In Place of a Show: What Happens Inside Theatres When Nothing is Happening 9781474256728, 9781474256759, 9781474256742

In Place of a Show is a compelling account of Western theatre buildings in the 21st century: theatres stripped of their

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Table of contents :
Introduction: A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off
On Conservation
1. Cuvilliés-Theater: The Lasting House
Part 1
Part 2
On Appearance Through Disappearance
2. Dalston Theatre: Progress Report on a Missing Building
Part 1: Locating Quietude
Part 2: Anatomy of Disquiet
Part 3: Description Without Place
On the Human Enclosure
3. Teatro Olimpico: The Avian Theatre
Part 1
Part 2
Interlude: A Rectangle of Sky
Part 3
On Exporting a Building
4. Teatro Amazonas: ‘The Opera House in the Jungle’
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Image Credits
Epigraph Credits
Recommend Papers

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In Place of a Show

Also available from Bloomsbury Publishing: Industrial Ruins, edited by Tim Edensor Postdramatic Theatre and the Political, edited by Karen Jürs-Munby, Jerome Carroll and Steve Giles Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, edited by Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern The Craft of Theatre: Seminars and discussions in Brechtian theatre, Ekkehard Schall The Missed Encounter of Radical Philosophy with Architecture, edited by Nadir Lahiji

In Place of a Show: What Happens Inside Theatres When Nothing is Happening Augusto Corrieri

Bloomsbury Methuen Drama An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc LON DON • OX F O R D • N E W YO R K • N E W D E L H I • SY DN EY

Bloomsbury Methuen Drama An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Imprint previously known as Methuen Drama

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA BLOOMSBURY, METHUEN DRAMA and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2016 Paperback edition first published 2017 © Augusto Corrieri, 2016 Augusto Corrieri has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. British Library Cataloguing-­in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.


978-1-4742-5672-8 978-1-3500-5444-8 978-1-4742-5674-2 978-1-4742-5673-5

Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Cover design: Eleanor Rose Cover image: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk

The existence of the theatre makes itself felt when there is not even a second person present, when the minimum requirement for any performance (two people) is lacking. John Berger But an unlit, empty and disused theatre is a gloomy place to all save theatre folk or to those who have trained their imagination. Iain Mackintosh

Contents Acknowledgements


Introduction: A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off


On Conservation



Cuvilliés-Theater: The Lasting House Part 1 Interval Part 2

11 11

23 25

On Appearance Through Disappearance




Dalston Theatre: Progress Report on a Missing Building Part 1: Locating Quietude Part 2: Anatomy of Disquiet Part 3: Description Without Place

49 54 63

On the Human Enclosure




Teatro Olimpico: The Avian Theatre Part 1 Part 2 Interlude: A Rectangle of Sky Part 3

85 90 105 110

On Exporting a Building




Teatro Amazonas: ‘The Opera House in the Jungle’ Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

123 130 136



Part 4 Part 5 Notes Image Credits Epigraph Credits Bibliography

142 150 159 183 185 187

Acknowledgements For generous critique and encouragement, I owe a debt of gratitude to Adrian Heathfield and Simon Bayly, both at the University of Roehampton. Thanks to the AHRC-funded creative research project Performance Matters (London), and to Pépinière Artistique Daviers (Angers), who supported the development of the lecture versions of In Place of a Show, presented between 2011 and 2015 at theatres, festivals and conferences worldwide. An edited selection from Chapter 1 appeared in Cabinet, no. 56, as ‘A Packed Theater’; my gratitude to Jeffrey Kastner for improving the article. I also wish to thank Nicola Conibere, Peter Harrison, Owen Parry and David Williams for the conversations, Antoine Fraval and Natalie L’Herroux for leading me to the garage-theatre in Angers, and Tim and Donna Vize-Martin for the repeated offer of a countryside writing retreat (yet to happen). Thanks to Carl Lavery, and to Mark Dudgeon at Bloomsbury, for their help in bringing this project to its current book form.

Introduction: A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off It goes by different names: the théâtre à l’italienne, the Italian stage, the perspective stage, the Western traditional theatre, the proscenium arch theatre, the neoclassical theatre, the baroque opera house, the standard European theatre, the conventional theatre, the proper theatre, the old-­ fashioned theatre, the real theatre, and the theatre of plush and gilt, velour and cherubs, to name a few.1 It is at once tangible and abstract, concrete and immaterial; ‘an instance of a real object that is at the same time an imaginative object’, to cite poet Wallace Stevens.2 It is both an architectural construct and a particular working configuration – an apparatus. Until recently it was the dominant paradigm for Western performing arts, proof of this being that between the early Renaissance and the late nineteenth century the word ‘theatre’ referred not just to a type of activity, but the place in which that activity happened: an enclosed hall or room, functioning according to specific conventions embodied in its form – curtains, stage, proscenium arch, auditorium, balconies, etc. Over the course of the twentieth century this place was gradually dismantled, first under the modernist impulse of renewal, and later through the rise of egalitarian aesthetics and politics. It now lies empty, demolished, or meticulously restored as a surviving relic of its glorious past. Either way, it is hardly relevant to contemporary art and performance, to social and political life, to town planning and architecture. And yet – this is the first of many sentences beginning with ‘And yet’ – this building survives and persists. If we are asked to picture a theatre, chances are we will begin to visualize a stage, an auditorium, curtains, lights, an orchestra pit, balconies, trapdoors, ropes and pulleys: in short, the components of a specific architectural and imaginative


In Place of a Show

blueprint, the théâtre à l’italienne. Despite the abandonment of this theatre, and despite the rules and conventions associated with it having been largely banished or consigned to a bygone epoch, this vacant building continues to operate, to stage and to host. As philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote, ‘the houses that were lost forever continue to live on in us . . . they insist in us in order to live again, as though they expected us to give them a supplement of living’.3 This lost house, which during four centuries defined the place of Western performance, persists in its operations, like a smoke machine that cannot be switched off. Even in works of contemporary performance – avowedly free of red curtains, a formal stage or a proscenium arch – it is possible to detect anachronistic theatrical operations (more on this to come). There are curtains even when there are no curtains; there is a theatre even when there is no theatre. And what about the buildings themselves? How might we attend to those spaces that have been literally or figuratively abandoned and torn down? Imagine yourself walking inside an empty theatre, taking time to look at its various parts, staying for a while to inhabit the place . . . What happens inside a theatre when nothing is happening? In a state of suspended functionality, the presumed emptiness of the auditorium might offer a renewed scene of possibility: curtains, walls and seats hold a certain potential – a promissory force of sorts – and conjure up past historical realities. As anthropologist Marc Augé writes, vacant theatres are ‘poetic spaces in the etymological sense of the word: they offer an opportunity to do something; their incompleteness contains a promise’.4 This incompleteness, and its poetic promise, is the subject of In Place of a Show. The empty or abandoned theatre does not signal an end to activities and events taking place within it. Different entities, lives and forms of agency take centre stage in this all-­too-human enclosure: other animals, insects, vegetal matter, swirls of dust, animations of the inanimate. This awareness of more-­than-human entities, together with the historical and material forces held within the building’s architecture, invite us to consider the theatre with new eyes and sensibilities, as a place animated by a specific charge. In Place of a Show is an attempt to tap into this charge, and to shift the focus from the foreground to the background,

A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off


attending to overlooked or seemingly insignificant phenomena that might shine new light on the matter of theatre.

Four theatres This book is not a eulogy of forgotten buildings or their supposed historical relevance; if anything, the starting point is precisely their irrelevance, and the loss of a clearly definable purpose. The guiding question is this: what do theatres do when their intended function – the presentation of performances – is no longer central or necessary? There are four chapters, each one preceded by a short statement that outlines recurring thematic–conceptual motifs. Each chapter revolves around a specific building: the Cuvilliés-Theater, a dismantled and reconstituted baroque opera house in Munich; Dalston Theatre in London, demolished as part of the city’s ‘regeneration’; Teatro Olimpico, a perfectly preserved Renaissance theatre in the Italian city of Vicenza; and Teatro Amazonas, a century-­old opera house in the north Brazilian city of Manaus. The theatres span a period of four centuries, between the early Renaissance and late nineteenth century. They were not chosen so as to fit an established taxonomy or narrative of historical–architectural development. In fact, at first glance it would seem there is little connection between a rococo German theatre, a demolished Theatre of Varieties in London, a Renaissance reproduction of a Roman amphitheatre, and an opera house in the Amazon rainforest. And yet this eclecticism serves a purpose: it is precisely by reaching far and wide that an all-­embracing model can emerge, a blueprint that is common to all four venues despite variants in style and function. This blueprint, concretely embodied by these buildings, is precisely that of the théâtre à l’italienne, or ‘the theatre we have in mind’, as the historian Fabrizio Cruciani names it: a forma mentis, a structure imprinted on the mind, capable of conjuring, as though out of thin air, red curtains, balconies, plush seats, wings, orchestra pit, etc.5 Or, as Gaston Bachelard


In Place of a Show

writes in relation to the childhood home, ‘whenever the human being has found the slightest shelter . . . we shall see the imagination build “walls” of impalpable shadows’.6 Selecting which theatres to write about, out of the thousands available, was a matter of both method and chance.7 I chose to avoid derelict buildings, partly for the ways they have been fetishized by the ever popular ‘ruin lust’ photographs of abandoned theatres and factories in the US.8 Conversely I steered away from meticulously conserved national treasures such as Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala or the Opéra de Paris, as celebrated in Candida Höfer’s lavish photographs.9 The four buildings in these pages lie somewhere between these polar extremes, and in fact challenge the simple oppositional logic of terms like abandonment and conservation. I also avoided theatres originally erected for a different purpose (e.g. factories, civic town halls), focusing instead on those that were built as places for performance: a relatively recent phenomenon, if we consider that the first freestanding enclosed theatre dates from 1590.10 As places built especially for seeing and showing, the question is how these twinned activities might continue, even when the buildings are turned to other uses, preserved as quasi-­museums, or torn down and forgotten. Other than these rather open sets of criteria, in a sense the four theatres found their own way into the book, by chance or by accident, each one presenting itself as matter for writing, usually against my better judgement – ‘No, surely I’m not going to write about this?’ – by which point it would already be too late. I have attempted to match specific modes of writing and research to each building: the first chapter is rather academic–historical; the second involves what we might call ‘site-­writing’; the third is intensely speculative and image-­based; and the fourth composed as a travelogue. Much of the writing came about through a simple relational approach: often by being in place, immersed in the contingent particulars at hand, the theatre’s materials, its histories, attending to emerging perceptions, and organizing a trajectory of shape-­shifting thoughts and images.11 Particularly in the last two chapters, I pay heed to the kind of distributed attention invited by an empty theatre, where one’s focus tilts away from the human element

A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off


(the work of performers, artists, audiences, etc.), to attend to anything occurring within and around the space: air currents, a lone swallow flying around, the sound of car traffic, a pop song playing somewhere nearby. What emerges across the four chapters is a particular quality of abandonment that seems inherent to theatre buildings as such: it is as though they had been built precisely to remain unused, to simply delimit and contain a portion of air. And this enclosure exerts attraction, inviting contemplation and reverie. Perhaps a theatre’s ultimate function is to lie abandoned, empty and unused: it is for this reason that Cruciani describes the théâtre à l’italienne as a ‘cathedral in the desert’, an opulent and majestic structure entirely out of place, whose purpose remains unclear.12

Absenting performance ‘Life is an affair of people not of places. But for me life is an affair of places and that is the trouble.’13 Let’s take this aphoristic passage by Wallace Stevens and change a few key words to fit the purposes of the book: ‘Performance is an affair of people not of theatres. But for me performance is an affair of theatres and that is the trouble.’ Across the four chapters the word ‘performance’ is barely mentioned: no ‘shows’ are discussed here; no analyses of artistic works or events; no accounts of staged encounters between performers and audiences. The book’s title, In Place of a Show, explicitly drives home the absenting of live performance, while insisting on its placement i.e. the theatre, the place in which shows happen (from the Greek theatron, ‘the place of seeing, the place of show’). This evacuation or suspension of performance merits a small digression. As a professional theatre and performance artist, I am versed in references and discourses that deliberately ignore anything occurring before the 1960s. There is in fact a tacit consensus across performance studies that the théâtre à l’italienne is anachronistic, and that its pernicious ideology has long been shattered by performance’s irreverent and embodied politics; if the old theatre partially survives, it is only due


In Place of a Show

to the reticence of conservative aesthetics and elitist attitudes. As a case in point, I remember being struck by a flyer advertising an MA in performance at Queen Mary University of London a few years ago: it consisted of an uncaptioned photograph of Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala, heavily damaged by allied bombing in August 1943. The flyer metaphorically cast contemporary performance as the bomb falling on

A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off


opera’s headquarters, clearing the ground of all illusion, acting and fakery, annihilating theatre’s disembodied aesthetics and apparatus once and for all. And yet the flyer was prey to an unwitting irony: it showed that performance studies, typically characterized as non-­foundational and anti-­disciplinarian, is in fact wholly dependent on the destruction of the théâtre à l’italienne. Performance needs the theatre, one way or another; it is telling that the flyer’s visual message functioned according to a form of ‘representational thinking’ typical of its target. Arguably since the 1990s the theatrical apparatus has returned as something to be reckoned with, re-­discovered and deconstructed over and over. Many artists and companies working in contemporary performance have embraced ‘the theatre’, as exemplified by the works of Jérôme Bel, Ivana Müller, Boris Charmatz, Xavier Le Roy, Romeo Castellucci and Rimini Protokoll. The discourse around these artists’ works usefully revolves around a Foucauldian emphasis on the theatrical dispositif (apparatus), as a mechanism that captures and directs perception and signification, even without a material architectural construction in place.14 The anachronistic apparatus of curtains, stage, auditorium and lights doesn’t need to be materially present in order to function, and is far from defunct. For no matter how much this bygone mechanism has been dismantled (in fact, because it has been worked on so much), the theatre continues to operate: it seems we cannot undo the division of performers and spectators, the imperative to reveal and obscure (as tied to perspectival constructions of space), the other worldly time–space created by theatre, and the anthropocentric bias upon which this all rests. We might find ourselves in the presence of the old apparatus even when (or especially when) the live event seems to have moved away from stage and curtains: much UK participatory and immersive theatre arguably deals in a conservative and illusionistic aesthetic, barely camouflaged by a rhetoric hellbent on discrediting theatre’s alienating distance. And even works of a subversive ilk, such as contemporary performances or ‘situations’ in art galleries, unwittingly rely on the presence and force of the age-­old apparatus.15 It was partly this – the re-­emergence of the seemingly redundant apparatus – that led me, some years ago, to begin considering theatres


In Place of a Show

themselves: not just as conceptual tools but as material sites, to be contended with and wandered through. What might it be like to step inside these buildings left standing, abandoned, or demolished, places poised on the threshold of obsolescence yet curiously persisting?

The nonhuman The etymology of the word introduction i.e. ‘to lead inside’, is fitting for a writing project unfolding within theatres. With In Place of a Show, my aim has been to step into these spaces and pay attention. I was often unsure as to what I was looking for, and always surprised by what I found. The writing is motivated by a practice of patience, attending to whatever happens to be happening. When performance (as a social occasion) is evacuated or suspended, the elemental, material or historical forces residing in these buildings can come to the fore: the more-­thanhuman worlds that are always there, already here, shaping and making our lives, though our rational cogito would have us believe otherwise. The theatre is a recognizably human encasement i.e. an anthropocentric apparatus structuring human bodies, modes of perception and signification. What about the nonhuman lives and forms that dwell insides theatres? And how might we rehearse a non-­hierarchical disposition within this most hierarchical of dispositifs? In other words, how can we decentre the human within a quintessentially human mechanism, and what possible role might writing take in such a project? These are the open questions befitting the age that has been dubbed the ‘Anthropocene’. The refrain that plays across these pages suggests that, with the right approach, even nestled within a gilded auditorium (the last place one would expect to encounter anything but humans), we can catch a murmur, intimations of nonhuman matters and scales, forcing us to rethink the boundaries between inside and outside, nature and culture, ecology and history. The outside already inhabits the inside; what better place than an eighteenth century opera house to conduct ecological fieldwork?

