The stage is an island.
Tacita Dean’s Event for a Stage asserts just this proposition. A chalk circle on the ground demarcates the space of the stage, audience in the round. The stage is unfurnished save for a microphone hanging in its centre and two cameramen passing around and across it. The Actor, Stephen ‘Stannis Barathean’ Dillane, has already begun his monologue when the audience are seated.
From the outset, Event for a Stage pushes back at the idea of the stage. The Actor tells the audience he does not have to be there at all, he may leave at any time. He then does just that, leaving the audience in an uncomfortable silence in which the stage seems to expand and to engulf them also, banks of seats facing each other and brightly lit, nothing between them to draw their focus away from each other.
Dean sits to the side of stage, passing Dillane notes that he flings to the ground, relating stories of the process that these two ‘suspicious strangers’ embarked on in making this show. The classical stage, Dean reminds her audience, is constituted by the suspension of disbelief: the fourth wall. Breaking it is nothing new, but Event for a Stage does it so completely as to render what takes place on the stage itself nonsensical and obsolete.
The script ostensibly being performed is Shakespearean mumbo-jumbo, a mash-up of texts delivered with exaggerated gravitas; a performance of performance itself. Only when The Actor steps outside the chalk circle bounding the stage do we encounter a narrative in the piece, as Dillane relates his motivation for participating and memories of his father and brother. Outside the space of the stage the audience is offered information imbued with a sense of veracity.
Within the stage, nothing happens but performance itself, captured for radio by the microphone and cinema for the cameras. This is the event of Event for a Stage – these performative gestures. They are made eventful by several factors, the defining qualities of the stage: the inside and outside – the fourth wall; the unique temporality operational on the stage, here unsettled by the recording devices; the self-contained logic of the stage; the silent contract entered into by audience and performer, also unsettled by Dillane’s refusal to play his part; the suspension of disbelief.
In revealing them, in cracking them open, Dean has exposed the qualities of performance on a stage, and they are that of the island: self-completion; internal logic; unique temporality. Hence the second proposition: stage as island.