what makes a performance?

This is something I’ve been mulling for a while. Actually, now I’ve got these two images juxtaposed in my head, a pan of mulled wine heating on the stove and my brain pondering the nature of performance, which makes me imagine a pan in the shape of a skull, and I don’t think I want to go any farther with that particular train of thought.

Back to the mulling. At one end of a spectrum, there’s conversation. You might catch your partner’s or best friend’s eye, pull a face, point, snicker, make a monosyllabic reference to a private joke – and any number of ideas and opinions might get communicated. They might even constitute a story, though of course definitions of that term differ. Taking a minimalist definition, though – two events connected to each other in time – you can come up with a thousand permutations of ‘telling a story’ that barely make use of language.

At the other end of a spectrum, there’s storytelling. That’s the relatively drawn-out, utterly captivating spell that a good narrative, told well, can cast. It’s what happens when the phone rings or the taxi arrives or the airplane landing nearby drowns out the storyteller’s voice: you miss what happens next, and you’re desperate. You must know, and you must know now, competing obligations or screaming jet engines be damned.

But this isn’t just any spectrum. It’s got three pointy bits instead of two. The third one is performance. That’s the bit that’s harder to pin down. It can be implicated in either of the other two, or (possibly) skipped altogether. It’s the extraneous, gratuitous bit. The bit that doesn’t necessarily serve the structure of the narrative but makes it that much more entertaining. It’s the bit that isn’t ‘normal’ conversation. It’s the bit that, if you do it wrong, you look like such a jerk, but if you do it right, you’re a genius.

My hypothesis: storytelling is not performance, and performance is not storytelling, but a narrative event probably includes some of each. And designing for storytelling is not going to be the same as designing for performance.

That’s the thought that would keep me up at night, if I weren’t so tired that the idea of being kept up by anything other than the Snore Monster beside me has become utterly laughable. (You just watch – now I’ll have insomnia. But now I’ve joked about it, I won’t. But now I will. I’ll stop there.)

So there’s some insight into my PhD project, and some insight into the fact that I’m tired (and mildly superstitious). Other than the fact that my PhD project is my life, perhaps I should share something more concrete about my life this week.

Today, I hit the snooze button four times, took a shower, ate breakfast, and sat down to grade papers. I managed five – it took an age, mostly because I have to read lots of material in order to assess the papers, and partly because I’m trying hard to calibrate my grading to the lecturer’s standards.

Then lunch, followed by filling out a scholarship application, and then a design session. That might sound fancy, but it’s just me sitting on the floor with a pencil and lots of big sheets of paper, trying to come up with sensible ideas.

Yoga class, which usually follows my cello lesson but my teacher is ill this week, then I practiced while my lovely and talented husband fixed dinner for us both. Now he’s looking over my scholarship application like I asked him to, and recommending changes like I asked him to, but it’s annoying the heck out of me because all I really want to do at this point is go to bed.

Yep. That’s my life, at least today.

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