On Conservation

If theatres are bulky, overly ornate and anachronistic, the question of their conservation belongs entirely to the present: what is to be done today with opera houses, velvet curtains and chandeliers? After its early beginnings in the Renaissance, the théâtre à l’italienne became a matter of national pride; European cities vied for the grandest, most elegant and sumptuous theatres, regardless of what might take place inside them. This of course changed in the twentieth century, when the buildings began to lose their centrality, artistically, politically, and socially. Their dying out, however, did not signal their end; the agony of an empire can last a thousand years.1 ‘The theatre’, Marvin Carlson writes, ‘is in fact one of the most persistent architectural objects in the history of Western culture’.2 If curtains, stages and auditoria persist it is not due to their functionality, but because they configure a space (and attendant signifiers, perceptions, behaviours) to which we are still somewhat beholden. One of the ideas tested across In Place of a Show is that the working configuration of parts – the theatrical apparatus – does not only structure the event of performance; it also intervenes in the matter of the building itself. Analogous to the way in which curtains hide and reveal objects and performers, there are conventions directing the appearance and disappearance of entire theatres. Simply put: the apparatus does not begin operating when spectators enter the auditorium, nor does it cease when they leave; rather, it extends to include the very fact and materiality of the building itself, orchestrating a dramaturgy of conservation and perpetuity. It is not just the show that must go on, but the theatre too. The first chapter centres on Munich’s Cuvilliés-Theater, a baroque opera house that performed an astonishing feat of endurance, re-­emerging


In Place of a Show

perfectly intact after being bombed. It appears as though the theatre was built to escape ruination: the aim of its elaborately carved decor is to structure the longings of future generations, stage-­managing certain affects so as to guarantee its own longevity.3 This ‘old’ theatre cannot be said to belong to the past, since it is an apparatus of capture operating very much in the present. As I discovered through writing, it is not possible to understand the case of the Cuvilliés-Theater without delving into the context of 1944 war-torn Europe, when the city of Munich was being turned to rubble (only 2.5 per cent of its buildings remained intact). The conservation of this opera house dovetails with a more complex set of ethical questions involving memory, oblivion, and the ways in which Munich’s residents recovered their spatial, temporal and psychical orientation in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Chapter 1

Cuvilliés-Theater: The Lasting House

Change hides itself within that which remains intact. That which remains intact hides itself within change. Giorgio Agamben

I The first image is from a postcard dated 1920. It shows the auditorium of Munich’s Residenztheater, also known as the Cuvilliés-Theater, originally built in 1753. In 1944, Munich was suffering heavy bombing by the Allied forces. Fearing the destruction of the theatre and its lavish rococo decor, the


In Place of a Show

city’s administration acted to safeguard it for future generations: the entire auditorium was dismantled ‘into some thirty thousand pieces’, packed into wooden crates, and hidden outside of the city.4 On 18 March 1944, only six weeks after the theatre had been successfully concealed, the site was indeed bombed, but by that point it was mostly an empty shell. After the war, the auditorium’s fragments were recovered and meticulously reassembled, enabling the theatre to reopen its doors in 1958. The second image shows the theatre as it stands today.

II Where does a theatre go once it has been demolished? In this case, we could answer straightforwardly: it leaves the city for fourteen years, and eventually returns to its original location. The Cuvilliés is unique in the recent history of demolished theatres, a rare exception at a time when so many buildings in Europe were bombed and destroyed. Of these, some were later rebuilt from scratch, or restored using parts of the original (as in the case of Munich’s



Nationaltheater, just next door to the Cuvilliés); other buildings were of course unaffected by the bombs. This theatre, it would seem, was both bombed and unaffected. The return of the Residenztheater in 1958 coincided with and marked the city of Munich’s 800th anniversary, for which the slogan ran ‘Munich is Munich again’. The theatre’s reopening was greeted with strong enthusiasm; as historian Gavriel D. Rosenfeld writes, some residents ‘hyperbolically claimed that the new theater actually surpassed the beauty of the old’, with one commentator proclaiming ‘the old Residenztheater has risen again, more beautiful than we had ever known it before’.5 That same year, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space was published in France, the philosopher noting that ‘the houses that were lost forever continue to live on in us . . . they insist in us in order to live again, as though they expected us to give them a supplement of living’.6 What is striking is that this theatre managed to stay in place precisely by being displaced, remaining whole through its fragmentation. Could we then say that theatres in general obey a paradoxical logic, whereby they insist and endure because of their destruction? Could it be that curtains emerge out of their own liquidation, that proscenium arches materialize from their own smoke and rubble? The Cuvilliés seems to confirm these untenable ideas, encouraging a daydream of perpetual renaissance. It is an uncanny example of the thermodynamic principle according to which matter can never be destroyed nor created, it can only transform; but what kind of matter is this, that fragments, dissipates, and yet remains perfectly intact? Perhaps this matter is nothing other than ‘theatre’ itself, if we take the word to be loosely synonymous with the fictive or unreal. The Cuvilliés’ displacement is a coup de théâtre of the highest order, whose press release might read: ‘Bombs fall on baroque opera house without causing any damage’. It is an architectural magic act, outwitting the laws of cause and effect, according to the formula ‘Theatre + bombs = Theatre’. The trick lay in the fact that the auditorium was safely hidden away in the wings, so to speak, while its empty double, or stand-­in, took the punch.


In Place of a Show

If we adopt this logic we could say that the bomb destroyed little other than itself, its fall and explosion approximating a kind of ‘theatrical’ event: that is to say, a staged occurrence, carefully planned and prepared for, ultimately producing no consequences in the ‘real’ world. In his historical survey of Western places for performance, Marvin Carlson suggests that one reason the theatre building has continued to persist is because of its adaptive ability: ‘the stability of theatre as an element does not mean that its urban role is stable but, on the contrary, that it has been able to accommodate itself to a variety of urban functions as the city around has changed’.7 If we apply this idea to the Cuvilliés, we find that it too was altered so as to accommodate changes in the urban environment: enveloped by increasing amounts of rubble, fire and smoke, the theatre adapted by coming undone and staging its own undoing. Or else let us suppose the theatre had not been hidden away, and the bombs had destroyed and turned it to rubble. We might then imagine precisely locating within the rubble its various parts – here a chandelier fragment, there the hand of a gilded statue – and then, with infinite patience, slowly fitting these together and reassembling what had been broken; there is a degree of truth in this imaginary version, given that the actual dismantling of the theatre was not just pre-­emptive but also imitative of the explosion to come: it was a kind of simulated detonation, taking place in controlled conditions. What was rehearsed via that gesture of conservation was the scene, infinitely slowed down, in which the bomb would have fallen on and shattered the theatre, its various parts flying off in different directions. A rehearsed explosion, performed with care and over several days: a slow and difficult labour of fragmentation that the bomb would have carried out in a few seconds. Whereas the bomb’s destruction would have created a radical break with the past, the dismantling allowed for subsequent reconstruction, and was therefore not a destructive operation but merely a brief interval in the theatre’s continued existence. And so a slowed-­down fictitious explosion took the place of a real one, recasting the bomb that did eventually fall on the site as no more than a hollow sound effect, echoing across a city that was genuinely falling to pieces.



III At the heart of this eminently theatrical event is a gesture of conservation. As Munich was turning to rubble, the city’s administration decided that the interior of an old theatre should be safely stored away. This act of protection was part of a larger attempt at safeguarding the Residenz (the royal Palace), whose valuable paintings and sculptures were similarly removed and stored elsewhere. The Residenztheater was originally built as the court theatre, and therefore its function was wholly bound up with that of the royal palace, large parts of which had been decorated in a similar rococo style by the theatre’s architect, the Belgian-­born François de Cuvilliés. A parallel can certainly be drawn between the palace’s artworks and the Cuvilliés’ interior, since the theatre’s rococo decorations are also precious aesthetic objects, the lavish auditorium constituting a kind of artwork that one can walk inside. But whereas paintings and sculptures are, at least since the Renaissance, arguably commodities that can be easily moved from one place to another, theatre boxes, seats and balustrades actually define an emplacement: and so by moving these individual components, the whole auditorium was transported with them. We might in fact speculate whether the Munich city council first held a meeting to discuss dismantling and moving the entire theatre building i.e. the floor, the walls, the staircases, the dressing rooms, the orchestra pit, the painters’ and machinists’ atelier, the costume store, and the elaborately painted ceiling by Johann Baptist Zimmerman, only to realize the impracticality of this suggestion, at which point they settled for conserving the auditorium’s most easily transportable (and valuable) items. Although this is fanciful, it is important to note that the council’s decision did in fact enable the later reconstitution of the entire theatre, not just some of the decor (excepting a small number of elements, such as the original ceiling fresco which did not survive the bomb). It is hard to say if what animated the council’s gesture in 1944 was a desire to save the Cuvilliés – as a social place for spectacle – or merely its invaluable rococo decoration. Regardless of the intention, the act of


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safeguarding deserves a closer look, in order to understand how the storing of a few objects enabled a whole theatre to return to place.

IV After being dismantled, most of the theatre’s components were transported ninety kilometres north of Munich and stored inside the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), a nineteenth-­century memorial building perched on top of a grassy hill, overlooking the Danube. The Befreiungshalle’s imposing interior features eighteen white angel statues, their hands joined around the hall’s perimeter, each five metres tall. Their number commemorates 18 June 1815, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Given the hall’s evocation of military heroism, it was frequently used during the 1930s for large National Socialist gatherings. The Residenztheater was thus relocated inside the Befreiungshalle, a task not without a certain poetry, given that it essentially entailed moving a large auditorium inside a much smaller hall. It was a case of



material synecdoche, whereby the boxed decor was seen to represent the whole theatre building. The city of Munich conserved not just a series of detachable components, but more importantly the intangible space between them. It was therefore the whole of the theatre’s interior, as composed by a specific set of relations between parts, which was smuggled atop a hill in 1944. The actual walls of the Cuvilliés had been bombed, but the theatre’s internal volume – its invisible or immaterial mass – escaped to a grassy hill in Kelheim: large cases containing seating, stucco, gilded decorations and more would have been stacked in the centre of the small hall, encircled by white angel statues, their linked hands physically enacting the gesture of protection. The preservation of the theatre’s ineffable space, its air if you will, required imaginative labour; those eighteen winged statues were in fact encircling a place, in the sense of a (potential) volume to be inhabited in a time to come. The theatre was deflated like an airbed and packed away for later, or dismantled like ‘a giant jigsaw puzzle’8 that would later return not just a flat picture but a place. Let’s turn to two post-­war Munich commentators, as cited by historian Gavriel D. Rosenfeld: Distinguishing between the Residenztheater’s ‘body’ and ‘soul’, Ernst Petzodt and Hands Ludwig Held argued that, although the material substance of the theater had been destroyed in the war, the fact that its decorative interior was ‘filled with soul’ signalled its endurance in nonmaterial form as ‘an idea that continued to exist in the . . . consciousness of the people’.9

Whichever metaphorical image we choose (airbed, puzzle, body and soul), the thing to note, once again, is that it would not have been possible to store the parts of the Cuvilliés without making this imaginative leap; without, in other words, endowing those objects with the ability to reconstitute something larger, and less tangible, than the simple sum of their parts: that is, the house, the internal dwelling space of spectators. The theatre was conserved through this interplay of material and immaterial labour, linking the concrete deed to a fictitious outcome. Simply put: the theatre was saved by an act of theatre.


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The Greek word theatron translates into English as ‘the place of seeing’. What was being kept through the salvage of the Cuvilliés’ interior decoration was, in every sense, the place of the spectator; by conserving the gilded boxes Munich was conserving the possibility of future attendance: the watching and the listening to be performed by spectators to come, when Munich would return to being ‘Munich again’. As a gesture it perfectly mirrored the one we perform ordinarily at the request of another spectator, when we are asked, ‘Save me a place’. What was being housed on a hill in Kelheim was precisely theatre’s housing function i.e. its potential to gather and hold people together for a certain duration. It was this promise that Munich sought to shelter from the Allied bombs, in the hope of evading history’s destructive flow. And that promise could only be kept by keeping hold of certain decorative objects.

V Let’s briefly consider the thousands of curves, surfaces and glimmers that make up this opera house; what is the connection between the theatre’s material components and its less tangible or immaterial volume, its air? The Cuvilliés is known as a distinguished example of rococo decoration, carved and painted by the most noted German craftsmen of the time; its construction saw Germany surpass Italy in matters of baroque theatre architecture, adapting France’s established rococo to a Germanic style.10 The colours in the space are limited to red, white and gold, and its ‘leitmotiv is the arabesque curve, which everywhere accompanies and softens’, producing an ensemble of ‘frothy arabesque lines’ that inaugurate ‘the true flower of German Rococo’.11 The sumptuously adorned Elector’s (or royal) box is placed opposite the stage in the middle of the u-­shaped hall. The box is sustained by two larger-­than-life Atlas statues, sculpted by Johann Baptist Straub. Atlas, who here supports the ruler’s place both symbolically and structurally, is in Greek mythology the son of Aether, whose punishment for daring



to go to war with the Olympians is to forever carry the sky on his back.12 Another renowned sculptor of the time, Joachim Dietrich, was responsible for the gold and crimson velvet drapery that adorns the balustrades: what appears to be red cloth casually thrown over the edge of the gallery boxes is in fact entirely carved out of wood, as is the stage curtain that frames the proscenium at the top two corners.13 The wood that makes up the interior was procured by felling 1,000 trees in the forests around lake Staffelsee, seventy kilometres south of Munich.14 From the vantage point of the twenty-­first century it is easy to dismiss such sumptuous indulgence as inessential, if not inimical, to theatrical activity as such. And yet the interior’s lavishness was obviously necessary: for this was originally a court theatre (it became public in 1795), and therefore its primary goal was the production of monarchic power.15 As a place it created ‘subjects’ by literally placing people in boxes, the decorative splendour of each box varying according to the individual’s social rank and prestige. The absolutist power hierarchy embodied by its architecture highlights the simple fact that this type of theatre is primarily the domain of the spectator (as opposed to the stage performer’s). The théâtre à l’italienne is a place of social visibility, in which spectators literally dis-play themselves; today’s customary darkness only descended during the second half of the nineteenth century, when Richard Wagner anticipated cinema’s intensely oneiric glare at Bayreuth. Before then, the auditorium was itself a spectacle of glances and gestures, and the act of showing up self-­sufficient, as several theatre theorists have noted. David Wiles remarks: ‘It is a basic principle of the théâtre à l’italienne that the spectators are also performers’;16 Georges Banu names it ‘the theatre of the spectator’, and states that from ‘its origins, this theatre rests on the activity of the audience, constantly being looked at and looking’.17 Fabrizio Cruciani describes the auditorium as coming alive through constituting a network of intersecting gazes: The function of the balconies is to allow a view not of the stage, but of the other balconies: if we were to trace the lines of the possible gazes that cross the volume of the hall from one balcony to all


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others, we would fill up the entire hall (not just the stage or the stalls); in this way we would understand why we sense the volumetric space of the Italian style theatre to be dynamic and active, alive with the tensions of a structural potential.18

The life of this theatre, then, is defined by spectators, watching and being watched: it is their presence that fundamentally constitutes the event. Court theatres in particular often doubled up as reception halls for social gatherings: in its pre-1944 state, the auditorium floor of the Cuvilliés could be lifted to the same level as the stage in order to create a large ballroom.19 There is a surprising ‘aesthetic continuity of audience-­ space and drama-­space’,20 as exemplified by the fact that the proscenium arch often held tiers of boxes for spectators to view the show from the sides (which also featured in the Cuvilliés before the war, but not in its current version). The seating arrangement would encourage audience members ‘to perform their feelings’,21 to the point that in seventeenth and eighteenth-­century France it was customary for some spectators to sit on stage, in full view of the rest of the audience.22 Far from stifling sociality by predetermining the spectator’s place and role, this theatre of visibility is an apparatus whose goal is the very production of social engagement; the rigid and hierarchical disposition of the seating engenders a play of lines cutting back and forth across the house. And this network of intersecting gazes, which forms the theatre’s volume, is inextricably linked to the decor. This is what the Cuvilliés’ conservation suggests: if a theatre is by definition a place of seeing (and the aim of proscenium arch, stage and boxes is precisely to enable that), then it is vital to conserve theatre’s architecture in order to conserve the twinned activities of seeing and performing. Without a theatre, there is no theatre.

