W is a research collective that studies action in a performance setting. What does it mean to act as others watch? What characterizes the relation we call theater?

To answer these questions, W simultaneously develops three complementary approaches: a practice, which builds tools and techniques for the actor; a critical method, which suggests reception guidelines for the spectator; and a theory, which works towards defining notions useful to the first two approaches.

In particular, W produces games, a score writing software, a lexicon of operational notions, workshops and practical sessions, critical seminars, as well as articles and conferences.

This lecture was given by Jeanne Revel and Joris Lacoste on October 17, 2007 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and the text was published the same year in Le Journal des Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers. The lecture was re-enacted on November 4, 2009 at the École des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, as part of the exhibition À louer conceived by Émilie Parendeau.

Joris Lacoste They’re not here to amplify us, they’re here to record us. Still, the hissing sound is a bit much. If it’s too annoying… I can see it’s going to get annoying. Are we going to have to yell all the time? Can you hear me alright? How’s that?

Jeanne Revel We can’t hear you.

JL Then we have two options: either you come closer or we amplify. It’s just as well by me if we don’t amplify, because it’s a bit...

JR ...solemn.

JL Yes. But if we can avoid yelling, that’s always a plus. And this noise, can’t we... Can’t we stop the noise of the…?

JR So, good afternoon. As you certainly know, this afternoon’s conference here at l’École des Beaux-Arts will serve as a preamble, if you will, to the seminar that Joris Lacoste and I will be giving at the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers every Tuesday evening at 7 P.M. from next week until the end of January, in collaboration with the dance department at the University of Paris 8 and the master’s program in direction at the University of Paris 10. We’ll continue work started in 2004 with the Lisboan choreographer João Fiadeiro, which was then developed in other contexts, notably during a seminar at the University of Paris 3 with the Théâtre de la Colline in 2005.

JL It may seem a little odd to be holding this conference here at the École des Beaux-Arts today. Indeed, the work we’re pursuing is mainly centered on the performing arts, namely dance and theater… But before we start, thank you for having joined us. It always strikes us as slightly mysterious that people come out to attend things they know nothing about. I find it very moving, this kind of pure curiosity that leads someone to attend an “Introduction to W”… No one knows what W is… (laughter in the room). But we can still assume, we can still make certain hypotheses about the reasons that brought you here…

JR One reason, for example, could be that you attend all the seminars, or the entire course program offered by the École des Beaux-Arts. So you’re students at the school and you systematically attend everything that’s offered. That’s the conscientious student hypothesis.

JL Another hypothesis would be: you closely follow all of the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers’ activities. That’s the regular spectator hypothesis.

JR Or you’re part of the École des Beaux-Arts’ administrative team…

JL Or the Laboratoire d’Aubervilliers’. Or you’re an art critic or a government inspector: that’s the professional duty hypothesis.

JR Another possibility: someone dragged you here more or less by force. You’re here and you have no idea why. That’s the good friend hypothesis.

JL Another one is that you go see anything that Jeanne Revel and/or Joris Lacoste do in general. That’s the fan hypothesis.

JR Or you’re just simply a friend, a faithful supporter, or a...

JL Our mom... (laughter in the room)

JR Or else you’ve gotten it completely wrong and you thought this was a conference on Georges Perec...

JL Or George Bush... That’s possible too. Otherwise... There must be other reasons we haven’t thought of.

JR I hope so.

JL Undoubtedly. But whatever the reason that brought you here, it’s necessarily a more or less inadequate one. We’ll see why it’s “more or less” inadequate. But the idea of coming to devote several hours of your life to something you know nothing about is actually quite courageous of you. You risk losing an hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, five hours...

JR Six months! (laughter in the room)

JL …of your life, which is not nothing. Worse: there’s the risk that you’ll leave here saddened, dismayed, or angry... It may ruin your day…

JR So, among the reasons we’ve cited—and it’s not an exhaustive list—, we can identify two sorts: the more risky and the less risky. Basically, there are reasons tied to the conference’s object, or in any case to its title, and others that aren’t. It’s called W, which remains a little abstruse for the moment, but if you’ve come for W we can assume your reason for coming has something to do with the object of what we’re presenting, at least with the idea you’ve fashioned of it. Let’s assume that you have less reason to find it boring or to feel you’ve wasted your afternoon if you’ve come because of W than if you were here completely by accident, or in error…

JL If, for example, you walked into the wrong room or if, I don’t know, you were already here this morning for one reason or another and you happened to fall asleep, or you just couldn’t bring yourself to change rooms and now find yourself in the middle of this thing, the probability that you’d succeed in connecting what you do or your interests with what we’re going to talk about today might be smaller...

