This essay sketches the possibilities for creative-relational inquiry through the lens of theatre and performance, particularly the writings of Peter Brook and Tim Etchells on “the empty space” and through affect theory and nonrepresentational writing, particularly the work of Kathleen Stewart, Ken Gale, and Jonathan Wyatt.

When I look at the words, Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry, here, on the page, I think first of the hyphen, of what it holds apart, of what it joins, of what is adjacent to that holding apart and joining:

Creative and Relational, of course.

And also:

Centre for and inquiry.

Then there's what comes after the colon, namely: possibilities, affordances, constraints. Silence.

And in that looking, in that standing back that the white space of the page affords, what strikes me is: an empty space. A space for … encountering others in an effort to discover, listen, and understand.

What strikes me, in my mind's eye, is this:

FIGURE 1.

“after,” by Ed Schipul (image licensed under CC BY 2.0).1

FIGURE 1.

“after,” by Ed Schipul (image licensed under CC BY 2.0).1

What strikes me is the exchange that the empty stage—as a Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry—encourages, initiates, and supports. In its incarnation in the space at the University of Edinburgh—which is a stage for the work, voices, and words of those of us who touch that space—what is encouraged, initiated and supported is liveness. At the center of that kind of center is the idea that relationships create something ample and expansive in the everyday—or afford us those things.

What strikes me is the im/possibility of an empty stage—which, the moment we shift our gaze toward it, or slide our bare feet across it, becomes alive with the real and imagined performances that might inhabit it. Director Peter Brook invokes “the empty space” in a series of lectures on the state of theatre in the late 1960s,2 a time not unlike the time we find ourselves in now, a time marked by increasing threat to social, political, cultural, and environmental responsibility. In that context, Brook sought to articulate the purpose of theatre, which, in its most elemental and successful terms, is creating an encounter in which the everyday electricity of the human condition is evoked. Engaged. Laid bare.

Brook's stripped-back theatre was not minimalist in its focus on encounter but, instead, maximal. In the empty space of the theatre, “audience and the performer … recognize they are all part of the same family. … The actor's task then, is to lead the audience into unknown territory—so the actor has to create the confidence that will encourage them to go along, keeping close to them, and heading towards an exploration of something that neither actor nor audience have yet discovered.”3 Brook says the work of theatre begins with space and an “in between” silence. To get at the sense of what the in-between silence of the theatre might create, Brook contrasts other sorts of silence: “dead” silence (which gives us “deadly,” passive theatre, the kind of experience in which we give up so completely we fall asleep) with the silence of “supreme communication”—moments “when people normally divided from one another by every sort of natural human barrier suddenly find themselves truly together.”4 In between these “two silences” is the silence of people in a theatre, one in which “everyone is so keyed to the same point that there is this extraordinary life, in between the two … where all the questions arise.”5 What strikes me about Brook's idea that the work of theatre happens “in between the two” silences is that this is the work we take up when we open spaces for inquiry. They are spaces where we come together to work in between silences and relationships. We come together not to pin things down, but to open things up and to ask questions. Brook also says, “We come together at this moment. You are sitting there; we are sitting here. Somebody asks a question; somebody answers. That's unimportant. What is important is: do we feel that it is worth asking the question, and worth trying to understand the question …. Is it possible in the short time that one spends in a theatre to enter into a living situation truly in a different way, and a more intense way, than if one encountered exactly the same situation in any other part of one's ordinary day? I think that is the only question.”6 Brook's ideas about theatre as a coming together to enter into a living situation with difference and intensity resonate with what Jonathan Wyatt and Ken Gale say about their writing “between the two,” creating, together, a space in which their writing is “becoming,”7 moving into “the gap across which desire might spark.”8

In the theatre—and in the academy—ours is the work of making space in which we can sit with, hear, feel, and see “live surfaces of difference at work in the ordinary.”9

Often, that work is marked by waiting. By boredom and stillness. By space and silence.

And I'm reminded of how we need some conditions—constraints, frustrations, stasis—to do that making, to begin working out together what we might be able to do, together. In words, in bodies moving, in space.

I'm not talking about the kinds of words, spaces, and silences that happen when we are making a performance of a known thing—a play by Harold Pinter or Shakespeare, say. Those spaces are also marked by waiting and emptiness and silences. Marked by words and bodies moving as punctuation to a process of making. But the spaces for making a known thing are often created in the service of making things known—taking them apart, pinning them down, saying what those plays mean.

