From the Inside Out

by Clarinda Mac Low

For the first few posts on this blog, I spoke of the effect of performance from the outside in, as a spectator. However, I am also a practitioner, and recently I had a performance experience that I will work with here as a view on this subject from the inside out.

From the inside out the question could be framed as: What do you leave behind from a performance? And its corollary: What is the relationship between what you intend to leave behind and what is actually transmitted? Both of these, like the original question of the life of a performance after it ends, have far more than one answer, of course. It is in the attempt to answer that the interesting stuff comes out.

“The attempt to answer” could also describe my approach to performing and creating performance. I set myself a series of questions or challenges, none of which can be answered simply, and then—attempt to answer.

My recent performance was part of a series of performances I call “DAGGER-in-progress.” In DAGGER I ask, “What is the inner life of a tyrant?” and “What are the tyrannical states that we all engage in?” DAGGER uses Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a template. The most recent iteration, RUI(NATION), was performed February 1 & 2, 2008 at the Kitchen performance space in New York City, as part of a shared show with Charlotte Gibbons, curated by Yasuko Yokoshi.*


I need to get out of breath—run back and forth in back of the audience risers. Is it my cue? Charlotte’s crew is almost done with clean-up. OK—NOW. Keep running, keep running; I’m exhausted, breathing hard, the breathing is real. Entering the stage, the audience barely notices me. I sit down, the lights go down, and then I am there. I sense them with me, anticipating. A loud sound blares from the speakers, I flinch, I am truly startled, though I planned it carefully. I planned it so that both the audience and I would be startled together.

Later, I’m begging a mirror for understanding; there’s a camera behind the mirror. The audience sees my face writ large, projected. I’m pleading with them, but the pleading is mediated.

Later, I’m under the risers, creating an unholy racquet, knocking on the floor under their feet, turn the sub-woofers way up. Then suddenly I appear among them, and impart my urgent last words before death to individual audience members, face to face. There’s a tiny camera in my headband, so anybody that looks at me directly is projected on the giant bands of cloth that stretch in front of the audience. The attention is split—a choice is forced; live action of big, light-filled image? I say “Tomorrow creeps, all out.” I say, “Yesterday’s fools—dusty, brief, a shadow of that poor hour…” I have rearranged Shakespeare’s language, I am trying to highlight and create meaning.

At the end I climb a rope ladder and cling there, halfway between ceiling and floor. I stay there, transfixed, until people start to filter out of the theater, then let myself down slowly. My hands are cramped and I don’t quite know how to exit.


I’m trying to write about performing. I’m trying to write from the inside out. I find that inside is too inside and pretending objectivity is worse. How do I write about this?

What do you leave behind from a performance? How do you know? What is the relationship between what you intend to transmit and what is actually left behind? Can you build an experience that gives every viewer the same experience, the one you meant to give them? Would you even want to?

To communicate and convey anything, performance needs intention from the performance-maker. The audience reads intention and direction. They may read the program, or they may not, or they may be highly informed by advance press, or not. The frame can be set as carefully as possible, but still the raw experience will be the only thing every audience member has in common. Inside, the performance-maker asks the question. Outside, the audience sees the question, and brings their own set of answers. Sometimes the question they see is not the question you ask. But without the question, the performance collapses.


I’m still asking the question. Every day I find a new answer, and piece of information that can change the meaning of the piece. Today I read an analysis of Hannah Arendt’s famously over and wrongly quoted statements on the “banality of evil.”** Suddenly I want to start all over again. When George Bush is out of office, the piece will have a new meaning, locally. As I grow and change, the piece has a different meaning, the piece becomes a garment that doesn’t fit anymore, it changes into a new piece.

So then the next question starts asking me, and I attempt to answer.

*RUI(NATION): Created and performed by Clarinda Mac Low, with text adapted from Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. With Dramaturgy by Aaron Lansdman, Set Design, by David Morris, Video Design by Peter Kirn, Lighting Design by Aaron Copp.

**”If we wish to grasp the true significance of evil—what Hannah Arendt intended by calling it “banal”—then we must remember that what is truly awful about the destruction of the Jews was not that it mattered so much, but that it mattered so little [at the time immediately following World War II]…We have lost sight of what it was about twentieth-century political religions of the extreme left and extreme right that was so seductive, so commonplace, so modern, and thus so truly diabolical.” In: “The ‘Problem of Evil’ in Postwar Europe.” Tony Judt. The New York Review of Books. February 14, 2008. pgs. 33-35.

Next: Going to church…