JR And that wouldn’t be our fault. In the sense that what’s at issue isn’t, or isn’t exclusively, the quality of the conference that we’re giving here, or of W in general. But it wouldn’t be your fault either. Something wouldn’t connect, that’s all, wouldn’t click. So, in your own life, in your own fields of interest, there would be something that didn’t mesh with the content of our work, and the content of what we’re proposing here.

JL What we’re trying to explain, at heart, is that W believes that there’s no such thing as a conference that is good “in itself,” just as there aren’t works of art that are beautiful or interesting or successful “in themselves.” We can only succeed in weaving together good, beautiful, exciting, or fertile relations—or rather you, you the audience, can succeed in weaving them together—with the performance, or work, or conference being proposed. The only thing that we can talk about in the end, the only thing that we can qualify, are these relations.

JR Imagine that you go abroad for a residency, for example in the capital of a country in which you know no one. Before leaving, you spend an evening with your cousin and your cousin recommends a friend of hers, a certain Kristina. She tells you to call her, you’ll get along famously, she’s a good friend, she’s charming, cultivated, interesting, funny, nice… You say okay and don’t give it any second thought. Then one night in the foreign capital, one night when you’re particularly lonely or depressed, or you’ve had too much to drink, you find the little paper on which your cousin so kindly wrote down Kristina’s number. And since you’re feeling lonely or depressed, or you’ve had too much to drink, you decide to call her. And, of course, the moment you decide to call her, you really hope you’ll like her, you really hope you’ll get along, you really hope that you’ll also find her charming and cultivated and interesting and funny and nice...

JL And, two days later, you find yourself in a pleasant café downtown, sitting across from a young, unknown blonde girl who does indeed display all the trappings of charm, culture, humor, and kindness. She is even prettier than you expected, with a way of smiling that’s particularly moving. She is perfectly connected to the art world of the foreign capital. Full of resources and curiosity. She seems delighted to meet you. She asks you lots of questions: what you do in Paris, since when, and in what context. She seems to find your answers captivating. And then it’s her turn to tell you that she’s a guitarist in a post-rock band, that she makes installations, or that she organizes Danish film festivals in the foreign capital. It’s all very, very interesting.

JR Very. Except that after a while, after a round of mutual questions and statements of purpose, you find yourselves a little embarrassed, talking about the weather over and over, about the comparative merits of her city and yours, about all of the usual subjects of conversation that make you curse your cousin and wish you were somewhere else. You don’t click. You feel like you’re two strangers and that it’ll stay that way. But it would be neither your, nor your cousin’s, nor Kristina’s fault. Because no one can say that Kristina isn’t objectively charming, interesting, funny, nice.

JL It’s just that you realize that “nice,” “funny,” “charming,” and “pretty” don’t qualify Kristina’s intrinsic qualities so much as your cousin’s unique relation to her. So, fundamentally, there’s no reason to assume that you’ll have the same type of relation to Kristina as your cousin does. Because a real relationship probably touches on territory that is both more concrete and less palpable than generic qualities such as these.

JR Something didn’t click. A common rhythm is missing. A bond is absent. You’re out of tune with one another.

JL There’s a defective Stimmung.

JR You both try your best. It’s clear that each of you is full of good intentions and respect for the other. It’s clear that you’d like to be friends but it just doesn’t click. There isn’t the smallest inkling of an understanding between you. This is called relationship failure. Something won’t have occurred.

JL Well, with works of art in general—and performances in particular—it’s the same thing. Which is to say that there are always more or less two ways of interacting with a work of art. The first we might call aesthetic, or moral, or moral-aesthetic. It consists of developing a certain number of criteria or values, then relating our experience of the work back to these criteria and values: we judge the relevance, the power of the work according to predefined canons. In his book on Spinoza, Deleuze clearly shows the difference between ethics and morality. Morality always refers to an essence and to higher values: the whole task of morality involves defining an essence and making it an end in itself, and that’s precisely what constitutes value.