VI When we hold on to certain objects in our lives – a photograph, an old item of clothing – we are essentially weaving matter and memory: we are attempting to link the material to the immaterial, the signifier to



the signified, and to safeguard that link from the chaos that threatens it daily. It may appear fanciful or a little forced to compare a personal memento to a public building (especially as a way of concluding a chapter), yet it is something along these lines that is at stake with the Cuvilliés; more specifically, there are at least three types of links whose conservation enabled the theatre’s return, and they can be briefly described as follows. The first link is the one that binds the auditorium’s architecture to its hierarchical distribution and effects. By conserving the royal box’s components (the Atlas, the wood-­carved curtains, etc.), Munich conserved the box’s function: that is, the institution of a central viewing position, and its attendant power distribution. And so we see how a theatre’s decoration fundamentally is the theatre: to this day, red curtains often signify ‘theatre’. Salvaging parts of the Cuvilliés’ auditorium implied salvaging the spatial, ideological and perceptual apparatus that the theatre builds and is built on. The second link is semiotic, in that the word theatre refers to both the event and the place. The theatrical event (opera, drama, ballet) was perceived to be inseparable from its physical and architectural context. Simply put, theatre = theatre. The linguist Ferdinand De Saussure used the analogy of a sheet of paper to describe the relation between the signifier and the signified, since ‘one cannot cut the front without cutting the back’;23 similarly with the Cuvilliés, we have an (ideological) series of equivalences, whereby seats = spectators = shows = theatre = seats = spectators = shows = theatre = seats etc. It is a tautology that affirms a logic of indivisibility between place and event. The third link that Munich sought to conserve, perhaps most ardently, was temporal. Protecting the theatre meant protecting a certain narrative i.e. the seemingly continuous time-­flow linking the Cuvilliés’ former state to its present one. If the two spaces are seen to be the same, then history hasn’t really intervened. Nowadays, ‘most of the theatre goers comfortably ensconced in the red plush seats of the gold-­ trimmed auditorium . . . believe they are sitting in an original baroque edifice’.24 Spectators think they find themselves sitting in the theatre that opened more than 250 years ago, which has survived unscathed.


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By forcibly conserving these three types of links – architectural, semiotic and historical – it was possible to reconstitute the theatre in 1958. Despite some changes, the building is otherwise intact, more beautiful than we had ever known it before.

Epilogue It is at this point, just as I am preparing the final thoughts to bring the chapter to a close, that a fault begins to show – a crack in the otherwise smooth narrative of the theatre’s return. It was there from the very start, with the two photographs of the auditorium, one taken before the war and one afterwards. Like a show with no interval, the two images suggest a seamless temporal transition, obscuring the ruination that took place in Germany in the 1940s. By placing those images next to one another, I now realize, I might have fallen for a certain trick: that is, the unadulterated conservation of the past, the seemingly watertight narrative of continuity. What if the theatre did not really survive unscathed? After all, the architectural, semiotic and historical links that the Munich council sought to preserve are far from indissoluble. I wonder if the gesture of conservation, instead of avoiding destruction, merely attempted to shield it from view. I begin to suspect the case of the Cuvilliés to be a simple deception, masking otherwise profound historical ruptures. Is it not more accurate to say that the theatre’s conservation partook of the very destruction it was trying to occlude? Would it not be best to speak of two entirely different theatres, sharing, as if by coincidence, the same name and physical properties, but otherwise entirely distinct?25 Perhaps this text began naïvely, as homage to the exceptional return and immaculate preservation of a building. But if the return did not truly take place, then it is necessary to turn to other narratives and possibilities. Let’s start again.


Chapter 1

Cuvilliés-Theater: The Lasting House

And one wants to cry out: But this is not real – real are the ruins, real are the past horrors, real are the dead whom you have forgotten. Hannah Arendt

I The first image is from a postcard dated 1920. It shows the auditorium of Munich’s Residenztheater, also known as the Cuvilliés-Theater, originally built in 1753. In 1944, Munich was suffering heavy bombing by the Allied forces. Fearing the destruction of the theatre and its lavish rococo decor, the


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city’s administration acted to safeguard it for future generations: the entire auditorium was dismantled ‘into some thirty thousand pieces’, packed into wooden crates, and hidden outside of the city.26 On 18 March 1944, only six weeks after the theatre had been successfully concealed, the site was indeed bombed, but by that point it was mostly an empty shell. After the war, the auditorium’s fragments were recovered and meticulously reassembled, enabling the theatre to reopen its doors in 1958. The second image shows the theatre as it stands today.

II I first learnt about the Cuvilliés’ dismantling and reconstitution through a brief account of it in Marvin Carlson’s The Haunted Stage.27 I was struck by the idea that a theatre building might move between places, transforming along the way as if undergoing chemical alteration: from theatre to a gaseous or immaterial promise, and then back to theatre. It is a tenacious, oddly imperishable construction: a bomb-proof apparatus that resurfaces and returns, despite (and to spite) our contemporary



dismissal of it; the more we destroy, dismantle and abandon the theatre, the more it rematerializes. We might describe this return as ‘uncanny’, which Sigmund Freud famously characterized as the familiar turned strange.28 More specifically, uncanny is a feeling of terror provoked by the unseemly return of the familiar, thwarting the separation between reality and imagination. In Freud’s account, the familiar (the homely) is typically concealed, hidden away from strangers; if it re-­emerges, it returns unfamiliar, for example as a ‘double’, destabilizing the closure of identity. The return of the old rococo house was certainly uncanny, given that the concealed interior was reinstated to its familiar form, like an eerily immaculate double. As I now reread Carlson’s brief account, there seems to be a certain deception at work, favouring a smooth narrative over a discontinuous one. Of course any narrative entails selective framing, with certain facts placed centre stage and others relegated to the wings; and yet the account shows a willing suspension of disbelief: just like a spectator at a magic show, who lets her/himself believe that a torn-­up playing card has been perfectly restored, so Carlson seems to have been captured by the illusion performed by the Munich theatre. He does not mention that some of the interior decoration did not survive and was therefore created anew; nor does he signal the many differences between the first and second version of the theatre, e.g. the fact that the auditorium floor can no longer be raised, that the proscenium arch no longer features boxes, and that a new orchestra pit is in place. More importantly, there is no mention of the fact that the auditorium did not move back to its original location, but rather roughly nine metres from it.29 If originally the theatre had faced MaxJoseph Platz, it is now tucked within the royal palace itself, no longer visible or directly accessible from the public square. We could overlook these details for the sake of the overarching story: what matters, we could say, is that the same theatre was dismantled and then reassembled. There are bound to be inconsistencies here and there, but these are best ignored as they might interfere with the Cuvilliés’ unbroken identity and prodigious return. The structure is intact, just as


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is its narrative: if the building stands, so does the story. Why then speak of deception, discontinuity and destruction?

III The US historian Gavriel D. Rosenfeld recounts his shock upon realizing that Munich, as it stands today, is not the old city of culture it purports to be. As he notes: Much of the historic architecture I had admired was not historic at all. The tower of the gothic Altes Rathaus, or old city hall . . . for example, was not, in fact, ‘old’ (as I had been led to believe by the plaque upon the city hall that read, ‘built in 1470 by Jörg Ganghofer’) but had been destroyed by bombs and built entirely anew in 1975.30

This prompted Rosenfeld to write an astonishing book on post-­war urbanism, Munich and Memory, which casts a different light on the luminous rococo jewel. After the war there were immediate plans to reconstitute the Residenztheater; however these were postponed due to the city needing a larger, more modern space.31 And so in 1951, on the exact site of the Cuvilliés, where some of the building’s foundations had in fact survived, there rose an entirely new theatre, modern and unadorned. It was named, once more, the Residenztheater, and it is fully functioning to this day. Its opening was met with some resistance: not wanting to accept the loss of the rococo gem, many residents (including the city’s mayor) denounced the new theatre – its ‘very existence [is] a reminder of the times of catastrophes’32 – and planned for returning the‘original’ Residenztheater.33 As Rosenfeld notes, the Nazi experience had transformed German cities into ‘shattered vessels of memory overflowing with conflicting views of the recent past’.34 Following the war Munich was characterized by two opposing approaches regarding reconstruction: on the one hand there was a strong traditionalist and restorationist approach, which



‘urged a postwar strategy of re-­embracing cultural continuity and tradition’;35 at play in this way of thinking was the ‘comforting self-­ deception that reconstructing the ruins symbolized the unbroken continuity of the city’s cultural soul’.36 Pulling in another, albeit less pursued, direction, was a modernist approach, which instead sought to accept the loss of the old city and start anew, the (urban) slate having been wiped clean. It was in this spirit of new beginnings, and a progressive response to the recent past, that the modern and functional Residenztheater opened in 1951, as celebrated by a Munich former resident, novelist Thomas Mann: As charming as it was, it was wise to forgo restoring the old rococo hall . . . returning to a once-­upon-a-­time [attitude], and creating an image that would almost appear as if nothing had happened; far more noble [is] allowing the new, the decisively modern, to emerge from the rubble . . . unsentimental and brave, clear and cheerfully looking towards the future.37

Thomas Mann died in 1955, and therefore never witnessed the renaissance of the Cuvilliés three years later. We can only speculate what his reaction would have been in seeing the ‘old rococo hall’ magically reinstated, having accepted its loss as a means to stride bravely into the future. Might Mann not have felt a strange terror upon seeing the familiar house returned? Freud likens the uncanny to ‘the sense of helplessness experienced in some dream-­states’:38 he gives an account of his inability to leave a particular street in an Italian town, three times getting lost and returning to it, despite his attempts at moving elsewhere. I wonder if Mann would have experienced a similar oneiric helplessness due to his inability to leave (or be left by) the theatre.

IV The disposition of the two theatres discloses a short architectural history of chaos and adaptation. Today the old rococo hall stands


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almost adjacent to its former site, which is now occupied by the modern theatre that opened in 1951. When the baroque theatre was reinstated in 1958, it was decided after some wrangling that the two buildings should be renamed as the Altes (Old) Residenztheater and the Neues (New) Residenztheater. This act of purposeful misnaming essentially sought to reverse the flow of time and impose a certain narrative: namely, that a ‘historical’ building had magically resurfaced untouched by recent events. The reconstructed Cuvilliés, the uncanny double of itself, acquired a historical authenticity that it did not possess before the Second World War. The fact that it was greeted as being more beautiful than before indicates that the deception worked, or that people were at least willing to suspend their disbelief. Through its willed return, the theatre’s previous existence was rewritten as almost secondary (if not preparatory) to its current one. Moving further back in time, we find a somewhat circular irony at work: in the eighteenth century the main reason for building the Cuvilliés (and having it face the public square) had been to replace a different theatre altogether which, located inside the royal palace, had burnt down. Thus from the very beginning of the theatre’s construction we already have a logic of replacements, doublings and destructions, pinpointed by movements in and out of the palace. What is more, the rococo interior decoration had been dismantled once before, during the early nineteenth century, in order to use the hall as a depot for the neighbouring National Theatre. In 1857 the Cuvilliés was restored and reopened, as if presaging the re-­dismantling and re-­resurgence that would take place a century later. What begins to surface here is a deceptive quality inherent in notions such as conservation and return, and an opaque politics underlying the links between theatre architecture, history and collective memory. We can uncover these connections by looking at the context in which a city longed for the restitution, however fictitious or self-­deceiving, of its old rococo gem.



V In 1935, the Third Reich chose and named Munich ‘The Capital of the Movement’. Little wonder that it was devastated by the Allied forces, with at least sixty-­six bombings carried out between 1943 and 1945, destroying 60 per cent of the old city: only 2.5 per cent of Munich’s buildings escaped damage altogether, and it took two years to clear ‘some five million cubic metres of rubble’.39 The Residenzpalace, located in the heart of the city and dating back to the fourteenth century, was all but entirely annihilated, and later rebuilt ex nihilo (in this respect, the Cuvilliés was merely one example of redoubling and return among several others). Faced with the devastation of their streets and buildings, the people of Munich seemed unable to properly register or accept what had taken place over the last few years. Novelist W.G. Sebald, growing up in a small village west of Munich, recounts one of his first memories as a three-­year old, visiting the city in 1947. Because his parents offered no explanation for the mountains of rubble that lay everywhere, and the residents seemed indifferent to it, the young Sebald simply assumed this to be ‘the natural condition of cities’.40 Or, as a Munich journalist of the time wrote: ‘There is something about the path through the ruins . . . that is at once oppressive and boring. Because it is difficult for our sadness to be selective, we no longer experience anything at all.’41 Sebald reflects how the German people were largely intent on anaesthetizing themselves from the horrors they had just lived through: ‘There was a tacit agreement, equally binding on everyone, that the true state of material and moral ruin in which the country found itself was not to be described.’42 According to the novelist, the so-­called ‘literature of the ruins’ that emerged following the Second World War was ‘no more than a gesture sketched to banish memory’.43 Writers were unable to produce descriptions of the things they saw, heard and lived through, their prose flattened by clichés and a drive to salvage metaphysical meaning from the destruction. Writing became an instrument of forgetting as opposed to remembering, mirroring the nation’s ‘quasi-­ natural reflex . . . to keep quiet and look the other way’.44


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Similarly, we find political theorist Hannah Arendt describing people’s reaction to the ruins as being one of denial: Amid the ruins, Germans mail each other picture postcards still showing the cathedrals and market places, the public buildings and bridges that no longer exist. And the indifference with which they walk through the rubble . . . is only the most conspicuous outward symptom of a deep-­rooted, stubborn, and at times vicious refusal to face and come to terms with what really happened.45

