artists & participants
Charlot entered from stage left, and without opening his eyes, he began. The skit itself was not so funny. Nor was he, of course. But what they admired was his commitment. It's all part of the act—this disgruntled old comic, losing his charm and his patience. Hating the audience, exhausted. But still here he is—somehow desperate for their applause. He taps out his tired routine. Stepping forward. A hop and a skip. An inadvertent wobble to one side. He forgets his footing. Dances a little. Stumbles. Looks down. Now see here, this part is crucial: he clips the edge of the stage with his heel, loses his balance, and collapses into the orchestra pit. Falls right down into the basin of a bass drum. The music stops. The crowd go into raptures, laughing uncontrollably at the last of his antics. And there's Charlot lounging in the limelight, at the centre of everything. Suddenly unmoving. Silence.
In this one swift instant, the drama that until now had been in the hands of the performer is transported into the collective possession of the audience. Held together in the thrill of the performer's last breath, they are called abruptly into being. "He's dead!" Someone exclaims. "Everybody! Stay calm!" "Somebody call an ambulance!" The girl to your left faints into the arms of her lover. The front row of the orchestra stand motionless, letting their instruments dangle like handbags. The conductor grasps his baton. Ushers herd the madding crowd, pressing them back into the darkness of the stiles. Full lights. All is bright. The bass drum into which Charlot has collapsed is hauled back up on to the stage. The ushers help, as do some gentlemen from the first and second rows. "Keep calm!" someone shouts. "Is there a doctor in the house?" A white (of course it's white) sheet is pulled from the wings and gently laid over the body. A shudder. The lady on your left is paler than powder but her date makes no effort to leave the scene. The group is agog. Captivated and buzzing. People are glued to the tragedy. Enthralled. We locate the drama easily: it is here amidst the crowd; the onlookers have become the action. What separated them from Charlot's onstage illusion has been erased in one fell swoop by the player's own demise. Death is in the room. Suddenly it can happen to you too, here in the moment of interruption, when the fall of one consciousness urgently awakens another.
This exhibition at Project Arts Centre is the first iteration of The Centre For Dying On Stage, a research body that generates new artistic undertakings anchored to notions of disappearance and performativity. The Centre's online archive collects and collates instances of deaths that have occurred in performative settings in the public domain.