JR For our purposes, the moral-aesthetic process consists of defining an artistic essence, making that essence a finality, then transforming said finality into a value with which to judge works of art. This is actually something that we do constantly; it’s difficult to refrain from applying all sorts of criteria or values to what we see. There are all sorts of more or less classical or canonical definitions: “art should imitate life,” “the essence of art is human expression,” “art should represent a new way of seeing,” “art should ask questions, art should disturb...” Every definition you can think of...

JL “The essence of tragedy is to purge the spectator by provoking terror and pity in them.”

JR “The essence of theater is to make the Text, or the Poem, or the Language heard…"

JL In contemporary discourse it becomes, or has become, or could become, “The essence of art is being critical, or subversive, or political...”

JR Or: “art is celebration...” Whatever the definition, the operation is the same. What is used to judge the work is an a priori criterion...

JL For example, during a speech at the Fiac in September 2005, Dominique de Villepin declared that: “Art should speak about our society as it is in its dreams, in its hopes, but also in its moments of violence and injustice.” That’s a good definition of art. Well, it’s a definition... (laughter in the room) “This is art.” “Art has to do this or that.” These are moral-aesthetic definitions. We can imagine Dominique de Villepin walking down the aisles of the Fiac asking himself, “Does this art speak about our society as it is in its dreams, its hopes, but also in its moments of violence and injustice?” Yes? No? More or less? A little?

JR Anyway, we’ve given very general definitions as examples, but this operation also works with far more partial or secondary aspects of art. We often hear, for example, that “art should have irony.”

JL Or just as often, that “it shouldn’t have irony.”

JR “It must be literal.”

JL “It must be pop.”

JR “Technically, it must be well-made.”

JL “It must be badly made, it’s better when it’s badly made...”

JR “It must be masterful.”

JL “It’s better when it’s casual.”

JR “It must have movement.”

JL “It shouldn’t move.”

JR “It must have visual effects.”

JL Indeed, just the other day I went to a dance piece and, when it was over, I spoke with a lady who told me: “It was good, but it was lacking visual effects.” This lady believed that in a dance piece there had to be “visual effects,” so she didn’t really look for anything else… Obviously she saw other things. But what I’m trying to say is that she dismissed the recital right off the bat because it was missing something; there weren’t enough “visual effects.” There are others who consider, on the contrary, that a dance piece should have no “visual effects” whatsoever and if they see too many “visual effects” they say: “No way, they can’t do that! All of those visual effects are so vulgar!” Note that I don’t know what a visual effect is. In the theater we have the same debate around characters: should there be text or no text? Should there be characters or no characters?

JR Should there be psychology or no psychology? Pathos or no pathos? Illusion or no illusion? The list could go on forever. Whenever we judge something based on preexisting criteria, we set ourselves in moral-aesthetic territory and prevent ourselves from entering into relationality. We have a host of a priori values—whether provided to us by Dominique de Villepin, our cousin, our own conformism, our education, or our desire to belong socially is of little importance—and we judge such and such a work of art by bringing it back to these values.

JL It’s like the parable of the judge who’s in love. One day a judge decides to find love. Since he’s a judge, he has a host of ready-made ideas about the object of his love, a checklist of criteria to be applied beforehand to every encounter. For example, it must be a woman. This woman must be young. Single. Rather white. Brunette. Pretty but not excessively so. Well-raised. Decently well-educated. She must speak at least two languages, know how to cook, like winter sports, be sexually forward, etc. Fill in the blanks. So the judge screens all of the people he comes across based on these criteria. He tests things out, crosses them off his list... He conducts his romantic trysts like job interviews. He slips trick questions into the conversation: “Do you like Bartok quartets? Verstehen Sie Deutsch? What’s the capital of Lithuania? Veal cutlets? Outdoor sex?” And he ticks all of the boxes down the list, one after the other. And when he finds a woman who fits all of these criteria, he falls in love. (laughter in the room)

JR And he gets married. Obviously the parable ends unhappily, because, as you’ve noted, he still hasn’t made the slightest overture at this stage to starting a concrete relationship with the woman he loves...