The destruction was beyond human comprehension; the sight of ruins, according to the Munich-­based writer Wilhelm Hausenstein, was ‘so ghastly that one does not realize it although it is right before one’s eyes. One would think one was wandering through an absurd dream. To perceive it as real . . . would be completely devastating. Human nature helps, however, to deny it.’46 How does a city live on after it has mostly ceased to exist? What do residents do with the shattered remains of its buildings? The question of rubble helps to illuminate post-­war Munich. As Rosenfeld notes, clearing the rubble carried symbolic importance; a local newspaper announced in October 1945: ‘Before it can think about new construction, a people must possess enough strength to relentlessly sweep away the rubble of this past exactly as it sweeps away the rubble in the street.’47 Thousands of men, women and children participated in this activity, which was seen to ‘restore civic unity’.48 However, there were many who refused to participate in this collective endeavour, given that the action of picking up the broken stones would have physically linked recent political deeds to the city lying in ruin: literally and metaphorically, many individuals did not wish to be seen carrying the burden of Munich’s rubble. And so despite the council’s attempts at involving everyone, the issue of who cleared the rubble became strongly divisive: those who participated resented those who did not, thus shifting their own sense of guilt and responsibility onto others, and distancing themselves from the destruction they were supposedly coming to terms with. Clearing the



rubble, then, was less an opportunity for reflection, mourning or redemption, and more a strategy for deferring culpability.49 Where did the rubble go? Let’s leap forward a few years, to 14 June 1958, when the people of Munich woke up to ‘the sound of trumpets blasted from every tower and rooftop’, announcing the city’s 800th birthday and its symbolic renewal.50 That very night the city’s celebrations would culminate in an opera performance at the newly reopened Old Residence Theatre. Munich was indeed Munich again, and perhaps in better shape than before, for the ‘city to which those million inhabitants awoke on that cool June morning was surrounded by parks, meadows and hills that had not existed before the war’.51 These new hills had, in fact, been made from the ruins of the old city. Between 1945 and 1947 a train had passed through the city, collecting rubble from the residents and depositing it at the city’s outskirts. Here the gradual accumulation of shattered buildings and bricks had slowly built up, transforming ‘the city’s otherwise flat topography into a mountainous landscape’.52 Once collected there, the rubble had then been ‘covered by topsoil, planted with grass and trees and transformed into the series of parks and hills which surround Munich’.53 The old city was effectively pushed to the edges and remodelled as a natural landscape, while exact replicas of historic buildings began being constructed. If we wished to visit Munich’s old architecture we would need to take a stroll on one of those parks and hill tops, such as Neuhofen: underfoot lie the remains of the city as it stood before the Third Reich came to power. The problem is that there is no way of knowing which buildings lie where: as early as 1953, Rosenfeld notes, ‘a representative of the city reconstruction office asserted . . . “many pedestrians [in Neuhofen] no longer know that [they] are strolling over the remains of some 1,000 houses – so quickly has memory been obliterated”.’54 And so, under those grassy slopes, lies the rubble of countless houses, churches, as well as several lost theatres and opera houses, including the Nationaltheater München (1818), the Künstlertheater (1908), the Volkstheater (1903), the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz (1865),


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the Deutsche Theater (1896) and, of course, the building that housed the Cuvilliés or Residenztheater (1753).55

VI The residents of Munich had lost their homes and were unable to orient themselves amid the rubble and ruins. Returning to Munich in 1945 after twelve years in exile, Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, wrote: ‘I had imagined it would be terrible, but it was even worse. Munich no longer exists. The entire city centre from the main train station to the Odeonsplatz is composed only of ruins . . . This is a homecoming? Everything strange, strange, strange . . .’56 Architecture theorist Anthony Vidler writes of how, given the all-­ too-familiar repetition of war itself (the First World War ending only twenty-seven years before), the sight of devastated cities would have provoked a ghastly déjà vu.57 It had happened before, and it was happening again: the city turned ‘on its owners, suddenly to become defamiliarized, derealized, as if in a dream’.58 Vidler cites three laments by philosophers of the time: a first by Theodor Adorno, in 1944: ‘dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible’.59 A second by Martin Heidegger, in 1947: ‘Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world’.60 And finally a third by Gaston Bachelard, also in 1947: ‘This house is far away, it is lost, we inhabit it no more; we are, alas, certain of inhabiting it never again. It is, however, more than a memory. It is a house of dreams, our oneiric house.’61 The lost and demolished house was thus inscribed with longings and projections, as in the etymological profile of the word nostalgia: ‘the grief of homecoming’, or simply ‘homesickness’. The nostalgia generated by the post-­war landscape of rubble could no longer be precisely located: as Vidler writes, the yearned-­for house became ‘an object of memory, not now of a particular individual for a once-­inhabited dwelling but of a collective population for a never-­experienced space: the house had become an instrument, that is, of generalized nostalgia’.62



Faced by a city in ruins, it was only too easy for its residents to overlay, as in a cinematic projection, the images of buildings that once existed there: here the cathedral, there the old row of shops, and the municipal building, etc. In the years following 1945 a phantom city began to rise amid the rubble and the dust, where people would send each other postcards of vanished streets and familiar landmarks. Let’s turn to a different vanished city, as featured in a story by Italo Calvino. Written during the 1950s reconstructions (most likely while sitting in a room in Turin), the Italian novelist describes a man leaving the cinema, having just seen a film set in India: Coming out of the theatre, he opened his eyes, closed them again, reopened them: he saw nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even in front of his nose. In the hours he had spent inside, fog had invaded the city, a thick, opaque fog, which engulfed things and sounds, flattened distances into a space without dimensions, mixed lights into the darkness and transformed them into glows without shape or place.63

Stumbling around, the man realizes that this was ‘the perfect situation for day-­dreaming, for projecting in front of himself, wherever he went, a never-­ending film on a boundless screen’.64 Thus the film’s images of India continue being screened onto the north Italian city haze; thanks to the fog that has swallowed everything, the character’s sense of reality perfectly matches his own projections. In Calvino’s semi-­fantastical narrative, the hapless character loses his way and eventually boards what he believes to be a bus that will take him home, but is in fact a Mumbai-­bound aeroplane. Like other German cities after the war, Munich was enveloped by what Arendt called a ‘cloud of melancholy’.65 This fog may have produced a perfect screen for oneiric and filmic projections, though in this case the movie was nothing but the old city itself, not a distant or unfamiliar one. It is for this reason that reconstructions of pre-­existing buildings prevailed over the development of new ones. Those cinematic projections of old Munich were gradually filled out by matter once more: a brick and mortar representation of the past emerged out of the spectral city, re-­doubling everything so that matter and memory could


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coincide again. Each reconstructed building stood in for what stood there before, in a perfect layering of the immaterial and the material that echoes the dynamics of a fictitious tale or film. Perhaps what mattered above all was the seamless narrative of continuity, similarly to how cinema audiences do not notice, or wish to notice, that the sequences of images are really distinct frames, merely arranged so as to produce the impression of an unbroken present. What is at stake here is the connection between the built environment – streets, walls, houses, theatres, etc. – and the residents’ memory of it. The new–old Munich cityscape was built in the attempt to recover the indelible link that binds minds and bodies to their environment: ‘It is not that strange, after all’, writes anthropologist Franco La Cecla, ‘to confuse ourselves for our own city’, given that ‘thoughts are borne of places’.66 As sociologist of collective memory Maurice Halbwachs suggested, ‘every memory unfolds within a spatial framework’, and so ‘we can understand how we recapture the past only by understanding how it is . . . preserved in our physical surroundings’.67 The ruins of the old city were turned into building sites for constructing and reaffirming the residents’ mnemonic coordinates: as Halbwachs notes, even ‘if stones are moveable, relations between stones and men are not so easily altered. When a group has lived a long time in a place . . . its thoughts [are] ordered by the succession of images from these external objects.’68 The cityscape is more than just a background to our thoughts, but rather the very condition for the emergence of those thoughts (if not their content). By walking a particular set of buildings and streets we come to structure sequences of perception and thought; as novelist Paul Auster reflects, ‘just as one step will inevitably lead to the next step, so it is that one thought inevitably follows from the previous thought . . . so that what we are really doing when we walk through the city is thinking’.69 Our consciousness is formed through the continuity of things around us, by repeatedly rehearsing familiar grooves and patterns, until the inner and outer landscapes come to coincide (etymologically, ‘to fall upon together’). Fast or abrupt changes shock us into an inability to weave the thread of consciousness, and so we begin to long for a return:



the recapture of bygone rhythms and places, the mythic emplacement, the lasting house. We cannot gain possession of ourselves in an environment in which our thoughts don’t fall together with the landscape. When, for example, we alight an aeroplane that has crossed the globe, we are unable to align our thoughts with the landscape around us, according to habitual patterns: ‘When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist’, reflects the poet Elizabeth Bishop.70 This vacation from the self may prove pleasing – a holiday from our internal geography. But what if we are unable to gain possession of ourselves without having boarded an aeroplane and travelled far from home? This is the disquiet typical of a war-­torn twentieth century: finding oneself in an unrecognizable landscape without having moved, jet-­lagged on the spot, lost in one’s own street, one’s house, one’s head, crying out: how to pick up the pieces and reassemble the city? How to return a bygone epoch? How to quieten this grief of homecoming?

VII The house cannot return, no matter how much we delude ourselves. A place built under the sign of longing and return is inevitably doomed to unravel, since bricks cannot be charged with the task of conserving the past; and if we do assign them this task, real buildings become fictions, as consistent as the thoughts in our head or the words in a novel. There is here, as Freud noted about the uncanny, an ‘over-­accentuation of psychical reality in comparison with material reality’:71 the oneiric has the upper hand, and projection continues without end, blurring the distinction between the real and the imagined. Everything (re)turns strange, strange, strange, when ‘something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality . . .’72 Or, as Vidler writes: [N]ostalgia for a fixed abode inevitably falls into the paradox of all nostalgia, that consciousness that, despite a yearning for a concrete place and time, the object of desire is neither here nor there, present


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or absent, now or then. It is . . . caught in the irreversibility of time, and thus fundamentally unsettled.73

It is through the very effort of resettling into the old house that we inaugurate the uncertainty that radically unsettles us. When we locate and latch onto the homely (in this case, through the logics of nostalgia), it then ‘develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite’.74 This type of logic – the more homely, the more unsettled – is not confined to Munich. To remain in the domain of theatre architecture, let’s turn to a different example, seemingly unrelated to the ornate rococo jewel, yet oddly indebted to the same logic of conservation and replication. In 1974 director Peter Brook and his company discovered and restored a dilapidated Music Hall in the north of Paris: the Bouffes du Nord is a ‘bare’ theatre clearly displaying signs of ageing and distress such as holes, cracks and broken plaster. Home to the company’s productions over the following thirty years, the space matched Brook’s ideal of an ‘empty space’: a theatre that would, in a proto-­modernist fashion, finally shed the deadly weight of the théâtre à l’italienne and evade that apparatus’ capture, by renouncing curtains, tip-­up seats and footlights. For Brook, as for so many other practitioners emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, the old theatre was synonymous with ‘distancing’, ‘separation’, a logic of ‘us–them’, and therefore a politically atrophying construction that urgently needed to be dismantled and liquidated.75 The director’s oft-­quoted sentence, ‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage’, repeats on a discursive level the demolition of the traditional European theatre.76 In 1987, when his company was invited to perform in New York, Brook crossed the globe and came across another abandoned theatre: he describes having a ‘terribly strong sense of déjà vu’ upon first entering the rundown hall, so much was he reminded of his Parisian experience thirteen years earlier.77 Once again, Brook’s company set to work (together with a New York firm) to return the theatre to use while retaining its timeworn feel. This hall, however, was not as old and dilapidated as the one in France, but simply unattractive and in



disrepair: the solution to this perceived problem was therefore to create the ‘appearance of an old theatre in a state of decay’.78 As Marvin Carlson narrates, the workers applied ‘artificial signs of distress, . . . painted holes and cracks in sound walls, exposed structural elements that had been carefully covered, and added broken plaster onto smooth surfaces.’79 It would seem that Brook was not immune to the persistent dream of recapturing the house, replicating the French Music Hall theatre across the Atlantic, and thus producing a space whose temporality is deeply unsettled and deceptively ahistorical. This overseas duplication of the Parisian hall was contested at the time, given the falsification of the theatre’s history, not to mention the parallel with the way New York property developers render ‘empty’ slums exclusive.80 This theatre was less of a site, and more of a set. Architect Andrew Todd, associated with the company, later defended the project from accusations of being a postmodern pastiche: his argument, however, is riddled with interesting paradoxes that touch on matters of theatre architecture, conservation and history. Todd dismisses the charges of inauthenticity by referring to the work done in the space as ornamental and decorative. The fact of painting over an ‘ugly’ back wall in order to create a more agreeable and dilapidated looking surface was, for Todd, a necessary decoration: an ornament ‘which makes decent in supplying a missing essential’.81 If we follow this logic through, it is clear that words like ‘empty’, ‘bare’ and ‘dilapidated’ describe a mode of ornamentation, not its absence. The act of stripping a venue bare is an addition disguised as a subtraction, and is thus doubly deceptive since it is concealing its own operation behind the image it produces. In this respect, a theatre that is given a dilapidated ‘look’ is no different from an eighteenth century rococo hall, in as much as both are subjected to a decorative operation. It is then possible to speak of arabesques, gilded statues and royal boxes even when these are not visually present. In other words, stripping a theatre bare is a contradiction in terms: it is simply a way of further obscuring the apparatus, which can never be stripped away. The absent curtain is simply another version of the curtain.


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What is more, Todd dismisses the criticisms on the basis that in the United States it is seen as ‘aberrant not to restore an historic building to something supposedly resembling its original condition’.82 The media contested the expensive restoration based on the fact that it did not produce, as would be expected, an image of the old theatre in a ‘cryogenic state of perpetual present–past, fictionally joined to today’.83 He dismisses such fictitious spaces by referring to them as ‘reconstructed environments’ i.e. ‘places restored to their supposed original state’, after the US historian J.B. Jackson: [R]econstructed environments [are] scenes of unreality, places where we can briefly relive the golden age and be purged of historical guilt . . . There is no lesson to learn, no covenant to honour; we are charmed into a state of innocence and become part of the environment. History ceases to exist.84

It is somewhat easy to shift the ahistorical blame onto theatres that visibly freeze and distort the past into a picturesque spectacle – such as New York’s oldest Broadway theatre, the New Amsterdam, purchased by Disney in the 1990s and restored to ‘cryogenically’ pristine condition.85 Is the drive to return a theatre to a mythic or idealized past state any different from the drive to ‘let’ it exist as a (carefully reconstructed) bare or dilapidated structure? Both projects can be subsumed under the category of ‘reconstructed environments’, despite differences in taste or atmosphere. Both approaches suggest that the past is some kind of object that endures, as though outside of time. Both approaches go to great lengths to obscure the possibility that the past might in fact be constructed in the present, and that history might therefore be a question of narratives, revelations and concealments that can never disclose a proper object.

