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Fashioning Theatre: Cinema Inferno’s Final Touches

1st August 2022 by Lauren Randall

A Cinema Inferno Blog

Watching the first performance of a show when you have been at the heart of its making is always unnerving.  Time seems to form itself into a unique configuration as you both dread and applaud every moment.  My terror always centres on the myriad of potential disasters that can strike at any moment, especially with our performances, which require projectors, cameras, and servers to make it all happen. My joy is elevated by each instance that works, when all the elements come together, when the energy of the audience seems to feed upon and feedback into the action that is taking place on the stage, in every second that the technology does not break down.

Throughout the process of creating Cinema Inferno with Maison Margiela, I have often wondered about the relationship between fashion and theatricality, between the conventions of the runway and those of theatre itself. Looking at fashion shows, I am minded to consider how they operate as a kind of revealing and concealing – for a short burst in time (often less than a minute) the ‘look’ is presented, paraded before you, each angling for your attention, shifting the weight, the silhouette, creating moments of fluidity, of flutter and movement – and then it’s gone.   Theatre is not quite the same although many of its operations are very similar.  I remember Elizabeth LeCompte, director of The Wooster Group, telling me that, for her, theatre is all about entrance and exits and I have often thought that the art of the actor is a kind of finding out what they might be in front of audiences. The actor is on, in the blaze of light, subject to our scrutiny, and then they are off, back in the shadows, a brief imprint on our retinas; a shape, a form, that is forever destined to be reworked in our rememberings.

John often reminded us that he wanted the audience to leave the final show wanting more – indicating a strong desire to hold something essential back and this brings me to consider what might be at the heart of this revealing and concealing that seems to be one of the key energies in both fashion and theatre.  I think one of the things John lighted upon in this statement is theatre’s ephemerality, it’s thereness in the moment-to-moment encounter with what is happening on the stage and then is disappearance – the fact that it’s gone and all you have is the memory of what you witnessed, what you experienced.

If we delve into the etymology of the word fashion, we discover it comes from the Latin facere, which means to make or to do, and even earlier it connects to the Indo-European term dhe: to set or to put.  This idea of placing and putting seems to connect directly to the theatre – it’s what we do – put things in front of audiences and, of course, making and doing is also key to the process of creating for the theatre.  However, these words also have a temporal quality to them – they seem to be emphasising something that happens in the present tense – this doing, this making, this fashioning before us, this revealing which is made possible by the action of appearance and disappearance.

Cinema Inferno, as a narrative, was centred on an idea of an endless loop where each moment was destined to return.  However, it’s important to note that the instance of return was not an exact repetition – that in the loop there are variances and slight shifts of emphasis.  I would like to think that this connected directly to the techniques and thematics that Maison Margiela and John are exploring, the fact that we are endlessly replaying the stories and narratives of our lives, forever trapped, and energised by our individual and collective histories, reshaping and refashioning ourselves in a constant parade of possibilities. After all, isn’t this what fashion is and isn’t this the heartbeat of theatre as well?

Andrew Quick

Sitting in the faux backstage – a sort of in between, another example of the entrances and exits, revealing and concealing.
Photography: Britt Lloyd courtesy of Maison Margiela. Muse: Peter Frackowiak.

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