JL The W lover’s method is entirely different. Because the W-lover can literally fall in love with anyone. Not with everyone, because there’s no particular reason why they should be able to have something with everyone. But they know they can’t know until they’ve tried. They have no predefined criteria: male/female, young/old, attractive/ugly, fat/skinny, etc. They don’t function in terms of overarching binary categories, but based on the singular reality of each relation they engage in. So they’re obliged to try, to experiment... The W-lover won’t begin with overarching a priori values, but with the actual relations they establish with the people they meet. These relations prove to be more or less fertile, more or less conjugal, more or less sexual, more or less long-term...

JR This other operation is what we might call the ethical operation. The ethical operation, or the W operation, consists of temporarily suspending all higher values and all preexisting formal criteria, in order to try to create, or recreate, oneself directly with the work, on the same level. That is a very different operation from the operation of moral judgment. It supposes that I enter into a process. The idea that W stands for isn’t that one must abdicate or check all of one’s knowledge at the door, all of one’s experience, everything one knows about dance, theater, performance art, the history of form, etc. Far from it. But W considers these to be only materials, tools, rather than the goal of the process. Because if I do indeed remain on moral-aesthetic territory, I don’t take part in doing any work. And when we don’t work, we run the risk of being bored. Utterly bored. What W proposes is to consider the reception of a work of art as work, in other words as a process of production. The production of significations and interpretations. The production of meaning.

JL Indeed, the more significations I am capable of producing, the more the relationship I construct with the work will be composite and complex.

JR And unique.

JL So, in general, the objection we hear right away, or that we expect to hear anyway, is that W is relativistic: if there are only relations, doesn’t that mean that there are only personal or subjective experiences about which nothing can be said? Obviously not. First of all this isn’t a general truth: W doesn’t say that it’s meaningless for a work of art to have intrinsic value. What W advocates for is a method. There are different ways of relating to a work of art. There is the moral-aesthetic method, fine. W proposes another method, which consists of working at the level of relationality right from the start.

JR In fact, it would be relativistic to limit ourselves to the most basic level of reception. Namely the level that says, “this is good,” “this is not good,” “this is interesting,” “this is not interesting.” We could call this least articulate level relativistic. But as soon as we enter into the process of producing meaning, as soon as we enter into relation with the work, there is the idea, which we’re going to try to demonstrate over the course of this seminar, that the meaning we produce can be expressed and thus shared.

JL Indeed, we’ll see that for W, too, the work of art can have a kind of intrinsic value, though one that’s reached via a completely different path than that of the moral-aesthetic operation. This value isn’t expressed in qualitative terms but in quantitative ones. It is less a value than a power. Not to be evaluated by analyzing formal qualities through extrinsic criteria, but in relation to the quantity of unique relations the work can elicit. For W, the more unique possible significations a work produces, the more powerful it is.

JR We can obviously never calculate this number, nor even estimate it.

JR So there are two primary ways of considering processes of reception. On the one hand, we have a vision of the work of art as a kind of thing in itself, a sort of sun diffusing its warmth and light onto the spectator. And on the other, on the side of W, we have the work of art as an apparatus that one enters into relation or connection with. Which obviously supposes that we have something to do together, i.e., that my process of interpretation hinges on the processes at work in what’s being presented.

JL And this is what brings us to theater, to the question of theater. Why does theater come up here? Precisely because we’re going to define theater as a relation. True, that’s a definition, and like every definition we’ll propose during the seminar, it’s a nominal one, meaning that it’s more or less arbitrary. It’s not an essentialist definition. It’s a W definition: an operative definition.

JR So W will define theater as the apparatus that puts someone who acts in the presence of someone who watches. Or, more precisely, puts someone who acts with the awareness of being watched in the presence of someone who watches this someone who acts with the awareness of being watched.

