Gaping Hole (Story #3): A Conversation

Greg Wohead: We are making a performance called Gaping Hole (Story #3), which is a continuation of our ‘Story’ performances—after Story #1 (there is no Story #2 as yet, which is why we cheekily call this a non-linear trilogy—in actuality it’s the second Story performance to see the light of day and it may well not be a trilogy as I imagine we might just keep making these). Let’s check in with where we’re at with this performance. It’s about holes—plot holes in a way, but there’s something we keep saying to each other which is that it’s about the things we’re willing to overlook in order to stay comfortable. In our discussions this has meant both personal things and larger scale political or social things—like climate change, for instance.

We’re still in the process of making the show, so there is still a lot for us to discover, and perhaps some things we do already know that we might not want to tell people before they come and see it. But I have a few questions for you. We talk about being audacious with our collaboration and the different things that can mean. Do you think we’re being audacious in this performance? How? Do you think it’s ever important to continue to overlook something in order to stay comfortable? Do we always need to try to take in the full ‘truth’ of the matter at all times?

Rachel Mars: I think at this stage we are still pushing for the audacious. By which I mean the big conceptual radical act. And yet, as I write that, I’m thinking about small audaciousness. The audaciousness of making continual queer choices, of living these non-major stories every day, of pointing out again and again the heteronormativity of the world we are in, and being aware of how it has formed us, and how we are attempting to live in it in different shapes. I think that’s on my mind. There are definitely big performance choices we are making that feel audacious, partly informed by the fact no one will ever perform in that space again after us. Choices to do with the audience’s perception, with safety.

What about you? Do you think we are being audacious? What does that term mean to you at the moment?

As for this second set of your questions, I think this is where the personal and the political start to pull apart. I’ve tried to overlook things personally to stay comfortable and it hasn’t worked so well—things come and announce themselves when you aren’t prepared for it. To look directly into the uncomfortable ‘holes’ of your own stuff is arduous, upsetting, but I increasingly think necessary in order to be living a conscious life. If I’d kept overlooking my own stuff I’d be married to a man and I’d have kids. Which doesn’t look like a disaster from the outside, but, I think I would be in real trouble. The short-term comfort would be way out-shadowed by a dark-as-hell long term discomfort.

When it comes to the world it can be very soothing to pretend the world isn’t on fire. I mean, at the moment I don’t think it’s possible to live fully consciously of our political and global situation at all times. I think it comes down to struggle and fight and sustainability—which struggles, at which times, for how much of our days? If I was really trying to take in the full truth of the political and environmental situation now, would I be writing this? Making this performance work? I have to continue believing that art is a necessary and righteous cause, and the time it takes is worthwhile socially, politically.  I think it comes down to death. What harm are we prepared to have done and to whom in pursuit of personal safety, personal pleasure?

How do you see this question of discomfort and truth?

I also wanted to ask—what are the things you are wanting to dig into in these project that wouldn’t feel appropriate or possible in other projects? What are the risks you are wanting to take? 

GW: I like these questions. And I think I might speak to your last one first.

We talk about a sense of recklessness in our collaboration, and that’s certainly something that for whatever reason seems more possible here than in my own projects. I think for that reason the risks I’m wanting to take are sort of about being reckless with meaning-making. We have quite involved conversations about the ideas surrounding this piece—magical thinking, self-delusion, facing up to truths—but actually I think its ok if people watch the show and don’t come away with all the nuances of every discussion we’ve had. Instead we’re trying to make something that’s a juicy embodiment of the ideas rather than an intellectual comment on them. For me that feels more possible here in our collaboration in a building that’s about to be demolished.

For now the audaciousness in the performance is largely coming from the fact that we’re doing some demolition on the building. So I would agree in that we are still pushing for the audacious. At the moment audacious means something like the feeling that we’re doing something that you ‘can’t do’. There are a few things—including the demolition—that start to budge up against that, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I’d like to get there.

