at one particular point in time.

And we tell ourselves this: A performance directive is a way to contribute to (or create) a future conversation. By holding up a performance which releases thought when they look at it, activate the audience to release meaning.

Make a performance which suggests a constellation the viewer wishes to name.

Tags: residency, Lucy Cash, featherweight, University of Roehampton, DTP

Posted on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 by Karen Christopher

strange pearls: the way friday is different from monday on this particular week

(Notes following a residency with Chris Goode at the University of Roehampton, Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance; week commencing 19 January 2015. For more context to this residency, see here.)

The room is thicker now with less of a flutter. Not as transfixed by the dead flies and the constant air travel overhead. Let’s not do something about flight safety and house flies or why haven’t we.

Calm is here and the quiet of the room is aloud. Loud enough all by itself. The listening is more and less. The space in my head is wider and more directed. We know a bit more what we don’t know about what the work might be.

Testing is the only way to know what we are as two. As two we can imagine or try to imagine what might happen or we might be hesitant to think about it because setting something down in brain matter in a linear explainable verbalised way might pave the way for entrenchment or disappointment or unnecessary disagreement—the kind that gets hung up on a technicality. So maybe we didn’t know what to expect or didn’t know what we expected and then what actually happened has cleared that up to some extent.

And the people who have stepped into the room on one or more than one occasion during the week have left a residue and we carry what they said and how they breathed in here, we carry that  with us when we think about what we are doing or what we have done in this room.

So it is thicker. It is thicker with the stones and with the 20 Jesus smiles and the hands as puppets and as if something were happening and if we say it is it is and if it’s happening it is something but we do need to figure out what and we have done some of that. The failure of communication has risen as a main concern in the material. The what of the matter of the piece might be solved by the smiles and the names of them and that the smiles have names. And now we know that we must catalog the smiles and that when they are fully ordered and named then we will have finished the work.

Ten feet tall with the list of things to be punished. We need a box. How does it end up? as if we were pointing something out to you. Something about punishment and something about smiles and something about a comparison to Jesus. Je suis Jesus. And something about where to look and how these people turn their gaze and look or don’t look we look at them and see or don’t see everything that is there to see and overtime more and slower it looks like something else or more like itself but slower and more room for conjecture and puncture and rock up to the truck and “smoke’em up here boss!” and stay where you are because there are rules and everyone makes a rule to live by or looks for one and if you haven’t got one it is mayhem or if you have got one but not the right one it is mayhem or if yours is different from mine it is mayhem.

[and then I go to wikipedia and find the following]
Mayhem is a criminal offence consisting of the intentional maiming of another person.

Under the common law of England and Wales and other common law jurisdictions, it originally consisted of the intentional and wanton removal of a body part that would handicap a person's ability to defend himself in combat. Under the strict common law definition, initially this required damage to an eye or a limb, while cutting off an ear or a nose was deemed not sufficiently disabling. Later the meaning of the crime expanded to encompass any mutilation, disfigurement, or crippling act done using any instrument.

This article is outdated. Please update this section to reflect recent events or newly available information. (August 2011)

The most significant change in common-law mayhem doctrine came in 1697, when the King's Bench decided Fetter v. Beale, 91 Eng. Rep. 1122. There, the plaintiff recovered in a battery action against a defendant. Shortly thereafter, "part of his skull by reason of the said battery came out of his head," and the plaintiff brought a subsequent action under mayhem. Though Fetter is also known as an early example of res judicata, it is most significant for expanding the ambit of mayhem to include "loss of the skull."

Some information has been removed by the cut-and-paster for the sake of brevity.


Both the noun "mayhem" and the verb "maim" come from Old French via Anglo-Norman. The word is first attested in various Romance languages in the 13th century, but its ultimate origin is unclear.[4] For one theory about its origin see wiktionary:mayhem.

Other uses

Mayhem can describe a person going on a rampage. Popular misunderstanding of the common journalese expression "rioting and mayhem" caused the common usual modern use of "mayhem" to mean "havoc and disorder", often with humorous overtones.
[ . . . ]

And then I think about the thin line between using the word and knowing what it means, between using it and questioning that use, between finding out that it means something different than you thought but finding out that everyone that heard you use it had the same misapprehension you did, and then what does the word mean? and then remembering how grateful you are that someone, some many ones, made this language that you use and gave it to you.

Tags: strange pearls, residency, Chris Goode, University of Roehampton, DTP

Posted on Wednesday, 28 January 2015 by Karen Christopher

we try to set up an atmosphere

Ideally a residency takes place in a dedicated spot, a spot where those involved, in this case, the two of us, can set up an atmosphere dedicated to the work we hope to do. This work is not yet imagined. If the work can be represented by a photo perhaps there is a corner of the photo that is developed and in focus while the rest of the photo is still being developed. So we try to set up an atmosphere that is conducive to a good working climate. It is alchemical, it is a kind of magic combination of protection, collection, deliberation, and discovery. It is a container for what might come. We don’t yet know what shape it will take so it helps if it is somewhat expansive. It needs to be open and without a sense of oppression. It needs to be without distraction and yet somehow open to contamination. It needs to be stimulating without being overwhelming. It needs to be quiet enough for listening but with something to listen for.

We’d like to have a combination of cloister and gathering. We’d like to be alone and to be visited. We’d like to work hard and have it feel like play. We like to focus so that ideas will come to distract us. We’d like to stay inside and travel very far away.

It is often when we are looking intently for one thing that we find another. The one thing we are looking for cannot be merely a shill for the eventual discovery. This original focus is very influential and governs the direction of our gaze and yet it is what appears out the corners of our eyes that is often what takes over to become the ultimate focus and the centre of our attention. A kind of virtual snooker match, a set of ricochetting foci, a series of new angles and knock-on effects. We need a set of surfaces to bounce off.

The residency places us in a context offset from our usual habit. This newness is engineered to unlock routine and find possibilities in a shape becoming ours while we attempt to inhabit it. It is a place to be a tourist and see with unaccustomed eyes. It is a brand new outfit that requires us to reconsider our parameters. It is a break and a hollow place, it is a cradle and a bridge, it is a state of mind and a solid shape.

There are two residencies planned to take place at University of Roehampton, Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance. Practically this means work in the studio for 5 to 6 days followed by a public-facing presentation for the DTP community.

The two residencies in January and February at Roehampton will involve Chris Goode and Lucy Cash respectively:

January (week commencing 19 Jan) with Chris Goode


February (week commencing 16 Feb) with Lucy Cash

Tags: residency description, residency, Lucy Cash, featherweight, Chris Goode, strange pearls, University of Roehampton, DTP

Posted on Sunday, 11 January 2015 by Karen Christopher