JL We’re going to represent this situation in a very simple manner: we’ll call the one who acts X, and the one who watches Y, and we’ll represent the relationship between X and Y like this (Joris Lacoste gets up and draws a diagram on the board):

JR So W calls any situation that puts someone who acts in contact with someone who watches in the same space and in the same lapse of time “theater.” For W, “theater” designates things which, in classical genre delimitations, would include dance, performance, theater, concerts, conferences, classes, etc. Wherever there is coexistence, we postulate that this coexistence is the condition of a shared experience represented here by two parallel lines. Theater, for W, simply means that an action-process and a reception-process coincide in parallel, in the same lapse of time. What is an action-process? It’s a process by which a situation is modified. The person that acts modifies the situation. What is a reception-process? It’s, as we’ve seen, a process by which meaning is produced.

JL What allows for a theatrical apparatus, as we’ll see over the course of this seminar, is, first of all, establishing a duration. In other words, it’s getting the two processes—the action process and the reception process—to coincide in a real relation. By real we mean that the relation is not projected from one side or the other. Indeed, we believe that there is something irreducible about the theatrical relation: it can’t be divided into two parts. We can’t imagine someone over here doing something as though they were alone, without an audience, and over there an audience receiving this thing as though it were inanimate, already existent, or recorded. The theatrical relation is irreducible in that we can’t separate the X and Y processes without destroying the process of theater itself.

JR The fundamental difference between what we call theater (production and reception apparatuses coexisting in the same lapse of time) and works in other formats based on deferred reception (film, books, photography, sculpture, installations, etc.) is that with these other formats there is always a delay; the relationship doesn’t occur in real time.

JL The theater apparatus allows for developing a kind of protocol for studying this relation. That’s what W is proposing. Over the course of this seminar, we won’t consider theater in its aesthetic or historical dimensions but as a protocol for studying the X/Y relation.

JR So, this semester’s work will consist solely of a study of this relation, of the relation between the one who is doing and the one who sees something being done. Obviously, we’ll work from some examples, but we could just as easily be talking about a play as we could be discussing a dance recital or an everyday social interaction.

JL We’re going to try to consider all of the forms that emerge from what we call the theater apparatus in exactly the same light, whether they’re artistic forms or not. Indeed, they could just as easily be seminars or religious ceremonies as they could be a Chekhov play, a classical ballet, sales-talk from a street vendor, a speech at the National Assembly, a defense plea, a keynote address by Steve Jobs, a Britney Spears performance, a striptease, a job interview, a conversation in a café, a prize fight, or a magic show...

JR Or asking an old lady for directions in the street...

JL For our purposes, all of these relations will be considered to be theatrical. They likely don’t work the same way and it will be our job to differentiate them, but they all share this same coexistence of X and Y processes.

A man in the audience When you ask for directions in the street, is someone necessarily watching?

JR Of course. Even when there’s no third party watching, there is at least the relation between the old lady and myself. The moment I ask her the way, the old lady looks at me and produces meaning, without which she would be at pains to answer me: she is the Y to my act of asking for directions.

JL That’s why we insisted on seeing this not as a relation between people but between what W calls X and Y instances. Why? Because it allows us to not have to define an actor and a spectator, and because in certain situations these instances can be exchanged, turned around, or redistributed. Obviously in performances, theater, or dance, these positions are more or less set by a convention which dictates that what happens does so on stage. We tend to watch from the audience or the bleachers, though not always: we know that there have been attempts to foil or redefine these conventions in the history of theater.

JR Performance is one example among others. We’ll see that the diagram has to hold up in all of the other situations as well, which are more social situations than artistic ones...

JL With different modalities…

JR The question that W asks is: “what is the nature of the relation that is represented on this diagram?” What makes the relation between X and Y parallel is that it’s a relation without contact. There is no contact possible between actor and spectator because we consider that these two instances or processes are of a different nature. In other words, it is completely impossible for the spectator—and quite possibly useless, parasitical or, at the very least, disabling for the process of reception—to have access to the “intentions” of whoever is acting before our eyes. Inversely, for the actor, it is illusory and certainly exhausting to develop hypotheses about the audience’s possibilities of reception, interpretation, signification, fiction-making, etc. These are two instances that we consider to be absolutely separate and irreducibly unrelated.

