Pure Research Submission Process
Pure Research Reports:
'The Choral Revolution'
by Rececca Singh and Nick Carpenter
'Kinesthetic Transference in Performance'
by Erika Batdorf, Kate Digby and Denise
'The Unsuspecting Audience'
by Moynan King & Sherri Hay
by Camellia Koo
by Cathy Nosaty, Laurel MacDonald & Philip Strong
'Voice, Music & Narrative'
by Martin Julien
Sound, Voice and Connection'
by Heather Nicol
'Beneath the Poetry: Magic not Meaning'
by Kate Hennig
'Exploring the Land Between Speaking
by Guillaume Bernardi
by Lois Brown & Liz Pickard
by Shadowland Theatre
Read Brian's article on Pure Research from the Canadian Theatre
Pure Research Report - December
by Moynan King & Sherri Hay
In our research project we set out to explore the role of the audience
in theatre and attempted to identify the tipping point(s) between
a social and theatrical experience.
We chose costume as a visual constant that spans both social and
theatrical experiences in order to look at what makes the social
theatrical, and what makes theatre social.
Throughout various historical periods, people, and women in particular,
modified the shape and size of their bodies with clothes (such as
corsets) that constrict movement and breath. At the same time, many
of those clothes (in contrast to modern dress) occupy a large volume
of space surrounding the body.
We thought it would be exciting, edifying and fun to ask an audience
to let us strip them down and dress them up publicly in historically
referenced undergarments, codpieces, tight corsets, crinolines the
size of a smart car, and remarkably heavy formal wear in styles
from Renaissance to Victorian.
Through the ritual of dressing ourselves and our invitees, we sought
to observe how the process of transformation of an individual effects
the style and tone of interaction among a group, and the performative
qualities of the audience when the audience becomes the performance
In this report we will describe the structure of the experiment,
note our observations, give samples of participants reactions
and comments, and reflect on the questions that such an experiment
Structure of the experiment
The experiment took place over 2 nights. We chose to have women
only on the first night and a mixed audience on the second.
We created an explicit act structure:
i. Invitees arrived and were taken into an antechamber to undress
from their normal street clothes and put on neutral undergarments,
which Moynan designed and constructed.
ii. All the guests, in their homogeneous white underclothes, were
taken to the main theatre space for drinks and snacks. They mingled
with each other, the dj played music and photos were taken.
iii. One by one they were taken onstage and laced into corsets.
iv. The women were dressed in crinolines, farthingales, petticoats
and gowns; the men were dressed in blouses, stockings, cod pieces,
breeches and jackets
v. Once dressed, they rejoined the assembled guests for more photo
taking and mingling. They each filled out a questionnaire on a laptop.
vi. They were undressed one by one.
The questions in our questionnaire:
1 Does this remind you of anything?
2 Do you like what youre wearing?
3 Are you on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking
4 What do you see?
5 How would you feel right now about going outside to save
a lost cat?
Observations, Comments and Reactions
(with quotations from the questionnaire in italics):
Rosalba: These costumes conjure up feelings
too metaphysical, esoteric, and mystical to be explained in the
little time I have to spend on this questionnaire.
There was lots of looking in the mirror, posing for the camera.
I guess we encouraged this by supplying those things. One mirror
was on the stage so that they could observe their own transformation
and one was at the foot of the stairs so that they would see themselves
in their undergarments as they entered the space. We tried to keep
the camera separate from the actual dressing. We set it up so that
people could photograph themselves and each other.
Kirsten: My eyes go right to my waist.
Ester: if I try to ignore the fact that I am in a room full of people
I can fully become the princess that I see in the mirror.
A Heightened Sense of Power
Elitism, class and clothing. Class and high art. Art implies access
to a certain class.
Brian: Hard not to feel powerful in this uniform.
Lisa: I feel very rich (lying around the house with servants tending
to everything because I can barely breath in my beautiful tight
dress rich). Rich, beautiful, proper, proud people. Some richer
Power vs. Ability
A heightened sense of power, but paradoxically a diminished ability
to move or actually accomplish anything. Power that is performative
rather than actual.