Instead, I'm speaking about the creative and shifting nature of encounter as an exploration of that unknown territory without needing to set it down or rub it out. About the affective and intensive in our everyday—language, thoughts, and feelings, ways of being together. Swimming together in “oceans of the unknown.”10 These encounters (“capacities to affect and be affected”) are what we are after and interested in.11 I am speaking about the work of creating spaces in which we try to “slow the quick jump to representational thinking and evaluative critique long enough to … find something to say about ordinary affects by performing some of the intensity and texture that makes them habitable and animate.”12 Spaces for sensing, rather than reasoning.13

Creative-relational inquiry is about making a performance while removing the “a,” which stands in like a guide, pointing the way from the messy work of creating to the finishedness and the meaning of a particular performance—that Pinter play you love. Or that Shakespeare.

Making performance. The kind that comes out of nothing except the part about love. Love of performance

Love of the intimacy and desire it promises.

Love of making not of a performance, but performance itself.

Performance maker Tim Etchells writes of the empty stage and the silent contemplation of those of us who gather there, in between. We sit, staring into the emptiness and trying to imagine the things that might fill it.14

Etchells says that if we sit together long enough, we will begin. But begin how? In the silences, directing our attention to the empty stage, looking without knowing what we are looking for, yet. Other times it begins with “low-level” fooling around, rearranging things in space; being stupid with props and costumes. Playing.15

Etchells says, too, of the frustrating, circular, and seemingly endless discussions that happen in these empty spaces as a kind of gathering of energy—which could be mistaken for treading water or rage or mild insanity. He writes about how such discussions and waiting and fooling around are necessary for making it possible for something snap into focus. He says it's a performance-rehearsal version of the “talking cure.”16

Etchells writes us into this space, the center for—and perhaps of—inquiry, in this way: “Time passes slowly in the room with no windows, in which you spend your days whether it is raining or sun-shining outside. You make things, slowly, very slowly, leaving behind a trail of failed attempts as nonsense and, if you are lucky, slowly, very slowly you accumulate a store of scenes and fragments that you love, that have puzzled and perplexed you in the good way, that have made you smile, that have made you weep, shake your head or that have made your heart beat faster.”17 And then I am thinking again, now, about the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry, and about how the “empty space” of the stage is one space in which the creative and relational dance happens.

One space in which the process of inquiry is marked, first perhaps

by waiting and silence. Though it's the kind of silence in which you “know that for the moment there is nothing else to say, that more action is now needed.”18

And then—and then—the space and the waiting becomes animated. Moves in that becoming kind of way, and keeps moving, into a

Becoming between the two, into an as-yet unknown territory

a process of looking for what we don't yet know

pushing and pulling into what José Esteban Muñoz calls the not-yet, and the productive force of that tension when “the here and now is simply not enough.”19

Empty stage, blank page, open signifier before and after the hyphen. What might we make of it? Stake out and hold? Declare for ourselves?

Like making performance, perhaps we'll make the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry one piece, one word, one movement at a time. We'll make it in the waiting and desire and the in-between the two of silence. We will make it by fooling around and gathering energy tender and hard at the same time—like being battered by butterflies.

The work is “difficult, easy, possible, and impossible.”20 And if we are lucky, slowly, very slowly, we will accumulate a store of scenes and encounters and ideas we love, that puzzle and perplex us in the good way, that make us smile and weep, and make our hearts beat faster doing qualitative research that puts the relational at its heart.

NOTES

1.

Ed Shipul (eschipul), “after”, Flickr, 5 December 2011, https://www.flickr.com/photos/16638697@N00/6474039347. Image licensed under CC BY 2.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

2.

Peter Brook, The Empty Space: A Book about the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968/1996).

3.

Peter Brook, Between Two Silences: Talking with Peter Brook, ed. Dale Moffitt (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), e-book: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=yzQxDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

4.

Brook, Between Two Silences.

5.

Brook, Between Two Silences.

6.

Brook, Between Two Silences.

7.

Ken Gale and Jonathan Wyatt, Between the Two: A Nomadic Inquiry into Collaborative Writing and Subjectivity (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2009), 3.

8.

Maggi MacLure, Discourse in Education and Social Research (Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2003), 3.

9.

Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 4. This sounds a lot like Brook's entering “into a living situation truly in a different way” (Between Two Silences), but is from Stewart's book on affect and the everyday.

10.

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Penguin, 2006), 163.

11.

Stewart, Ordinary Affects, 2.

12.

Stewart, Ordinary Affects, 4.

13.

Gale and Wyatt, Between the Two, 3.

14.

Tim Etchells, “In the Silences: A Text with Very Many Digressions and Forty-Three Footnotes Concerning the Process of Making Performance,” Performance Research 17, no. 1 (2012): 33.

15.

Etchells, “In the Silences,” 34.

16.

Etchells, “In the Silences,” 33.

17.

Etchells, “In the Silences,” 36.

18.

Etchells, “In the Silences,” 36.

19.

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 96.

20.

Etchells, “In the Silences,” 36.