JL In fact, many unnecessary problems and difficulties come from confusing these two instances. For example, from the actor’s point of view, a poor or abusive carrying out of Y occurs when the actor projects the meaning of their action by putting themselves in Y’s shoes...

JR ...and from the audience’s point of view, when it tries to get at the “real intentions” of the actor by trying to put itself in their shoes.

JL This produces, on the one hand, that entire type of discourse about the necessity of “transmitting a message...”

JR And on the other hand, the necessity of “understanding the message...”

JL To “produce meaning...”

JR To “reveal the meaning...”

JL ...which always goes back to the idea that there is a single meaning contained in the production process which the spectator has to decrypt, bring to light, or simply capture.

JR This of course brings up several questions.

JL First of all, the question of the moment when the relation begins, which is neither predetermined nor eternal. In the context of artistic performances, this brings up the question of the code.

JR We’d like to specify that this is in “artistic contexts” because in the street or in daily life we generally share a social code. And if I suddenly start behaving in a way that is completely outside of the code, I run a good chance of being called original, or crazy, or an artist... That’s part of the judgments we were talking about earlier. But if we look at the history of form, the history of performance, we can see that there are several strategies for generating just such a relation.

JL For example, the avant-garde’s strategy is one of total rupture—unilaterally proposing a new code, imposing it, deciding that it’s this or that: abstract painting, readymade objects, atonal music. The spectator either accepts it or doesn’t. That’s why it’s a total rupture, with all of the specific effects that follow... It’s a strong but risky option, because the relation runs the risk of being destroyed before it even begins...

JR And inversely, we can choose to begin with the standard code, the common code, the most obvious code in a given social or institutional context, or at least what we know of it. In this case, the relation evolves only gradually, over time, in stages, in intervals, and the code is modified until it attains singular levels of fiction.

JL This is another strategy, one that we could call the strategy of the drift: how to create or expand a small distance when given a shared and pre-accepted situation that already constitutes a relation. That’s the second point that W will try to elucidate: once established, how and in what conditions can this relation be developed?

JR And the very specific question that we’ll try to ask, which is not at all an easy one, is: do immanent criteria exist that will allow us to guarantee a relation? In other words, are there criteria from the point of view of the action—so, if we’re talking about theater, from the point of view of the actor, dancer, performer, or whoever it is—that will allow us to continue, develop, or work through an action while guaranteeing that the relation, i.e., the representation, will be maintained?

JL Why immanent criteria? Because we’d like to avoid having recourse to these ensembles of preexisting values, to these formal values we refer to a great deal in general because it’s very difficult not to—values that make us say, “this is pretty interesting,” “this is beautiful,” “this is powerful,” “this is cool,” etc. There are many of them. They’re just ways of judging, as we said earlier. So, can we determine criteria that are neither ideas, nor desires, nor tastes, nor visions, nor institutions? Could we develop a kind of logic, but one that would be the logic of a process and not a sort of private inspiration?

JR To put it another way, when talking about X’s work, we’ll try not to reason in terms of what is said or what wants to be said, but rather in terms of doing, acting, or modifying situations. We can generalize by saying that artistic activity—theatrical activity in this case—is never a gift, never an epiphany, and never an idea that just comes to us…

JL It’s always work, always a process, a process that is even always pushed or carried to a certain limit. So it’s something we can try to express. It’s something we can try to talk about. It’s something we can justify, we can try to think about, we can try to understand and we can try to say. We should be able to explain what we do. We want to always try to avoid sinking into this whole discourse of the ineffable, of feeling, of intuition, of vision…

JR All of these implicit or vague metaphorical discourses… And we’ll try to understand in whose interest it is, deep down, that we not speak clearly about what we do. We’ll see that those who profit most from this lack of clarity are probably those who legitimize their power through a certain knowledge which they alone hold. That’s exactly what we’ll try to undo or demystify.

JL Indeed, in a collective creative process like theater or dance, this is also a practical way of warding off the effects of power. In a collective process, if you have the one who knows and the ones that do, and if the one who knows never justifies their knowledge or, in any event, justifies it solely by the fact that they have “ideas,” “visions,” or “desires,” as is often the case, they establish a system of inequality that prevents other participants from grasping the central issues at play, because they’re not equipped to understand them and, as a result, to make propositions, take initiative, or be creative in their role, whatever it may be. That’s what W will always try to undo, this power dynamic produced by a poor distribution of power.