Pearl: taking up SO MUCH space is very different. There is no being
a wall flower
Viv: My ass feels like it can take up any amount of space it needs
to, and I feel tall and very important with the amount of space
Ester: I would feel entirely ill-prepared
and useless. Who can run in such a thing! I can barely sit on a
Anna: I am larger than life
.Very concerned about my physical
bending down could be a problem. I am extremely
compromised in what I can do.
Lisa: The louder you are the less extravagant the dress. The more
beautiful your dress the less you have to talk.
A childlike sense of playing dress up and role-playing.
Rosalba: playing dress-up
Ester: Swirling, dancing, posing
People Watching People.
People watching people watching people watch in a kind of endlessly
reflective hall of mirrors. A participatory theatre.
Michelle: I see a group of strangers in a
space who begin in a very shy manner. I see some people who are
very aware of their bodies, the shoes theyre wearing, the
corset they chose, the dress theyre wearing, their breasts,
changing their hair, catching themselves in the mirror. I see people
watching other people in a very active way. I see people watching
Brian: I rather prefer the experience of others looking at me, this
new, other me. Their reactions are part of the pleasure, a pleasure
that we dont live in or share so much in our sartorially lazy
culture. Complimenting what other people are wearing, or indeed
praising beauty has almost become a taboo. Tonight, the applause
that greeted each person as they were revealed, and our delight
and interest in looking at each other at one anothers
bodies was very real and very fun. Rewarding even.
A ritual transformation from the casual way that contemporary people
usually dress, to a more elaborate, and confining mode of dress
that abandons the clothes by which they define themselves and the
tribe they belong to, into something with historical and literary
David: One summer I played junior football.
The process of getting ready to hit the field was similarly complex
and led to similar surprising metamorphoses
Pearl: The exchanges between people when they were in various stages
of dress and the transformation of people as they were being dressed
was interesting. The more elaborate ritual of it.Film and Television
Almost half of the questionnaires made reference to movies. We know
how to walk, sit and behave in period clothes from watching people
on film and tv. There might be some nostalgia for the romance of
that, and the pristine quality of fiction.
Naomi: I just went up and down the stairs and I realize how much
I have learned about what to do from film and tv
Anna: Dress period of the night: I feel flushed and daring. I feel
ready to accept a marriage proposal
I feel as if I am Waiting
for many marriage proposals.
Cathy: reveling in the novelty of the experience and imagining "what
it might have felt like to live like this"
SEX AND SEXUALITY
We noticed in ourselves a heightened physical awareness. Invitees
mentioned being more aware of how they walk, breathe, etc.
Natalie: I keep adjusting myself try
to pull the boobs up, figuring out how to walk and noticing how
it affects my posture, etc.
Anna: Corset period of the night: Love it, never seen my waist so
ladylike, from the front, from the back.
2 hours later: I must admit, this dress is being to exhaust me.
I am exhausted by my frills and corset and endless hot layers. I
want to tear off my dress, just rip it off, tear off my corset,
my hands are itching to do violent things to this dress, beauty
be damned, I want to rip and tear and emerge and breath again!
Dress off: I feel as if I was bruised and battered by the dress
was deceiving in its beauty, it was a tease, all show and no sympathy.
Lisa: I observe a lot because Im too breathless to do anything
else. Breathing is hard. It reminds me of having an asthma attack
and not getting enough air
Brian: the feeling of stockings on the calves is very powerful,
accenting the lower leg and foot and demanding that you always think
about your foot position. The cravat also demands better upper body
Women wore corsets for 500 years. There is a way in which this kind
of clothing almost defines gender roles. Invitees claimed to feel
more feminine/masculine with the clothes on. Is this a physical
feeling? A sexual one? Something we learn from books, movies?
Natalie: Im fascinated by watching others
get dressed especially the rather aggressive effort it requires.
Were wearing such traditionally feminine clothing clothing
that makes it hard to breathe and hard to do anything physical (some
would say these are definitions of femininity), but the effort required
to get into the costume, to adopt the persona, is incredibly physical
and potentially intrusive.
Our research indicated to us that there was a distinct and pervasive
fetishism associated with the corset and that there is historical
evidence that arousal has always been a part of dressing up.
Naomi: Controlled and aroused
Pearl: immediate intimacy of dressing with others, eroticism of
being dressed by someone (and the potential of the prolonged undressing)
Keith: right now
.boys are the last thing on my mind
I just want to breathe!!
