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"Finding Our Feet in the Shoes of (One An) Other": Multiple Character Solo Performers and Utopian Performatives1 JILL DOLAN Somehow, during all the times she had thought about aCling before /.../ !she! had/or. gOllen that the audience was made up o/individual people, each one endowed with the capacity 10 stare. /.../ Their/aces were embarrassingly attentive; and then. at (he end. they just left, emprying out into the street. It seemed to fh er} chat there should be a parting ceremony jar leaving rhe theatre. some sort oj solemn. deferential gesture. That the audience was the one that should bow. - Stacey O'Erasmo. Tea 165 With thefirst notes a frisson runs through the house; the hairs spring to attention on napes of necks; erectile tissues stir unhidden beneath pearl-studded shirtfronts and matronly bodies, and within the farthest folds of nuns' habits. Two things can inspire such a shiver: a beautiful voice, and someone walking on your grave. But only the former can allow you to share the shiver with a packed house. - Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall 011 Your Knees 86 The spirit ofacting is the travelji'om the selfto the other. / .../ Ifwe were to inhabit the speech pattern ofanother,and walk in the speech ofanother, we couldfind the individuality ofthe other and experience that individuality viscerally. [.../ Learning about the other by being the other requires the use ofall aspects ofmemory, the memOlY of the body, mind and heart, as well as the words. - Anna Deavere Smith, Fires i1l rhe Mirror xxvi-xxvii Impelled by my commitment to the progressive political potential of live interactions in theatre, I've begun to focus my research on the ways in which performance, as a practice, can offer glimpses of utopia. I see these moments in the theatre drawn in small gestures that f1in with how our lives might be different, were the objectives of social justice and freedom truly achieved. Modern Drama, 45:4 (Winter 2002) 495 JILL DOLAN Borrowing from J.L. Austin. I'm calling these fleeting glimpses of a better world "utopian performatives," which point toward a corrective vision of social life in the "doing" of certain elements of performance. These utopian performatives work primarily at the level of affect. That is. my concern is not with performance about utopia (since few such texts even come to mind). I'm interested in utopia as a placeholder for social change. as a "no place" that the apparatus of theatre - its liveness. the potential it holds for real social exchange. its mortality. its openness to human interactions that life outside this magical space prohibits - can model productively. For example. in my essay. "Performance. Utopia. and the 'Utopian Performative...• which focused on feminist solo performers Holly Hughes. Peggy Shaw. and Deb Margolin. I found these glimpses of utopia in their interactions with their audiences. Their stories directly addressed spectators and modeled an ephemeral but powerful intersubjectivity that let spectators experience affectively. if fleetingly. what utopia might leel like. This essay considers multiple character solo performance work by Lily Tomlin. Danny Hoch. and Anna Deavere Smith to investigate how performing across cultural identities in the formalized space of theatre might provoke utopian performatives that offer glimpses of how people might be together in a more respectful. care-full. loving human community . however small or larger those configurations might be. My larger goal. in prodding our field and our performance practices toward contemplating a vision of a better world, is to attempt to reanimate a humanism that can incorporate love. hope. and commonality alongside a deep and respectful understanding of difference. As Robin D.G. Kelley remarks in his book on the civil rights movement: Progressive social movements do not simply produce statistics and narratives of oppression; rather {he best ones do what great poetry always does: transport us to another place. compel us to relive horrors and, more importantly. enable us to imagine a new society. We must remember that the conditions and the very existence of social movements enable participants to imagine something different, to realize that things need not always be this way. (9) In a sense, feminist theatre criticism has always been utopian, looking to performance for methods to reconstruct...


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