VIII Let’s return one last time to the two postcards of the Cuvilliés, and the text we started with, ‘The first image is from a postcard dated 1920. It



shows the auditorium of Munich’s Residenztheater, also known as the Cuvilliés-Theater, originally built in 1753 . . .’ etc. What do these images do? What do they reveal, and what do they conceal? The first photograph is, by today’s standards, of ‘poor quality’, whereas the second is eerily Disney-­like in its evocation of a bright and innocent past; placed next to each other, they suggest an absence of change. The two pictures claim that the past has remained intact, that lives were not lost, and that old ways of thinking and perceiving have remained unchallenged. This impossible conservation is inseparable from a certain violence, namely the drive to forget what took place in between those two pictures; and the chapter’s first paragraph merely reinforces the idea that nothing occurred in that time gap. As Arendt reported from post-­war Germany: There is an almost instinctive urge to take refuge in the thoughts and ideas one held before anything compromising had happened. The result is that while Germany has changed beyond recognition – physically and psychologically – people talk and behave superficially as though absolutely nothing had happened since 1932.86

The two postcards obscure the historical events that caused the theatre’s actual displacement and loss: they conceal the fact that the second theatre is not, strictly speaking, the first one. The new–old Cuvilliés that emerged in 1958 is merely ‘material proof ’ legitimizing a master narrative of continuity and conservation, forcefully pitted against other narratives of destruction and interruption. It is a powerful case of ecmnesia, a form of amnesia in which one can recall older events but not recent ones. We can see this in the care with which the theatre was re-­constructed: forgoing the use of plaster and nails, the workers resorted to the ‘same principles as the masters did two hundred years ago’.87 Rosenfeld cites a newspaper source of the time as proof of a desire to suspend disbelief: ‘The work is proceeding with such adherence to the original,’ the paper noted, ‘that, after the completion of the theatre . . . one will hardly be able to tell which sections are old and which have been restored.’ [T]he inability to distinguish between the original and the


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restored sections of the Residenztheater allowed the local citizenry to succumb willingly to the pleasant illusion that the theater had never been destroyed in the first place.88

This narrative continues to dominate: in October 2003 Munich celebrated the theatre’s 250th anniversary by staging the same opera that inaugurated the building’s opening back in October 1753. What better way to forget the recent past than by celebrating tradition? There is a strong parallel here with how theatre historian Georges Banu, chief apologist of the théâtre à l’italienne, explains this apparatus’ endurance across the centuries. While not being immutable, this theatre achieved a stability by occupying what Banu calls a ‘long segment’ of time, that is ‘a segment in which history, whilst not being abandoned, seems at any rate less active. . . . This explains why, from Venice to Stockholm, from the 16th to the 19th century, a model imposes itself and a same order reigns.’89 For Banu the théâtre à l’italienne is an example of how ‘a space can sometimes extricate itself from the direct influence of history’, because it ‘creates a unity of space and affirms a homogeneity of time. That’s why it crystallizes a mentality.’90 It is a strange tautological explanation, suggesting that an ahistorical drive is somehow implicit in the theatrical apparatus itself, as though the purpose of curtains, stage and proscenium arch were to arrest the flow of time (or at least divert our attention away from it). Does this drive coincide with what Munich’s residents attempted to perform upon their city and psyche in the 1950s? As Rosenfeld writes, Munich boasts the reputation of being ‘the best preserved of all German cities’, though the title has come at a price: Munich’s current status as a well-­preserved historic city . . . would have been wholly unimaginable before the war. Indeed, it was largely the product of postwar reconstruction, which paradoxically made it more ‘historic’ than other German cities that were more heavily damaged and less thoroughly rebuilt.91

The slogan ‘Munich is Munich again’ perfectly captures the uncanny identity of a city almost identical to its former self and yet, for that very



reason, entirely unsettled. This is the city as built aporia, prohibiting access to the past through the very gesture of celebrating it. The more familiar, the stranger; the older, the newer; the more intact, the more changing.

Epilogue I have not physically visited the Cuvilliés. To me the theatre has come into being by writing this very chapter: by consulting descriptions, drawings and photographs, in a handful of books and through internet searches. Curiously, on the website of the Residenz there are no details regarding the shows taking place in the theatre; however we are informed that it is possible to hire the space as an ‘event room’, which is ‘suitable for the following: Operas, play and ballet performances, concerts, ceremonies’. The cost for a seven-­hour hire is e16,500 (social hire) or e5,000 (cultural hire). The theatre can also be visited all year round for a small charge.92 Should one wish to learn about the history of the Cuvilliés and the royal palace in general, the Residenz hosts a permanent exhibition entitled Destruction and Reconstruction, in which photographs and other documents narrate the vicissitudes and the labour of reconstructing a building that was all but annihilated. Rather fittingly, the website informs me: ‘Due to restoration works the exhibition Destruction and Reconstruction can’t be visited.’93 I mention all this as I wonder, sitting at my desk in Dalston in northeast London, what it might be like to step inside this theatre today. I imagine (or rather, I write, here at my desk) that entering the rococo hall would produce a sense of wonder and nostalgia, a kind of theatrical homesickness: would one not, upon entering this auditorium, begin to yearn for the splendour of bygone eras? I cannot help but think of the theory of ruin value, developed by the Third Reich’s chief architect Albert Speer, whereby buildings are designed so that through age and deterioration they come to


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resemble the majestic ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, and thus beguile future audiences.94 We could likewise think of the theatre as an apparatus of capture, effectively set in motion by the Munich council in 1944 when they folded the decor into crates and shipped them to the Befreiungshalle to be watched over by angels. The city administrators of the time were, in a sense, directing the yearnings of future generations. Today, wittingly or not, we are potentially held captive by an architectural dramaturgy of red and white arabesques, announcing the concrete possibility of eluding historical ruination altogether. Munich’s safekeeping gesture was tantamount to an imposition, instilling an obligation to conserve; if the theatre’s walls could speak, they would instruct visitors ‘What was conserved shall be conserved.’ To enter this hall is to enter a mode of obligation, and to participate affectively in a conservative project; a conservation that, ironically or not, aims to lay the past to waste. A total of 250,000 civilians lost their lives in the aerial bombings of 1944. As residents were literally running for shelter around ‘The Capital of the Movement’, the council decided that a theatre should be protected and made available for future generations: whose house exactly was being protected here? Was this gesture of protection not carried out by (and for) those who later refused to clear the rubble from the streets, unwilling to take responsibility for the destruction of their city? Perhaps the council’s gesture was simply a desperate attempt, in the face of overwhelming destruction, to look the other way: an opportunity for individuals to hastily distance and absolve themselves from the collapse they had precipitated. Today, when we see photographs of the baroque auditorium, or read an account of its conservation, it is all too easy to forget the destruction to which the theatre is, in fact, a testament. Perhaps the images themselves are to blame: it might be best to blank these out. And in place of the account we started with, ‘The first image is from a postcard dated 1920 . . . etc.’, we can insert a short sentence by W.G. Sebald: ‘Life at the terrible moment of its disintegration.’95 As follows.


Life at the terrible moment of its disintegration.


On Appearance Through Disappearance

A paradoxical logic: the persistence of a theatre is inaugurated by its dissolution. In 1944 the city of Munich dismantled the Cuvilliés’ auditorium and thus guaranteed its longevity. The next chapter, on London’s demolished Dalston Theatre, follows this paradox to its end: when the building came tumbling down in 2007, a certain charge was released in the atmosphere, so to speak, allowing the after-­image of an erased theatre to appear under new guises; its destruction has yielded vivid sightings, located around the edges of vision and awareness. Dalston Theatre is a disappearing phosphene, ‘the after-­image left by bright light, [seen] with one’s eyes closed’, as described by architectural historian Norman M. Klein: a more-­than-visual impression, which ‘maps erasure . . . and can be found only by the trail it leaves, by its evacuation.’1 The first and second chapter mirror one another in charting complementary modes of absenting presence and presenting absence. The first concerns a theatre that is tangibly-­materially available, yet whose very existence might be deemed fictitious: succumbing to the Cuvilliés’ narrative of conservation obscures the destruction that really took place. The second revolves upon a building that is no longer standing, yet whose absence is conspicuous: its shapes and surfaces might be seen floating, gauze-­like, around the current site, instanced through figments, flashes and fragments. The writing strategy adopted here reflects the fact that for three years I lived down the road from the site formerly occupied by Dalston Theatre. Research thus included walks around the neighbourhood, trips to the shops, chats to people, weather observations, etc. Everyday life became both a mode of research, and its subject; a continuous


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exploration of the recognizable, the all-­too-common, the mundane (etymologically, ‘of the world’). I worked along the lines of writer Georges Perec and his notion of the ‘infra-ordinary’: an anthropology of the close-­at-hand, of the ‘endotic’ as opposed to the exotic, its aim being to ‘question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us’,2 such as, writes Perec, the wallpaper, habitual journeys, a kitchen implement, or a gramophone: To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For that astonishment existed, alongside with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.3

The text presented here, particularly in the third part, is based upon repeat site visits, chance findings (and un-­findings), and logbook-­style entries, all of which attempt to describe the lingering features of a theatre that, nowhere to be found, continues to astonish.

Chapter 2

Dalston Theatre: Progress Report on a Missing Building

Erasure, it turns out, is just a particularly profound form of preservation. Brian Dillon

Part 1: Locating Quietude To begin with a familiar sounding statement: it is only once something goes that we notice it was ever there. We only perceive something when it is no longer there to be perceived, its departure signalling its arrival. If this were strictly speaking true, it would be close to impossible to walk down a city street: our senses would be assaulted in every direction, not by traffic or advertisements, but rather by the continuous emergence of that which is no longer there. In one fell swoop we would perceive all the people who have ever walked on the street, all the pigeons that have flown by, all the buildings that have been constructed and torn down, and all the trees that have grown and died. Every past movement, colour and texture, all animate and inanimate matter would become observable, precisely by virtue of having disappeared. Even if we were to stand still and focus on a small and precisely defined area, we would nonetheless perceive infinite activity, revealing in a single impossible instance all the transformations that had ever taken place there. Endowed with such a perceptual ability, we wouldn’t be able construct a life, since we would be endlessly negotiating a series of overlapping images and impressions, each one equally ‘real’, and therefore altogether phantasmal.4


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Dalston Theatre This is the setting: a disused 100-year-­old theatre in the city of London, in the rapidly changing neighbourhood of Dalston, part of the Hackney borough. In 2007, despite resistance by local residents, the building is demolished to make way for Dalston Square: a development of residential towers, built around a larger complex that includes a new square, a library, cafés, shops, and a train station connecting this area in the north-east to the city centre. There is seemingly nothing to add to this brief account: in the context of the twenty-­first century, which has been dubbed ‘the developer’s millennium’, the case of Dalston Theatre and its ruination at the hands of property developers is simply business as usual.5 It is fairly easy to file the disappearance of this theatre under the rubric Change is inevitable, as though urban developments simply followed a ‘natural’ and ‘timeless’ logic of birth, development and decay. Everything must end, after all.6 Clichés such as these mask the violence and displacement inherent in such supposedly inevitable change. For change is deeply political, and two camps have formed around the theatre’s demolition: on the one hand ‘the developers’, i.e. the companies and institutions profiting most directly from the development, and on the other hand, in diametrical opposition, ‘the greens’, spearheaded by OPEN Dalston (Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs Ltd), whose tireless campaign against social, architectural, and environmental injustice has been under way since 2005. And in as much as there are two camps, the available discourse surrounding the development falls within fairly predictable patterns. On one side lies the developer’s knowingly false rhetoric: the texts and images in the glossy brochures produced by Barratt Homes – the company responsible for the construction – revel in their own mystifying discourse. Take, for example, the statement that Dalston Square will feature ‘the largest new public space to be created in the area for over 100 years’,7 which perfectly obscures the elimination of the 100-year-­old theatre; or the repeated promise of ‘affordable housing’8

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carefully placed in all the marketing material so as to strengthen the project’s image as responding to a social need, while also pre-­empting the possibility of any criticism (in fact, only 28 apartments out of 550 are affordable).9 There is little left to deconstruct or expose here. Even before we find out about the real figures, we know and understand the mystifying gesture, since that is precisely what is implied by the text and images. As Norman M. Klein writes: ‘The audience already senses, very consciously, that it is false, but buys it anyway, simply as the thrill of sharing in the magic trick.’10 On the other side of the struggle to define and claim Dalston’s character, ‘the greens’ rely on all-­too-familiar rhetorical tactics, for example championing the small over the large, the different over the homogenous, and automatically counterposing seemingly solid concepts like ‘people’, ‘art’ and ‘community’ (deemed ethically sound) against ‘greed’, ‘money’ and ‘development’ (deemed morally corrupt).


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OPEN’s campaigns and protest events stem from a genuine anger at the destructive collusion of corporations and local government; their compelling narrative around the theatre’s demolition is marked by a gutsy intelligent pathos, and might be summarized as follows: At the heart of an area targeted for regeneration lay a precious 100-year-­ old theatre, featuring the oldest circus entrance in the UK. Despite being deemed viable for reuse, in 2007 the building and several Victorian houses were demolished for the purpose of erecting high-­rise private apartment blocks. There had been vocal grassroots opposition to this, culminating in the occupation of the theatre by a group of eco-­activists: the local council responded by deploying riot police to forcibly evict the building’s occupants; previous to this, the council had been responsible for removing the theatre’s roof tiles, thus deliberately damaging its interior. Public money was used to fund a development which, far from benefiting local residents by providing housing or much needed green spaces, is simply going to attract a new high-­earning demographic to the area, pushing up rents and house prices, thus slowly but inevitably forcing existing residents to leave. The new development now towers above older and poorer housing, exacerbating social and economic inequality. The memory of the older neighbourhood is surgically erased under the aegis of code words like ‘change’, ‘redevelopment’, and ‘excitement’. The local council celebrates these achievements in the local newspaper, despite the area having suffered another blow at the hands of developers and mindless financial gain.11

Anchor The two opposing discourses are locked in a tug of war: the battle to claim a territory, a politics of place, a ‘way of life’. It is Barratt Homes’ future-­oriented marketing copy, ‘you can look forward to an exciting way of living’12 versus OPEN’s call for awareness and architectural preservation, ‘we don’t want to live in the past, but we do want to live with it.’13

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I know which of the two sides has my sympathy, and cannot deny that this writing, at least in its earliest inception, was motivated by a degree of political anger; for I do attach value to historical buildings such as this London theatre, and consider its razing to the ground to be a direct result of techno-­bureaucratic, neo-­liberal policies. This writing was part propelled by a sense of muffled despair, hopelessness and attendant cynicism, that particular mixture of Western discontent that has arguably been on the increase since the 1960s, when advanced capitalism installed what some anthropologists have called ‘the structures of catastrophe’.14 However, the aim here is not to install myself within an existing politico-­discursive position. This text is not an explicit tirade against the powers directly responsible for the development (Transport for London, Hackney Council), or any other public or private institution beholden to the free market economy; nor is it an attempt at rescuing the building from its inevitable fall into oblivion: no nostalgic photographs, no desire to retrieve a better epoch. This chapter stems from a largely practical necessity: to find a point of stillness amid the wind storm, and to write from there. Given the ongoing tug of war between the two sides, the question is how to move within such a landscape of locked discourses and pervasive disquiet. As someone living in that rapidly changing urban environment, Dalston Theatre presented itself as an anchor, however impalpable: a vanished landmark, allowing me a way into the area as a whole, as well as an exit and respite. The aim of this writing is to try to find a way through, around, or beneath existing discourses; to locate the gaps within the accrued layers of meaning, without the naïve presumption of acquiring any kind of objective distance. How to conjure a missing building, without subscribing to either neo-­liberal complacency or a ‘green’ oppositional discourse? In short, this text is not so concerned with adding to an already saturated discourse about Dalston and its regeneration. It is more about locating a possible quietude, and making it last. To that end, it is first of all necessary to name the disquiet.


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Part 2: Anatomy of Disquiet The building that was demolished in May 2007 was a bona fide 100-year-­ old Victorian theatre. Yet this designation, which gives form to a stable coherent object, is troubled by the theatre’s own history, which featured a disorderly succession of drastic modifications, discontinuous use and multiple occupancy, stretching far beyond the definition and function of a ‘theatre’. An earlier building called Dalston Circus (also known as London Coliseum and Amphitheatre, and Dalston Theatre of Varieties) was first erected on the site in 1886: this was a circus theatre that could house over 1,000 spectators. A decade later it was largely rebuilt, re-­opening in 1898 as the Dalston Theatre, with a capacity of 3,516.15 This is the ‘official theatre’, let’s say, the one that was physically torn down more than a century later.