JR Sometimes there’s nothing to share; that happens too. Sometimes the discourse of the ineffable or the metaphorical is just there to mask the fact that the things that could be said are, in truth, not substantial enough to be said...

JL ...or are difficult to admit. (laughter in the room)

JR The first thing that W will try to do is build a toolbox for action: namely, a group of notions, an operative lexicon or a collection of terms that will help us be more precise, more concrete, clearer and more efficient in our collective work. These terms will be there to be put into play in various apparatuses, methods, and ways of working that serve to make things, in particular shows or performances.

JL We’ve developed a number of games, i.e., apparatuses that take the form of performances to be acted out, using a few simple, precise rules.

JR These W games formalize certain aspects of the activities that performers, playwrights, and spectators engage in. A game is a practice that can be activated in various contexts: either as a tool when developing, writing, or rehearsing a performance; or as a performance on its own, with or without the audience’s participation—depending on the case.

JL The second thing that W is attached to is the development of a critical practice that can serve the spectators we are, including for our own work. How do we develop tools that allow us to construct the meaning we talked about earlier? How do we escape prejudices, preconceived ideas, morality, to give ourselves the possibility of forming multiple, singular, and complex significations? This also involves the construction of protocols and games of perspective.

JR In both cases, W will propose a certain number of operative terms that are at play in performance, either from X’s point of view or from Y’s. For example, the thing we talked about a great deal today, that relation between X and Y designated by two parallel lines. W calls it “representation.” The term “representation” can have many other significations in other contexts, of course. But for W, representation specifically refers to the relation between action and meaning.

JL Another example: W represents the different moments of representation using Greek letters. The beginning of the representation is alpha, the end of the representation is omega, between the two are beta, gamma, kappa, delta, with each letter corresponding to an event, an accident, a choice, the beginning of a new action, etc.

JR Or: W calls what X carries out the “axis” and what Y carries out the “grid,” and so on. We’re not going to get into all of that now or we’ll have nothing left to say to you on Tuesday.

JL We quickly realized that in order for these terms and notions to be operative, they had to be logically connected to one another. And as soon as we ask the question of the logical connection between a set of terms, we enter into the realm of theory. We enter it carefully, but we enter it nonetheless.

JR That’s why we call this third activity “theory.”

JL We distinguished between these three activities because we tend to work on one or the other at different moments. At the same time, it’s obvious that practical, critical, and theoretical aspects are developed in close interrelation, continually feeding off of one another.

JR What we’ll mainly be exploring during the seminar this year is this last theoretical aspect we mentioned. Meaning that we’ll continue to develop the necessarily arbitrary lexicon that we’ve already made quite a bit of progress on, but which continues to grow and become clearer as needed. Most importantly, however, we’ll talk about the logical implications that follow from the relations between these terms.

JL If only by starting with the simple definition we gave, by which a representation is understood as a “relation without contact” between the actor and the spectator, we can deduce a certain number of propositions. What can we do with this paradox? What kinds of logical traps does it set for us? How is it related to this or that artistic practice?

JR For example, we have to ask ourselves what this parallelism between X and Y is rooted in. What do the two share? Is it the space, the duration of the spectacle, a shared code? How are these codes constructed, formed, or deformed?

JL More largely, this definition of representation as relation and parallelism will allow us to reconsider the old questions of presence, character, role, text, fiction, realism, originality, and invention from a fresh angle.

JR There is also this thing that we’d like to demonstrate—we’ll see if we get to it by the end of the seminar—which relates to the function of... I don’t know if it’s the function of art, the function of theater, or the function of the theatrical apparatus as we’ve defined it...

JL It’s the idea that if, as W postulates, art creates freedom in the most concrete sense—flexibility, the creation of new possibilities—this freedom resides as much in the person who makes it as it does in the person who receives it, correlatively. That’s what the theatrical apparatus, understood as a real-time relation between someone who does and someone who watches, will hopefully allow us to demonstrate. We’ll see.

JR Any questions?

Transcribed by Grégory Castéra
Translated by David H. Pickering