Black Mountain College Tag

  John Cage described in his interview with Richard Kostelanetz (1991) that he was moving away from his conceptual work on silence and was instead moving toward the themes and tropes of theatricality. In particular, theater in the round was a conceptual platform from which to jump: He decided against closing the audience out as with the proscenium theater in favor of an all-encompassing, interactive performance. In the proscenium theater, the interior architecture situates the audience members hierarchically and privileges the middle section over the sides. This seating arrangement positions the audience as mere observers, passive subjects of the performance. Instead, understanding theater as life, John Cage idealized each member of the audience as actor, performing composed music, talking or singing along, engaging with all five senses the environment around them. In composing what he would define as a theatrical piece, he defines theater as unrestrictedly as possible: “I would simply say that theater is something that engages the eye and the ear” (Kostelanetz 1987, 101). An untitled performance at Black Mountain College in 1952, often considered the first Happening (Fetterman 1996), represents an anticipatory move to Cage’s transformation of the audience as participators. Four non-touching, inward-facing triangles provided the stage for which the participating performers moved about the large, X-like space, while David Tudor played Water Music (Fetterman 1996). Though the actual event was to become known as a Happening, the mobilization of the audience into part of the performance—what I will call ameublement kinesthétique, allowed the performers to circumambulate and pass through the audience members, while engaging kinesthetically and at multiple levels of sensory attention.[1]