Playing the Rules
An Incubation Series Performance
Thursday, March 22nd, 2018, 8-10PM
Vox Populi (319 N 11th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107)
1. Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;
2. Separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
3. Uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative;
4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind: and, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;
5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;
6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life.
- Roger Caillois, Man, Play, and Games (1958)
“Play,” as sociologist Roger Caillois explains, is a category of human activity between the real and fantastical. Although extraordinary, the temporal, social, and unstable field maintains boundaries that delimit its nature – free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, and make-believe.
The artists in Playing the Rules—Danièle Dennis, Adrienne Hall, and James Allister Sprang—establish spoken and unspoken rules along Cailloisian lines that the audience follows according to conventions of theater and normative social interaction. But like all rules, these too are meant to be broken. Complicating the very nature of expectations for performance, identity, and social space, their ludic works query what it means to “perform” on a fundamental level. Etymologically derived from the Old French parfourmer, “to perform” intimates a process of carrying through to completion, much like the aims of play. But unlike the rules of other games, the underlying tensions functioning in these works remain unresolved even after their completion: performer and audience “play” the rules as much as they are directed and defined by them.
Playing the Rules is the first Incubation Series new media and performance event. It is curated by Jessica Hough, University of Pennsylvania, and Laurel McLaughlin, Bryn Mawr College.