As for the question around discomfort and truth, I think I’m generally with you. Your statement towards the end of that paragraph is something that stands out to me: What harm are we prepared to have done and to whom in pursuit of personal safety, personal pleasure? Obviously we’re all implicated in harms against other people and against our world in order to live the way we live. As I’ve gotten older (I think of it in relationship to age anyway—this may or may not be true), I have thought more and more about which ways I’m prepared to sacrifice my personal comfort in order to persist with the values I think are important based on the information I have. And at times I find myself inching a little more towards personal comfort. Maybe this is how and why some people become more jaded and conservative with age—over time perhaps we increasingly see that many huge personal sacrifices have not had much of an effect. Obviously it’s difficult to speak in generalities on this and when I say conservative I probably mean incrementally less radical that I used to think I should be rather than actually conservative.

What are your responses to any of this and/or what is a provocation you would like to give us or me for this performance that you haven’t yet told me?

RM: Right. I do think this is why some people get more conservative with age—a realisation of time running out and a decision to make choices based on maximum personal comfort over that time. And yet, I think there are plenty of folks for whom the time running out is a galvanising factor to get more radical, more insistent on their values (I guess I’m thinking of so many of the older folks who campaign, the XR’ers, the Greenham Common women). It feels politically like we are entering a post-Thatcher period (that period has taken A LOT of time to shake out) where individuals are realising there is some point—some power—to personal discomfort for the sake of the wider good. I suppose it is about where your world view ends—at your death, or into the future beyond it? Where, at what time-point, do you feel your responsibility lies?

I’m also thinking particularly about queerness—I wonder perhaps if it goes two ways. So, you struggle as a queer person to get to a point of personal comfort (pretty much daily) in a heteronormative world. These tiny incidents every day remind you that the world is not designed with you in mind. You have to insist on living your story, carving out a channel for your existence and that of your community, and that costs—time, money, emotional labour. With that labour happening, it is really easy and understandable to get to a point of needing moments of personal comfort and relaxing into them because they are so hard won. Which is good. AND it’s also vital to keep on fighting for the values you think are important if you want to see any change in the world when it’s so tempting (and would be fair) to just shout FUCK IT I’M DONE and stop calling things out. I think any minority person living in a majority organised world is up against that all the time. And it is exhausting.

Which I think brings me to pleasure—pleasure as a radical action. Maybe even comfort as a radical action. I’m wondering what pleasure we can offer ourselves or the audience in this show and how that could be radical, reckless?

GW: Pleasure and fun is really important in this work, and it’s important in our collaboration. And our friendship I think!

Ovalhouse’s offer for Gaping Hole is that some building demolition is possible—the fun of that is a big part of the appeal for us in making the show and hopefully for the audience watching it. I have found it a challenge to bridge the gap between our imagined dream version of the dramatic destruction of the theatre and the reality of what is safely possible, what that actually looks like and to make it just as fun as we had imagined. And not *just* to make it fun—as you know we have had endless mini ideas for Marx-Brothers-esque gags you can do with the destruction elements, but just fun on its own doesn’t seem to be enough for us. Or at least it’s not what we’re trying to do. I think we want the fun to get us somewhere, to knock something loose and to make something else seem possible.

Fan fiction is still fun for us I think. Unexpected unaddressed images are fun. Putting each other on the spot is fun. Some of the things I have found the most reckless and radical have had to do with context—what is something that is mundane or ordinary when you do it at home or at work or on the street or in private, for example, but when done in a theatre or in a show somehow seems reckless or radical?

RM: Fun is a weird one isn’t it. Working in a space with holes in it suggests endless gags that you can do—it’s hard to find a balance. You can give people fast thrilling hilarity which collapses as soon as you show it and is delightful, but really is an empty gesture when it comes to the overall concept or questions of the show. Those actions in themselves are quite useful to cover up holes—look at this surprising thing! Look at another one! Don’t look over here! It’s felt like a fairly tough process to date—something that is shifting in this last week—I think we are are holding ourselves to higher and higher standards as we make and see more work. Those kinds of fast delightful gags are choices that feel fairly easy. I’m not into that on its own as an organising principle for the work, and yet I don’t want us to decide that those gags/surprises are off the table completely.

Everyday news has been imitating art—what with photoshopped dogs and no one dead in a ditch despite their promises. So I think we can afford not to be on the nose in the material—there’s no need to show everyone politics. The job is about continuing to insist on other stories.

Gaping Hole (Story #3) runs at Ovalhouse, London 8-23 November

Image Credits:
Christa Holka Photographer
David Curtis Ring Art Direction and Set Design
Alexander Innes Post Production

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