What is Stand Up Philosophy

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This blog charts my attempts, in whatever way I can, and whenever I can, and as honestly as possible, to stand up for thinking - real thinking, whether in philosophy or politics, or maths - Because thinking needs standing up for!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Performer Notes 2: Material Performances

One week, two open mikes, and a fair bit of stand up philosophy.
The first open mike was the long established and lovely Acoustic Night at Bristol (details at; http://www.myspace.com/acousticnightbristol). We went on a whim, it was my birthday, and we fancied a trip to the Big Smoke (or at least Bristol)... The main problem for me was what to perform - always a trouble without knowing the sort of audience in advance. I took in my 'Four Minute Foucault' on the grounds that introducing people to really revolutionary and freeing thought, is one of the funnest things I do. I love people's looks as Foucault deconstructs the prisons of gender identity and personal sexuality in front of their very eyes. It also has the advantage of being a short and very powerful piece.
However when I arrived they suggested that the night might not be that busy, as it was the day before Valentine's Day and all, and did I want to do a longer piece? So, I cursed a little, and rejigged my memory, attempting to remember the Trial of Socrates piece, I chose this as it is by far the most dramatic piece I do, real theatre, and very moving. But as I rehearsed and worked up my memory, the acoustic night filled up and up (all credit to the organisers). Until it became obvious that the full trial piece was too long, so it was back to Foucault, which I had to reload into my memory, just in time to be on.
Given which, I was very happy with the resulting performance, which went down well - I was asked about Foucault at length in the interval, and one kind PhD student said he was doing a PhD on performance and philosophy, and this was the purest exposition he had ever seen of the combination (shucks). So all in all we had a whale of a time... You can see the performance at; http://youtu.be/yEouPgH0xrU
Two days later it was another open mic and a different piece. The open mike was perennial favourite Taking the Mic at Exeter's Phoenix. This was my newest piece (which I blogged about before) which I was trying out, as I usually do, for the first time, on my 'home' audience. The piece was eventually entitled 'What would Marx want to say to us?', and was meant to be an answer to the 'What would Jesus do?' question, that was being asked a few weeks back. The piece is part exposition of what Marx did say, part critique of the financial system, and part confession, for Marx wants to explain why there was no revolution when said there would be... It is a piece therefore I was doing in very much Marx's own voice, and mannerisms (which I was extemporising from paintings and photos of him.) You can see what it was like at; http://youtu.be/Bs2ENnEQxtw.
The reaction was interesting. It was a finely nuanced and open ended piece, deliberately poised between comedy and critique, and as chance would have it, a large number of students had turned up, and they were game for a laugh. They sniggered through Marx's account of why there had been no revolution, laughter I am afraid I frankly that I played up to, camping up Marx's 'I will return' line, so it was worthy of a Bond villain. But all the while I knew that the end of the piece is actually very dark, so that I would be asking the audience to go from comedy to tragedy in a very few lines. A move that has be timed very well if it is to work at all, and one which when I first started out as a performer I would routinely get wrong. Luckily however, the interlinking lines, are the ones that involve the marxist analysis of the modern 'crisis of capitalism', and (Marx's) David Cameron impersonation. They are both then funny and sad, and so allowed the mood to change naturally, and very much as part of the performance. I let Marx then change the mood, as naturally as I could, which seemed to work well enough. I got the impression that I would perform this piece again, and that it would work for the right audiences...
I was left after these two performances in two cities, with the feeling that not only does philosophy really work as performance, but also that people love seeing it, and the doing the thinking it asks of them. For it only works if the audience engage with it, and want to enough to concentrate perhaps more than they were expecting at an open mike, and so far they always do. So that after a week of performing I am not only fired up to do more, but more than usually impressed by the quality of the audiences and heartened by their willingness to think and respond to something fairly different, and frankly quite provocative.
Oh and of course gratitude to the lovely organisers of the Bristol Acoustic Night (and the great sound technician), and as ever Tim and Morwenna of Taking the Mic.

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