THE TIPPING POINT?
Particularly on the first night there was a very noticeable shift
in the collective mood that corresponded with the act structure
and what the women were wearing. In their undergarments they all
sat on the edge of the stage, they mentioned that it felt like a
slumber party. In their corsets they were interested in the process
of lacing, and wanted to help lace each other up. They preened in
front of the mirrors and took pictures of one another. When they
were in their dresses the atmosphere became festive or celebratory.
There was dancing and twirling and picture taking too.
Natalie: The most interesting thing so far
has been seeing the transformation from the underwear to the corsets.
At first, the women look very girlish and innocent, as if at a slumber
party. But once the corset goes on, the very adult sexy factor is
instantly apparent. But still underneath is the little girl. I bet
men LOVED this its like the infantilizing of women
we see in contemporary fashion and porn.
While there were many distinct differences in the two nights, the
participants ended up articulating themselves similarly in the questionnaires.
On both nights each stage of dressing created a dramatic shift in
the environment and in peoples behaviour. The so-called act
structure, however, resolved itself very differently on each night.
The anticipation of an inciting action was very early on the first
night and much later on the second.
On the first night as the women arrived there was a sense of anticipation
that completely dissipated as the dressing progressed. On the second
night this sense of anticipation dropped in when everyone was fully
dressed as though now something was supposed to happen. The
act structure took on very different significance each night.
On the first night:
Few of the women knew each other on the first night; nevertheless
there was a total sense of giving over and intimacy. There was a
comradery and sisterhood that occurred progressively and surprisingly
quickly, perhaps as a result of watching and helping each other
dress. The impression by about half way through was that all these
women were friends.
On the second night
Many of the people were acquainted with each other on the second
night. Interestingly, whenever a person was fully clothed in their
final outfit the others would clap as they stepped off the stage.
As if there was a more defined performer-audience role. The invitees
also had more of a desire to control the environment such
as requesting that the music be changed or that people dance a particular
dance. After observing the first night, Will, our hired DJ asked
if he could be dressed up. We had not anticipated going into the
area of cross dressing or drag but it made its way into the event
without being contrived by us.
-This experiment was conducted in a theatre. Certainly this formal
environment gave it a very specific context. Were curious
how it would have been different in another place in a public
bar for example, or someones home.
-We chose to limit our scope to traditional gender dressing. On
the second night, however, our dj asked to be dressed in drag. This
touched on the question of how these clothes would affect the performative
aspect of gender.
-For reasons of time we did not accomplish one of the elements included
in our proposal, which was to costume ourselves and go out into
the unsuspecting larger world and observe the possible shifts in
response and expectation. We decided it was not a priority relative
to the group event.
How this research informs our practice and the questions it has
incited us to ask:
We are both interested in the question of ownership. What does it
mean for an audience to feel ownership of a work of art? How does
an artist give ownership to their audience and what are the results?
Is this relatively chaotic experience still theatre?
We observed varying degrees of conformity and its opposite (an increased
individualism and a willingness to express grandly). We observed
the paradox that a sense of belonging or ownership is linked to
a willingness to give over, or to conform. Which of these divergent
reactions is theatrical and which is social? Is conformity inherent
in theatricality? The fact that everyone was dressed the "same"
informed a collective agreement that were all in this show
On a stylistic or visual level uniformity influences our perceptions
deeply. This is the aesthetics of the experiment. Does predetermining
the way that a group of people is going to look predetermine the
way they are going to feel?
This slides into the question of intimacy and its degrees. Does
the intimacy of such an experience diminish the role of art by breaking
down the barrier between art and life or
is art meant to be as intimate as possible? Is still art if were
all doing it together or is it just a party?
Corsets & Crinolines, by Norah Waugh
Corsets: A Visual History, by RL Shep
The Corset: A Cultural History, by Valerie Steele
Fashion & Fetishism, by David Kunzle
Freaks of Fashion, by William Barry
The Physiological Bearing of Waist Belts & Stays, by
For their support and encouragement we would like to thank:
University of Toronto
Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People
Mary Fulford Winsor
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Our Research Volunteers
This research was conducted at the University
of Toronto, Canada,
from December 19-21, 2006.
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