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After housing pantomime and variety performances for twenty years, Dalston Theatre underwent major alterations for its conversion into a grandiose cinema: renamed Dalston Picture House, the stage facilities were, unusually for the time, entirely stripped away.16 Fêted in the 1920s local press as the largest cinema in Europe,17 the Picture House featured, for the first time in the UK, an American soda fountain (thus initiating the alliance between films and fizzy drinks), as well as a cigarette shop, a café, and two orchestras playing regularly in its elaborately adorned spaces. The cinema closed in 1960, after which the foyer area became home to a popular reggae and soul music club,18 while the sumptuously adorned auditorium was used by a car auctioneer:19 there is an account of how the theatre’s ‘auditorium was an astonishing sight in the 1960s, with up to eighty cars parked on the raked floor, and [the] auctioneer’s offices and rostrum on the stage.’20 In the mid 1990s the local press began announcing that Dalston was to be ‘yuppified’, and the building, which by then was housing a burgeoning rave scene, became targeted for demolition. Hackney Council, owners of the theatre, purposely encouraged the building’s deterioration so as to justify ‘developing’ the site:21 the roof tiles ‘mysteriously’ vanished overnight, thus enabling the rain to accelerate the theatre’s ruination.22 Eco-­activists moved in to repair some of the damage and halt the demolition, hanging large street banners that read: ‘hackney is not for sale’. It was not long before the police forcibly evicted the activists and closed the site. Soon after that, in May 2007, the theatre finally bit the dust; the demolition company’s motto, painted in large letters on the arm of its crusher, suggested a final theatrical event of sorts: ‘watch it come down’.

The theatre we have in mind A theatre is built. Years later it is put to other uses. Finally, it is torn down. In and of itself, the history of Dalston Theatre is rather


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unremarkable. It was erected, like many others, in the heyday of theatre construction in the UK: fuelled by the demands of a burgeoning urban population, over a thousand auditoria of plush and gilt (so-­ called ‘real theatres’) sprang up between 1881 and 1916. Only a small percentage of those, around 10–15 per cent, are still standing today.23 Dalston Theatre’s various uses reflect the various epochal shifts in leisure and industry: stage plays and pantomimes, American films and soda, the continuous growth of car transport, music and counter-­culture, and the 1990s rave scene. The current phase in this sequence is the corporate-­designed complex of flats and shops named Dalston Square. If a theatre is viewed simply as a large hall or an empty container, it is perfectly obvious that it be put to new uses, filled with other materials, or torn down when deemed redundant. Everything must come down, after all. What gives a direction to this text is a type of paradox, connected to that common expression we started from: once a theatre is demolished, it is made newly available. It is as though its erasure initiated a new potential of sorts: an after-­effect that lingers in the atmosphere, like a dispersed charge waiting to be channelled and released. Theatres possess an ‘inertial tendency to persist’,24 and this resilience is amplified when the buildings crumble away. Perhaps this radically exemplifies what has been called ‘the theatre we have in mind’: the incessant anachronism that is the théâtre à l’italienne, whose operations and manifestations remain ever unfinished, despite (or rather because of) the disappearance of walls, curtains, seats and auditoria.25 What is at stake here is the material consistency of an erased theatre: the vestigial forces – echoes, residues and figments – emerging in the wake of its demolition. However, before venturing into this dusty ether, it is necessary to try and establish a sense of place, as fugitive as this place might be.

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Dalston I did not get a chance to see Dalston Theatre: I moved to the area in 2009, two years after its demolition. New to the neighbourhood and completely ignorant of its history, I remember walking past a long white hoarding that surrounded a construction site in Dalston Lane; at the time I did not know that, only two years previously, a large Victorian theatre stood on that spot. I passed by the construction site countless times, on my way to and from the British Library in King’s Cross, where I spent my days reading about empty, abandoned and restored theatres. It took a year before discovering that an ideal research site was right under my nose. And so, before I even realized it, research and everyday life had begun to coalesce. When I first arrived in the area, it was clear that Dalston was in the process of changing, although the word ‘change’ is misleading. We might use the word ‘gentrification’, in as much as this points to the new flow of capital, the influx of a new demographic (from working class to middle class), and the rise in living standards. Yet the term gentrification is also inexact: originating in the 1960s, it refers to the movement of the middle classes away from the quieter suburbs and back to the cosmopolitan delights and Victorian houses of the inner city, a process best typified by the north London area of Islington;26 when, early in the 1980s, Islington’s gentrification had reached its peak, it was the turn of neighbouring Hackney (the borough that includes Dalston) to begin attracting intellectuals, bohemians and cosmopolitans. Traditionally a working-­class area, in the 1980s Hackney saw a doubling of home ownership, widening the gap between homeowners and those in public sector housing.27 With its once smoky and polluting factories now closed, the post-­industrial urban landscape of brick warehouses was ready for inhabitation and, it goes without saying, economic exploitation. The reach and violence of Hackney’s current reshaping cannot be accounted by a term like gentrification. Perhaps the rather corporate-­ friendly term ‘regeneration’ is best suited; the word’s dictionary


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definition is ‘the formation of new animal or plant tissue’, which resonates with the way neighbourhoods are lost to incongruous large-­ scale constructions that materialize as though out of thin air. Journalist Anne Minton offers a scathing critique of regeneration in her book Ground Control, a call to arms against the private takeover of UK cities and neo-­liberal urban policies. Minton argues that whereas during the Victorian era a lot of private land was handed over to the public (or at least run by local councils), today the tide is turning back. A particular type of urban landscape, initiated by the New Labour government, is on the increase: corporate, hyper-­secure and risk-­averse, designed for consumers (as opposed to citizens), and beholden to business ideals and practices. Neighbourhoods are designed as shopping malls, a US phenomenon known as ‘malls without walls’, whereby outdoor urban environments are managed as indoor commercial spaces: though the design reproduces that of a city (streets, squares, benches, lampposts, green spaces), the space functions as an indoor shopping mall environment, owned and run by a private company whose main purpose is to turn a profit. Interestingly, Minton connects this shift in urban planning to a documented rise in levels of distress in Britain, which is far greater than in mainland Europe. The author gives the example of families and individuals who are evicted from areas targeted for development, as well as the rise of CCTV and ‘risk-­averse design’, in which increased safety and security provoke fear and paranoia, not unlike the ways mass advertising generates dissatisfaction in order to warrant the purchase of consumer products. A different anatomy of urban disquiet, originating from across the Atlantic and less concerned with denouncing a situation or mobilizing a response to it, can be found in Norman M. Klein’s The History of Forgetting, a study on the destructive gentrification of Los Angeles. Here is the author reflecting on how easily entire parts of the city were torn down without anyone truly noticing: [E]ven those who live immediately in the areas affected, have barely a dim memory that these neighbourhoods stood at all. The overall effect resembles what psychologists call ‘distraction’, where one

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false memory allows another memory to be removed in plain view, without complaint – forgotten.28

In Los Angeles – ‘the most photographed and least remembered city in the world’29 – demolitions are stage-­managed so as to be immediately forgotten; they occur on a sub-­perceptual level. Entire neighbourhoods vanish as if they had never existed, and new ones are constructed as if they always had. The movie industry is paradigmatic for this generalized operation of ‘paramnesia’, a memory-­distortion whereby ‘fictions are built into facts, while in turn erasing facts into fictions’.30 In Klein’s account, what is especially pernicious about regeneration is that it occurs almost imperceptibly: decades of destruction take on the appearance of a simple substitution of images, ‘the quiet instant when one imago covers another’,31 leaving one to wonder what brand of discontent this kind of unnoticed operation might produce: ‘Why do people fail to see “the obvious”? . . . Like Poe’s famous “purloined letter”, the clues sit openly on the mantelpiece, but are utterly unfindable. Something in the obviousness of them makes them instantly forgettable.’32 Differently from Minton’s recorded distress (which the author incites us to confront), Klein suggests a subterranean disquiet, borne of destructions of which we are barely conscious. Moving from Los Angeles back to Dalston, the baffling question is this: what is the effect of a loss that we do not register? How do we suffer a blow that we are not aware of having suffered?

The sequence of forgetting This is London, city of disappearances; where demolitions and constructions happen at the vertiginous speed of time-­lapse photography.33 In Dalston, during a single week in February 2011, I make a note of a new Tesco supermarket opening up unannounced, a squat being closed down, two improvement road-­works starting, three new cafés appearing, and another new Tesco supermarket opening up


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unannounced. As the old neighbourhood melts into thin air, the impression is of the ground shifting ever faster beneath one’s feet. In his book-­length poem on matter, The Nature of Things (50 B.C.), the Latin philosopher and poet Lucretius wrote: ‘But what is lost at any given moment, we cannot say / Because our narrow sense of sight will never let us see.’34 Much of what is lost remains unseen, and thus it

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quite literally goes without saying. These are disappearances that one cannot articulate, not due to some inherently tragic quality, but simply because, in such a rapidly regenerating landscape as Dalston, they happen unnoticed. Things come to pass that we do not even register, and therefore remain beyond the reach of discourse, conceptualization and memory. A common example: you are walking around your neighbourhood, when suddenly you come across a new structure – a shop, a café, a house, or perhaps just a clearing or a tall hoarding. Try as you might, you simply cannot remember what used to be there before, despite having passed the spot countless times. A double loss then: not only has something disappeared from place, but also from memory. You stand there squinting, as though trying to peel back this new image to find the one beneath it, in the hope of remembering what it is that you have so quickly forgotten. Eventually you give up and walk away, as though nothing had really happened. We could call this the sequence of forgetting: an amnesiac’s relation to the built environment. There are erasures that one cannot truly register and process, yet which still form part of place and one’s relation to it: they leave in their wake a disquiet that is difficult to map or describe, yet can at times be felt in the day-­to-day experience. I arrived in Dalston a little late, during its final ‘turn’, but still with enough time to notice significant alterations taking place on a daily basis. I began keeping a small log of changes, tracking the sudden alterations in the urban environment, the derealization of buildings and streets. The ‘squalid’ was being priced out and replaced with corporate and hygienic alternatives. I noted: living at the centre of this speed and intensity produces a strange vertigo of acceleration, as if in this epoch our proper dwelling were displacement itself. This is the city as mirage, a mirage produced not by atmospheric factors (heat, desert, water) but rather by flows of capital, investment opportunities, and lifestyle trends. Dalston is an anthropogenic hallucination made concrete. My forlorn reflections on the demise of place boiled down to an ethical dilemma: how do I live here? How can I be present to these


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processes of destruction and transformation? I had barely been in Dalston a year, and yet, because of the speed of regeneration, it seemed to me as though I had lived here all my life: time was accelerating, or so it appeared, and I grew quickly attached to every street and building, conscious of how precarious everything was. ‘Thoughts are borne of places’, as anthropologist Franco La Cecla writes,35 and the soul ‘is composed of external world’, to cite Wallace Stevens:36 my own lived experience of place was turning into a disquieting mix of mourning, alarm, and trepidation. It was within this affective context that I found out about Dalston Theatre. Until then I had not been able to give my disquiet a name, a place, or a shape: the demolished theatre provided a nameable locus. The ethical question of how to live in such a fast developing neighbourhood gradually gave way to a project, an orientation: how to access a building that has been erased? I hoped that attending to a missing theatre might provide an anchor within Dalston’s storm of regeneration.

Going nowhere How to step into a theatre that is no more? How to walk into an auditorium that has long been torn down? It is not really possible. Before attempting to enter it, one must acknowledge that there is no building. Its walls have gone, as has the stage; there are no curtains left in place, no seats, no box office, no bar, no dressing rooms, no wings, no ropes and pulleys, no leftover sets or costumes. In place of Dalston Theatre is Dalston Square: high-­rise buildings and glass-­fronted apartments, shops and cafés, a library, a bus stop, a nearby overground station, etc. At first glance, there is absolutely nothing here that would even faintly suggest a theatre, present or past. The proper subject matter of this writing is quite simply not here; and if there is nothing here, there is nothing to say. Common sense decrees that one can only conjure a vanished building by recovering its essential features: a sketch, a description, a

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map of sorts needs to be established, enabling us to walk around the site and say ‘here would have been the back wall, there the stage, over there the auditorium’, and so on. This is how we can revive a lost building: by reconstructing its shape through official records and archival histories. And so in late 2010 I write to Hackney Archives, since that is where the theatre is kept, ‘literally’ i.e. in letters, documents, and photographs. The reply from one of the archivists is less than fruitful: I am informed that it is not possible to arrange an appointment, as their premises are now closed; they are getting ready to move elsewhere, but unfortunately they do not know when they will re-­open. This initial stumbling block would prove helpful. I reflected: what if I approach the theatre not via the archive (remembering, reconstructing, recovering), but rather via a gesture of forgetting? What if I leave the demolished building as it is – erased, gone – and work with that? To acknowledge, in other words, the fundamentally irretrievable nature of the building; perhaps by working with that irretrievability, instead of against it, we might resist the lure of nostalgia, and avoid the pull to reconstruct the past as intact, which is precisely what happened with Munich’s Cuvilliés-Theater, ‘preserved’ in the Second World War so as to write a history undisturbed by destruction.37 With no archival records to go on, my focus turned on the site itself. The task: to limit the field of observation to simply what is at hand – here and now – and, to the extent that such a thing is possible, to take material reality at face value.

Part 3: Description Without Place Between 2011 and 2013 I tracked Dalston Square’s progress, noting down any substantial changes, taking innumerable photographs of construction workers, cranes, freshly laid bricks, sudden clearings, and advertising billboards. I was gathering ‘clues’: intimations of the demolished theatre, no matter how implausible or insubstantial, making an appearance in the


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development. A somewhat hapless detective, I operated in the belief that I could not properly uncover the theatre, regardless of how much ‘evidence’ I might gather; but since I had not set out to retrieve the erased building, preferring instead to dwell in its ‘forgottenness’, the failure to disclose was perfectly consistent with my goal. I knew the theatre had been there, but without archives to consult I was unable to pinpoint it, to ‘read’ it, to imagine its shape and contours in the present site. In the absence of a precise focus, everything became potentially significant: the residential towers, the newly laid benches, the trees, the passers-­by, the weather. Because the theatre had been demolished to make way for the new development, the very materiality of the new buildings, I reflected, must be inextricably linked to the absent theatre; every new staircase, parking bay, lift and concierge, every apartment, kitchen and residents’ gym: all this is here because the theatre is not. And therefore each feature in Dalston Square reiterates the demolition of Dalston Theatre; even simple actions like walking around the square, pushing open a door, or sitting on a bench, effectively recapitulate the destruction of the theatre’s walls, balconies and seats. What follow, in chronological order, are various attempts at tracking the erased building, in the hope of trailing that disappearing phosphene. To think, to manifest, to inhabit a theatre, where there is no longer a theatre.

