- Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island
Goat Island’s work is done. Their most recent piece, The Lastmaker (2007), was their last after twenty years of performances, workshops, and written reflection in “schoolbooks” and “reading companions.” In the spirit of those texts, Small Acts of Repair offers a montage of texts and images of work in Chicago and elsewhere, from their first performance, Soldier, Child, Tortured Man (1987), to their penultimate; this montage does not so much “document” or “critique” those works, as the book’s blurb implies, as re-present the processes of collection, transformation, and enactment that constitute their performances. The book invites readers who have followed all or part of Goat Island’s history to re-envisage those processes through and against source texts and comments by participants and observers that accompanied performances. At the same time, published in the wake of their decision to end their formal collaboration, it also offers a record of work distinguished not only by the modesty suggested by “small acts,” but by a sensitivity to the ethics and aesthetics of those acts, differentiating them both from more emphatic political actions and from the ironic distance associated with postmodern performers like the Wooster Group.
Readers coming to Goat Island for the first time might best begin at the end of the book. A timeline lists performances and documents participants, especially performer-writer Goulish and director Lin Hixson, who formed the core of the company throughout, and collaborators such as Karen Christopher, Bryan Saner, and Mark Jeffrey who [End Page 506] performed most works. The index and bibliography point to sources, keywords, collaborators, and critics, providing references to compare Goat Island with contemporary groups like Wooster or predecessors like Judson Dance Theatre. Advertisements for “related titles,” including The Wooster Group Workbook and Goulish’s 39 Microlectures in Proximity of Performance, were added by Routledge, but they pick up Goat Island’s reflection in the prologue on marketing’s “proximity” to performance; it “gives people a point of entry and a specific invitation,” while over time the accumulation of marketing materials from many performances “may work more slowly to have a lasting effect” in the shaping of the archive (xv).
As several participants note, Judson Dance Theatre provides a point of departure for the repetition or subtle revision of running, jumping, sliding, and other physical exertions that punctuate Goat Island’s performances as well as the institutional association with former church buildings. The Wooster Group, on the other hand, bears comparison with Goat Island chiefly to highlight their differences. Both companies cite sources from both high culture and low, but, where Wooster Group’s method produces collage in which high and low elements collide (as do Gertrude Stein and B-movies in House/Lights or, notoriously, Arthur Miller’s Crucible and Timothy Leary’s babysitter in LSD), Goat Island treats sources less as “deconstructed originals” than as “constituent parts of a new structure, a new ecology of interconnected points” (63). Further, while elements of popular culture tend to function as ironic comments on high cultural pretensions in the Wooster Group, such as Kate Valk’s blackface rendering of The Emperor Jones, similar elements in Goat Island that might invite caricature generate the opposite effect. In How Dear to Me the Hour When Daylight Dies, for instance, Karen Christopher’s recitation into an echo-y microphone of an old 45 rpm recording of Mike Walker, a Korean War vet describing his dubious honor as the fattest man in America, while she lies with her head on the floor and her legs over a rickety folding chair, moved the audience to ponder, rather than to slight, the trauma of this “forgotten figure” (82). The Wooster Group’s deconstructive irony and deployment of technological mediation (through, for example, video representations of absent performers) highlight by contrast Goat Island’s commitment to the presence and physicality of the individual body in movement with others, as well their proximation (but never presumptive claim) of...