Open House is a short speech and movement score for 10-60 people. Using verbatim text from the national parliament it makes a game of the metaphors of political debates. If political speech is used to choreograph citizens, can that state-wide choreography be applied to a small crowd? And how might that crowd start to take control?
Rarely is speech simply a medium of communication, the channel along which a message is transmitted from A to B. As ancient rhetoricians understood well, it is the formation of a relationship between a speaker, the audience, and the issue around which persuasion is sought. That relationship shapes the audience’s reception of the speaker and disposes it in particular ways towards the message conveyed. Rhetorical knowledge, then, consists less in advice concerning the truthfullness of the message (as aggrieved philosophers such as Plato complained) than instruction on how an overall performance discloses aspects of the issue, casting it in a certain light and positioning the audience towards the matter in a particular way. Consequently, rhetoric gained a reputation as a mischevious kind of instruction concerned with the play of light and shadow, inviting speech to obscure as much as it illumined.
Mil Vukovic recalls some speeches from her life.
I witnessed a lot of political speeches in my early life. I say witnessed rather than heard because I remember them taking place in front of me but I cannot recollect any of their content. Our school choir was best in town so we were asked to sing at all major city events to mark various revolutionary and war anniversaries and national holidays. We were accompanied either by a harmonica or entire military orchestra.
In the last two posts I have been using a 2009 research paper on why British and Dutch politicians chose to go on Have I got News for You and its Dutch adaptation, Dit was het Nieuws to help understand why politicians dance publicly when their job doesn’t obviously require it.
The motives of the politicians who participated in the comedy programmes drew from three repertoires: strategic, indulgent and anti-elitist. This final post will look at anti-elitism:
In this repertoire, parliamentary politics and the media responsible for covering it are presented as institutions crowded by elites possessing their own language, style and in-groups which are more or less alienated from their constituencies and the public at large. The politicians drawing from this repertoire see it as their responsibility to perform differently and show that politicians are also ordinary human beings, with their ups and downs, their flaws and imperfections.
Today David Cameron has been “setting out proposals designed to deter citizens of other EU and non-EU countries from coming to Britain in order to take advantage of the NHS and the welfare system.” This speech is a useful case study of how speeches are staged and how audiences are just part of the choreography.
Eva Percy, part of the Speeching research group, writes about her recent visit to the House of Commons.
On the evening of the 25th February I had the privilege to enter into Parliament. Within the Parliament buildings there was a sense of authority and importance, a sense of power. The infrastructure oozed history, as it dawned on me that within these buildings history was made. Individuals walked with determination and vigour. As I walked through Westminster Hall, on my way to the House of Commons, I felt awe and amazement wash through me. As I went to collect my ticket for access into the Special Gallery, I felt excitement and curiosity.
Speeching is a project to find different ways to understand political speeches, not just with our eyes, ears and brains, but by using all of our bodies.
Speeching comes from a wider interest of mine in understanding democratic politics from the perspective of the body – what actually happens physically when we vote, when we demonstrate or when we sign a petition? Perhaps by understanding – or even changing – democratic politics at this level we can find new ways of doing things before we can think of them rationally.