January 2011. First leads The site is still boarded up. The archive is closed. Where to begin? The developers themselves suggest a first lead, with the marketing material for the Dalston Square apartments disclosing a certain violence precisely through the attempt at concealing it. The fifteen towers that will make up the development are named after various musicians that once performed inside the theatre’s music venue: Wonder House, Ocean House, and Marley House, among others, are references to Stevie Wonder, Billy Ocean and Bob Marley. This is not a memorializing

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gesture, but rather an appeasing strategy employed by many contemporary developers, who often name the new constructions after the very things that have been erased to make way for the development. Still, an inkling of the theatre’s legacy, however bleached out, insubstantial and politically pernicious, will be present on the site. The advertising brochures offer another clue in the form of the home-­theatres adorning the new apartments, in which all living rooms and main bedrooms come already wired for Sky Plus. There is a clear sense of progression here, with spectators no longer taking their seats inside a cinema-­theatre, but rather in ‘contemporary living apartments’; the historical passage from the age of cinema to that of home entertainment can be pictured as an explosion, the old Dalston Picture House breaking up into hundreds of smaller home-­theatre units. It is interesting, in this respect, to note that the last film shown at the Dalston Picture House, on 20 November 1960, was Hello London, which features ice skater and Hollywood star Sonja Henie performing in a large theatre, its stage covered in ice. The film’s tag line, as advertised on its poster, seems to allude to the imminent break-­up of cinema into home TV units: Hello London – The experience of a lifetime from the comfort of your own home. The film was an economic flop and turned out to be the last of Sonja Henie’s otherwise very successful ice skating-­themed movies.38 Advertising brochures aside, a third lead lies opposite the site, less than fifty metres away, where a local theatre is operating rather successfully: this month, January 2011, the Arcola Theatre left its original premises in Arcola St (due to the building being converted into flats) and relocated on the north side of Dalston Lane. Although no more than a simple coincidence, the fact remains that only a stone’s throw away from where the Victorian theatre once stood, professional performances now take place daily in front of live audiences. Considering that the London borough of Hackney has only five theatres spread over an area of nineteen square kilometres, the proximity of the missing building to the operational Arcola is a striking theatrical continuance.


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May 2011. Wall, façade and Teatro Farnese The hoarding surrounding the site has finally gone, to be replaced by a wire fence. First glimpses into the square . . . My attention falls on a low brick wall: in its half-­finished state, it is clear that this is really a slim block of concrete with rods jutting out, supporting

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a single layer of hollow bricks. Far from being structural, these bricks are merely pasted on the outside, in imitation of Hackney’s older buildings. It is a designed reproduction of the much-­coveted exposed brick surface: a ‘veneer’ of brick, a brick façade imaginatively peeled off a Victorian house and used as a decorative feature. I think back to a visit I made last year to Parma’s Teatro Farnese, a large Renaissance proscenium arch theatre whose interior is almost entirely built of wood. Given that the Farnese is the first theatre to feature a proscenium arch, I mounted the stage to inspect it.39 I was surprised to discover the wooden frame to be rather fragile and decorative, badly covering up a primary grey brick structure; the wooden proscenium frame, which from the front appears as a sturdy and permanent feature, has in fact been installed using the same theatrical tricks usually reserved for masking objects, decor and fabrics. ‘Hard’ matter partaking in the folding dynamics of ‘soft’ matter. In Parma, the aim is to conceal the brick structure; in Dalston Square, to expose it – or rather, to produce the impression of exposed brick. If the 1960s, 70s and 80s east London gentrifiers first reclaimed the aesthetic value of exposed Victorian brick, the present developers now reproduce it as an item in the decor of place. Almost imperceptibly something has shifted in the value system of what is to be seen and what is to be concealed: the quiet instant when one imago covers another.

September 2011. Wind The wire fence has finally been removed. For the first time, I am sitting on a bench in the square, ‘the largest new public space to be created in the area for over 100 years’, according to Dalston Square’s publicity material.40 A strong wind is blowing, making the newly planted trees shake violently. There is something incongruous about these young beech trees – the kind that seem to get added automatically to large-­scale urban developments – swaying and shaking so forcefully. From where I am sitting I can see a

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bunch of older, taller trees on the northern side of Dalston Lane, except that they don’t seem to be shaking at all; how could it be that, barely fifty metres apart, one set of trees seems to be caught in a windstorm, while the other is barely moving? Do the air molecules in Dalston Square move faster than in the surrounding area, as though the recent transformations had made matter more turbulent, heated, compressed? Then I remember reading somewhere about the ‘desert canyon effect’ in relation to high-­rise blocks, such as the ones that surround this square: tall buildings tend to channel and reinforce existing winds, making the ground level windy even on relatively still days.41 Hunched over my notebook to write, I have to press down on the pages simply to stop them from flipping over.

October 2011. Glass Walking past the new library building (soon to open), I notice a sentence traced by finger on the dusty glass pane facing the street: HEAVEN IS REAL

I stop to wonder about its meaning. The statement is both clear – there is such a thing as heaven – yet nearly impossible to truly make sense of: for if heaven is real, surely that implies that what we call reality is not real; this, however, must mean that heaven, precisely by being designated as real, is equally not real. In conclusion, it is unknown whether reality and heaven are real or not. The sentence remains inscribed on the dusty glass plane for about a week. I glance at it whenever I walk past the building, and each time I have the distinct impression that the enigma and its solution are one and the same thing, or that the two are dissolving into each other, then reforming as separate entities, then dissolving again, indefinitely. And so the sentence acquires ‘meaning’ simply by virtue of being there, written on glass, demanding to be read over and over again. Heaven is real. Things are things. Things are not things.

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I eventually take my camera to take a picture of the sentence, but find it is no longer there. I gaze vacantly at the spot where the words had been, wondering whether to take a picture anyway, when I catch a glimpse of a body in mid-­air, about thirty metres above ground. I instinctively crouch, shielding my head with my arms and hands, anticipating some kind of crash. When nothing happens, I slowly look up and see a window cleaner strapped inside a harness, floating around the edge of the building, busy at work.

December 2011. Dust I run my finger on the square’s sooty pavement and stare at the dark grey patch of dirt. I wonder if there might be some remnant matter of Dalston Theatre perched on my index finger. If this were a movie, I would now use tweezers to carefully transfer the dirt to a plastic bag, and send it back to the lab for inspection. Matter can never fully depart from a place. Even when theatrical cornices, balconies and floorboards have been destroyed and removed, even when curtains have been torn down and stairways smashed up, some physical particles must remain on site. It is simply not possible to remove a building completely: a fraction of the theatre’s matter, let’s say 0.01 per cent or less, must stay behind, a dust that can never be dusted. A brief survey of dust literature suggests that this particulate matter is intimately connected to sight perception. As cultural historian Joseph A. Amato explains: ‘Scattered throughout the atmosphere and the universe, [dust’s] refracting power helps account for why and how humans see light itself. It explains blue skies and daylight . . .’42 Belonging ‘as much to air as to earth’,43 dust is traditionally a kind of frontier matter: until the arrival of neutrinos and quarks in the scientific revolutions of the twentieth century, dust held a primary role in Western understandings of the world, falling like a curtain between the visible and the invisible, separating what ‘could be known by the senses and what lay beyond them’.44


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In The Nature of Things, Lucretius lucidly describes a particulate world of imperceptible activities and processes: all matter is characterized by ‘sundry restless motions’,45 with particles gathering tightly to form stone and iron, or dispersing widely to compose the ‘thin air and the shining of the sun’.46 Matter is ‘dancing right before your eyes’,47 exactly as when we contemplate the turmoil of dust motes ceaselessly drifting this way and that, according to ‘unseen atomic blows’.48 For Lucretius, sight itself can be explained through dust: everything is endowed with a subtle skein, a corpuscular film that falls off and drifts ‘about this way and that upon the air’;49 any image we perceive – whether it’s of a building in front of us or a person’s face appearing in our dreams – is made of fine particles that detach from the actual object and float to reach our eyes. To support his theory of vision Lucretius gives the example of the Roman velarium, the ‘red and gold and purple awnings . . . stretched over a great theatre’, its colours ‘staining the faces of the audience in the stands below’, an effect that is reinforced the more the theatre is ‘enclosed, shut from the glare of day’.50 The theatre is like a film of dust particles, travelling to stain our perception. Lucretius also describes a type of dust that is so slight as to ‘have no impact on the senses’,51 drifting through the air unperceived. There are such things as films . . . that keep the certain trace Of forms, flying everywhere, of such a gauzy weave That separately, one by one, they’re impossible to perceive.52

Back in Dalston Square’s windy landscape (a ‘desert canyon’), I wonder about the theatre’s dust: where might the theatre’s particulate matter lie scattered, and how can I access these dust motes? Unlike the red, gold and purple awnings described by Lucretius, no image of the Victorian theatre seems to impress itself upon the viewer. Whatever theatre particles might be floating about, they cannot be perceived, certainly not by the naked eye. In fact, I cannot know whether the dust in question is truly present on the site, or whether I am in a sense placing it there through the act of writing. Is there a ‘gauzy weave’ outside of the narration that animates and charts its trajectories?

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Historian Carolyn Steedman notes the opposite meanings of the verb to dust: ‘you can remove something, or you can put something there’.53 For example, the expression ‘to dust a room’ refers to dust’s removal, whereas ‘to dust a cake’ indicates its addition. To approach dust means not to know whether one is dealing with a presence or an absence: for dust ‘will always do this: be both there and not there; what is left and what is gone’.54 It is hard to tell whether Dalston Theatre’s particulate matter is ‘out there’, scattered across the site, or whether it is a fabrication of language and writing: a planted clue that enables the theatre to appear, at least in thought. As in the etymology of the verb to think – ‘to cause to appear to oneself ’ – a definition that might equally apply to the act of writing.

March 2012. Standing on a theatre What happened to the theatre’s material components? Where did the building go after it left the site? I call Syd Bishop & Sons, the company responsible for the theatre’s demolition, whose motto is ‘watch it come down’. The man I speak to informs me that many of the building’s materials – masonry, metals, plastics, hardcore, wood, steel, etc. – would have been processed at their recycling facility in Kent and later sold on; for instance the A grade wood is taken to either Dorset or Austria, where it is converted into chipboard, while the B grade wood is sent to a burning plant in Bexley and turned into fuel. The demolition worker tells me that some fragments of the theatre were in fact conserved, as requested by their client, Hackney Council, though he does not know which parts these were, or where they might be stored, if at all. He also informs me that the foundations of the theatre had been crushed on site and used to form the ground for the new development. Which means, rather simply, that when standing in the present square, some of the theatre’s rubble lies just beneath one’s feet. This is seemingly common practice in modern demolition work; it is a sped-­up version of a


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process that previously would have taken decades or centuries, whereby ancient settlements were gradually buried beneath new ones: the ruins of ancient buildings would form what is called a ‘tell’, or artificial mound, which would then be overlaid with new constructions. Similarly, the rubble from the theatre’s foundations provides a tell for Dalston Square. The discovery of the venue’s rubble lying beneath the current paving stones charges the site in a peculiar way. Dalston Theatre, I think to myself, is physically buried inside Dalston Square. I imagine the space just beneath the pavement to be made of ‘theatre’, as though this were a kind of malleable substance that can be spread over a surface, like some preparatory glue or paint, in a feat of architectural sorcery. I thank the demolition worker for his time. He asks me what is on the site now, and I inform him of the new square, the towers, the cafés and the shops. Buoyed by this newly acquired knowledge of the subterranean rubble, I am confident it will alter my perception of the square: the next time I go there, I tell myself, I will be able to see through the towers, the pavement, the shops, the benches and the trees . . .

June 2012. Georges Perec Alas, no. The subterranean awareness I thought I had acquired proves fruitless when actually standing in the site, dulled by the increasingly familiar sight of the towers, the pavement, the shops, the benches and the trees. Where to begin, again? My detective skills are wanting: I have the impression I am always looking for things, for novelty or surprise, and never quite looking at things. I come across a passage by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, according to whom perception operates only as ‘news of difference’, meaning we only apprehend what happens to stand out within the field defined by our perceptual apparatus: the sudden opening, the novel view, the agitation.55 I begin to wonder whether it is at all possible to observe the ‘ordinary’, the disregarded, the seemingly self-­same; to tune

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one’s attention to what it is always before one’s eyes, and which thus eludes one’s grasp, remaining unfindable. Might the close-­at-hand constitute an instance of the subterranean, the subliminal, the surprising? In a local bookshop one afternoon I come across a reprint of Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, from 1975. Perec’s stated aim is to remark the unremarkable: ‘that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars and clouds’.56 A homage to the multitude of the urban everyday, the small book is a three-­day account of pedestrian phenomena in a Parisian square; no matter how fast or detailed Perec tries to be, there always seems to be a lot happening that he cannot perceive, let alone record: as the translator notes, ‘the markings and manifestations of the everyday . . . consistently escape our attention as they compose the essence of our lives’.57 The book is in fact a rather tedious list of passing buses, people and dogs; its subject is the mundane, and so is the text itself; one’s reading presence is fitful and sluggish, piqued and pleased, thus mirroring the way urban environments typically engender a state oscillating between attention and distraction. In fact Perec’s book merely confirms the difficulty of placing the uneventful centre stage: as readers we struggle (and most likely fail) to give our full attention to the listed buses, pigeons and passers-­by, which therefore get pushed into the background from which the writer had hoped to extract them. Unsure as to whether An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris succeeds in rendering the everyday, or whether its failure might be an index of success, I decide to adopt it as a strategy to track the comings and goings in the square.

July 2012. An attempt at exhausting a place in Dalston I set a frame. Using an aerial photograph of the site, taken before the demolition (and usefully reproduced in one of Barratt Homes’ earliest


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advertising brochures), it is possible to work out where the Dalston Theatre stage would have been on the present site: its location corresponds to a ground-­level passageway between the library and a residential tower block. By marking out this absent or phantom stage, I am not attempting to retrieve the old venue, but rather seeking to replicate, in the outdoor square, a feature of the regime of attention produced by the theatre’s enclosed space:58 for even without a proscenium arch, a lit stage, or a darkened auditorium, it is possible to virtually reproduce that perceptual apparatus, simply through an act of delimitation. I am making myself a ‘theatre without walls’, so that I might observe whatever happens to happen. The theatrical framing focuses attention: without theatre’s enclosing function, without something like a limit, a threshold, or an edge, attention would drift too easily.59 Notebook in hand, I take my seat on one of the square’s flat benches, noticing how each one is studded with large metal domes: far from being decorative, the studs’ purpose is to subtly discourage anyone from lying down, a small feature designed to keep out the homeless, the down and outs. All one can do here is sit up straight and look ahead. I focus on that passageway between Collins Tower (home to the library) and Gaumont Tower:60 in other words, the space corresponding to the old location of the Dalston Theatre stage. Over two hours, I note down the comings and goings of: seventy-­five people, eight bags, two pigeons, three cars, one lorry, two scooters, ten bicycles, three grocery trolleys, six prams, and one leaf. I note types of jackets, trousers, scarves, hats, helmets, sunglasses, headphones, musical instruments, bottles, folders, walking sticks, phones, watches, newspapers, cigarettes, as well as different sounds, colours and types of weather: rain, wind and sun. I am drawn to the human element above all others, and the pleasures of repetition with variation: first a woman walking on her own, then ten minutes later the same woman with a child. I notice how much my looking is inevitably structured by ready-­made assumptions and inferences: people and actions get reduced to a limited stock of easily recognizable possibilities e.g. ‘woman walking quickly’, or ‘man with

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backpack’. And despite the relatively slow pace of events in the square, my note-­taking constantly lags behind: writing is hopelessly inadequate to this task. Although I know the square well, several facets only become apparent when observing how other people interact with the space: the effort shown by a woman pushing a large pram draws my attention to the pavement’s pronounced incline; a small metal pole only comes into my sphere of vision when I see a kid leapfrogging over it. I remain sitting on the studded bench for a little over two hours. The ‘show’ ends when I stop watching, or rather when my hand has grown tired from writing. I stand up and leave, walking roughly to where the old theatre exit would have been; I pass by a large glass panel, covered with life-­size photographs of people inside a café, suggesting what might soon occupy this newly built ground-­floor retail space. The images have been lifted from different sources, as is made clear by the contrasting grains and pixilation; several isolated figures are brought together haphazardly, and in relations that suggest a somewhat fractured sociality: for instance, a man with wavy hair and a light blue shirt is twice present, first sitting alone facing the window, and then again sitting at a nearby table, this time engaged in conversation. In another section, a man wearing a baseball cap looks wearily over his shoulder, seemingly unaware of the woman whose body is pressed tightly against his.

September 2012. The archive It should not have come as a surprise. Hackney Archives, which has been closed for a year, has relocated inside the new library building in Dalston Square: that is, inside Collins Tower, the spot previously occupied by Dalston Theatre. By coincidence, the archival documents of the old theatre have effectively journeyed back to their original spot. It is as though the Victorian building had evaporated, leaving behind bundles of paper documents. Or, mimicking the slapstick-­waiter routine in which a tablecloth is swiftly removed without disturbing


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glasses and plates, the physical structure of Dalston Theatre has similarly been whisked away, leaving its archival documentation perfectly in place. And so I find myself entering the Library and visiting Hackney Archives’ rather pleasant premises in order to consult the theatre’s records. Each document I come across – show posters, programmes, photographs – is a mark of erasure, each one recapitulating the theatre’s demolition: I can come here and gaze at black and white photographs of Dalston Theatre only because it has been demolished. This is an archive of that which has been erased so as to be preserved. As if to underscore this paradoxical logic of destruction and preservation, the library building holds a handful of remnants of the old venue’s auditorium, presumably the ones mentioned by the demolition worker over the phone. Brown stucco and plaster fragments can be found hanging on a wall of the children’s section, together with a mounted text about the theatre’s history. ‘Well, here it is . . .’ I think to myself: this museum-­like display is presumably the closest I will ever get to the demolished building. I ask a member of the library staff if I can take a photograph. The woman tells me I can’t, ‘but OK . . . be quick’. A large printed banner, bearing no relation to the display, is also pasted on the wall, just beneath the theatre’s fragments, encouraging young readers: ‘turn the pages of your imagination. read’ By dint of their proximity, the theatre’s remains and the banner suggest new sets of possible meanings; perhaps children are being encouraged to imagine the building that these fragments once belonged to: which part of the theatre do these panels come from, the balconies, the proscenium arch, or the dressing rooms? Or perhaps the display is simply asking us to observe the mounted objects, and let our imagination run free. Or else, the banner is desperately urging children to read and use their imagination, lest Victorian theatres and other historical artefacts end up as fragments stuck on the wall of a library.

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October 2012. Heaven I am sitting in the library café on the ground floor. The café was harshly criticized before opening, due to rumours circulating that it was going to be run by the multinational coffee chain Starbucks.61 As it happens, the café is independently operated, though ‘proudly serving starbucks’ as the outside signage informs. It is raining. A pop song is playing loudly in the café, lining the room with its shifting moods, associations and images. A woman is sitting on the large leather sofa behind me, quietly eating a homemade sandwich out of a tupperware box. A teenage boy walks in, his grey sports’ hood wet from the rain. He sits at a table, opens a McDonald’s paper bag, and bites into a burger; it is not long before a member of staff approaches him: ‘No outside food in here’. The kid sighs and reluctantly heads out in the rain. The music changes: a duet, I think, between a man and a woman. With little else to focus on, my attention drifts outside, to a large


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photograph of London’s skyline pasted on the wall of Gaumont Tower. It is the kind of image that featured heavily around the site at the start of its construction. About ten metres wide, its colours have been digitally manipulated, bathing the cityscape in a uniform blue. The image marks the arrival of certain values and aspirations to the area: the desire to own a view of London’s skyline, to be lifted to the fifteenth floor, floating effortlessly to the abstract heights of capital. I think back to that film title, Hello London – the experience of a lifetime from the comfort of your own home. I am suddenly thrown out of this reverie and into another. I recognize the song before I am able to name it, with its pathetic piano notes and 1980s guitar intro: ‘Oh, thinking about all our younger years . . .’ It’s Heaven, a Bryan Adams’ tearjerker power ballad. Without any effort on my part, the song’s video materializes before me: on the Starbucks café counter I now see Bryan Adams, on stage, wearing black jeans and a white shirt, collar up. Behind him is his band. They are playing inside an old theatre, with velvet tip-­up seats, balconies and thick red curtains. The auditorium is full, but not of people: every seat is taken up by a TV unit, each one displaying images of adoring female fans, swaying to the rhythm of the love song. Bryan Adams pounds his fists in the air, clutches the microphone tightly, his legs always spread slightly apart. He looks up into the gallery, ‘the heavens’, he looks down into the stalls. He catches a glimpse of a woman in the TV screen-­audience: he smiles at her, and she smiles back from behind the glass. ‘We’re in heaven. . ./ We’re in heaven. . ./ We’re in heaven . . .’62

October 2012. Google Maps Inside the luminous premises of Hackney Archives, I sit down with a few books and some of the theatre’s historical records. As I begin reading, I get distracted by a loud scraping sound: I look around and see that all the library’s windows are in the process of opening mechanically.

Dalston Theatre


It is a slow and noisy operation, and once completed (and I can return to reading in silence) it immediately resumes, the windows now all closing together. I enquire about this at the Archives desk, and am told that the building’s climate-­controlled system often causes the windows to open and close continuously, throughout the whole day. ‘It’s like the library is breathing’, the woman tells me. Too distracted to read through the historical documents, I open my laptop and go online. I search for ‘Dalston Square’ and find it on Google Maps; I switch to Street View mode, so I can walk around a 360-degree photographic environment. I begin an online local saunter by travelling virtually down Dalston Lane, until I arrive just outside the library building. I attempt to get as close to it as possible, to walk right up to the glass. That is when a strange mutation takes place: the building suddenly vanishes, leaving in its wake cleared ground and a low scaffolding structure. For a few seconds, I have the distinct impression that the building I’m inside of has melted into thin air, as though I were watching live footage of its dematerialization. I look up from the laptop screen: everything is still here, the walls are firmly in position, the windows are still opening and closing. I return to the virtual map: I keep moving a little further down the street, and watch as the building suddenly reappears again, fully built. Simply explained, Google Maps needs to update a few pictures: the photographs displaying the former construction site date from August 2008, while the ones showing the completed tower are from May 2012.63 Behind this small inconsistency lies a powerful coincidence: as already mentioned, Collins Tower (which hosts the library and archives) stands precisely on the site of the former Dalston Theatre; has the missing building left a kind of force field in place, causing a time-­glitch on Google? I keep travelling virtually up and down Dalston Lane, repeatedly falling into this space-­time wormhole. The effect is comparable to a slow CGI trick, taking you back and forth in time, the imposing brown tower melting into sky, clouds and scaffolding. By accident Google


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Maps has accomplished what many artists dream of, to capture the fugitive quality of matter: this building is now porous and malleable, prone to reversals, as free floating as dust. Solid matter melting into air, and back to solid. This simple glitch suggests that we truly occupy different times and spaces at once, in a kind of architectural jet lag. What is here is also not here; what is not here is also here. If this Dalston project ever required a one-­sentence summary, a motto of sorts, perhaps this would be it: what is here is also not here; what is not here is also here.

Epilogue: Brixton The project ends when I temporarily change address, and move down to Brixton in south-west London. I leave behind Dalston’s CGI transformations of matter, the uncertainties of the built environment, and the intimations of a demolished theatre hovering around the place. However, Brixton is also undergoing regeneration, the latest grandiose flourish in a process that has been underway since the early 1990s. And since moving here I have discovered two uncanny parallels between the neighbourhoods. First, in the very centre of Brixton, on Coldharbour Lane, rises a new development of ‘contemporary apartments’: the company behind the project is once again Barratt Homes, and the name given to the development is none other than Brixton Square.64 A second uncanny parallel, predictably, involves a local theatre: in 1898, precisely the year in which Dalston Theatre was built, its same architects Wylson and Long also completed another imposing theatre, the Brixton Empress; it too was recently demolished, and in its place now stands a block of apartments.65

Dalston Theatre


On the Human Enclosure

The theatre we have in mind is essentially an enclosure, the walls and ceiling configuring an indoor environment that people enter and exit. The fact of being enclosed is perhaps the fundamental trait of the théâtre à l’italienne, its basic outline, the architecture of its architecture, let’s say. Far from wishing to antagonize this theatre or bring its walls down (as much vaunted and rehearsed in the twentieth century), the aim here is to find out, as though for the first time, what this intramural space makes possible: what do walls do? What do they shelter and enable, other than the work of performers and spectators? The previous chapter, on Dalston Theatre, featured a Perec-­inspired attempt at reproducing the dynamics of theatrical enclosure in the outdoor square: in other words, to locate the indoor outdoors. The following text is its mirror opposite: sited within Vicenza’s Teatro Olimpico, the attempt is to find the outdoor indoors. As poet John Burnside writes, upon visiting an abandoned house: ‘Nobody lives / here now, it’s only / crows and bees / and every shift / and slant / is an event’.1 Similarly, in place of a show, the ‘empty’ theatre hosts events other than human endeavours and projects, allowing marginal phenomena to take centre stage. In the next chapter, the advent of a small bird reconstitutes the auditorium as a place of potential; this nonhuman presence is rendered not as a disruptive outsider, but rather as a co-­inhabitant, introducing different rhythms and imperatives to the all-­too-human and self-­regarding theatre. By attending to the nonhuman it becomes possible to approach the theatre as a ‘place in which persons, organisms, things occur rather than


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exist’;2 even within the walls of a theatre we can experience an ecology of place, as described by anthropologist Tim Ingold: [A] world of incessant movement and becoming, one that is never complete but continually under construction, woven from the countless lifelines of its manifold human and non-­human constituents as they thread their ways through the tangle of relationships in which they are comprehensively enmeshed.3 Much of the chapter is an attempt to think through this co-­emergence of things, phenomena and perceptions, including the contingencies of travel and orientation inherent in my visit to the Teatro Olimpico. A last section describes how for four centuries this unique building remained unused, suggesting that abandonment might be originary and constitutive of theatres, their purpose being to host and encase a particular kind of void: a ‘void-­fullness’, writes Italo Calvino, ‘that can only be dissolved by what is light and swift and slender’.4

Chapter 3

Teatro Olimpico: The Avian Theatre

All that makes the woods, the rivers or the air Has its place between these walls that believe to enclose my room Jules Supervielle

Part 1 Picture a theatre: a stage, balconies, lights, curtains, trapdoors, ropes, pulleys, and so on. These are the material constituents of the theatre we have in mind, or the standard European theatre. Now imagine stripping away each element: taking out the curtains, the lights, the seating, the stage, and so on, until all that is left are the bare walls of the building itself; can we still call this a theatre? Possibly not, but if so then at which point during the gradual removal of parts can we say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the theatre has now ceased to be a theatre? Is it when the final floorboard has been removed from the stage? Is it when the last seat has been taken out of the auditorium? To put it differently: does the theatre move out together with its furnishings, or does it in fact stay behind, immovable, permanently welded to the ground? We are inside this barren theatre, now that it has been evacuated of all cloth, velvet, wood, gold leaf, paint, stucco, metal, rope, and so on. What we are faced with is, essentially, a large room or hall, with nothing inside. And yet this ‘nothing inside’ already marks a specific type of environment: the walls and ceiling block out the rain, the wind, natural light, as well as insects, birds, cars, aeroplanes, and all other animate and inanimate phenomena associated with the outside. ‘Inside’ and ‘outside’ are not just


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by-­products of the standard European theatre, but rather an essential part of its function and mythology. The theatre we have in mind is first of all a building, a theatrical edifice (etymologically, ‘a dwelling’): it is the hard matter of walls and ceilings, demarking an interior and an exterior, and instituting the passage from one to the other. For roughly 1,000 years Europe had no theatre buildings at all: between the fifth and the fifteenth century A.D., the word theatre referred to a dispersed activity (the festival, the celebration, the liturgy), not to an architectural construct. It is during the Italian Renaissance that the theatrical edifice is reborn, or rather invented, this time indoors. The princely enclosure, intramural and self-­contained, would become standard for the modern theatre and its inclosing function.5 This new model is not just a Greco-Roman amphitheatre with the addition of a ‘lid’; it is a wholly new apparatus, engendering different modes of attention, perception and behaviour: ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ determine specific conditions of emergence and signification, conditions that have since become synonymous with the word theatre. Even inside a barren venue, without curtains, stage and seating, we are nevertheless bound to a particular regime of visibility and meaning. Simply put: the theatre we have in mind is a building with a door. And this chapter traces a passage from outside to inside, and back out again.

The swallow I am visiting the Teatro Olimpico in the Italian city of Vicenza. The purpose of the visit is rather undetermined: mostly, I am curious to see a space whose image is already familiar to me, through the countless drawings and photographs that appear in books on theatre architecture. Designed by Andrea Palladio in 1580, the Olimpico is the first purpose-­built indoor theatre in the West and has survived perfectly intact to this day: it still features a Roman-­style scenic façade, with five passageways and illusory street perspectives, a sky-­painted ceiling, and an auditorium resembling an outdoor Roman amphitheatre.

Teatro Olimpico


I pay six euros for my entrance ticket, and walk inside. For the first ten minutes or so, I am the only person here . . . I sit on the wood-­clad tiered steps and start taking a few photographs with my digital camera. I observe the space, mentally referring to the sparse knowledge I have of its presumed architectural significance. I focus on a few details – the intimation of a proscenium arch at the sidewalls, the way the illusion of the street perspectives fails to deceive under the glare of modern electric light. I soon run out of things to observe, and so I remain sitting, waiting for something, or perhaps nothing. A question is turning around in my head: what happens inside a theatre when nothing is happening? Gradually other visitors begin to arrive: after all, the Olimpico is a major attraction in the ‘Palladian’ city of Vicenza. A man in his mid-­twenties places a stills camera on one of the tiered steps, walks a few paces, and turns to face the lens: with the theatre’s majestic façade now behind him, he produces a recognizably photographic smile as the flash goes off.


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An older man and a woman walk in, the woman holding a guidebook open. Their eyes scan the book, then the space, and then the book again. Moving their heads up and down, it seems that they are checking if everything written in the book corresponds to reality, and if everything they see in reality corresponds to the book. I hear what sounds like a jangling of keys and catch a glimpse of a man from the theatre’s maintenance team. He disappears through a small door under the colonnade at the back of the auditorium; shortly after, he reappears at the very top, by the statues of the gods, where he begins closing the shutters to the few windows letting in natural light. All these small occurrences take on a distinct quality. After all, they are occurring inside a theatre, a theatre in which there is no ‘show’ as such taking place. The auditorium becomes a site of micro events, similar to those we might witness when sitting on a park bench, watching the world go by, attending to whatever happens to be happening. A large tourist group arrives, headed by a guide who begins the task of exalting the Teatro Olimpico and its famed architect: ‘Did you know that Vicenza is the epicentre of classicity? Did you know that the White House is neo-Palladian? And Covent Garden, with its Italian-­style piazza?’ As I sit and listen to the guide’s narration, a black object seems to dart across the painted sky of the theatre. I look, but find nothing there: it is probably a so-­called trick of the mind, that tendency we have to imbue inanimate objects with life, for example, when we mistake a plastic bag lying on the road for a cat or other animal (a tendency which, a friend recently told me, is triggered by feelings of loneliness). As I keep looking around me, a second ‘swoop’ happens, suggesting that the event in question is not purely mental or projective. On the third swoop, a swallow clearly flies out from one of the façade’s openings; it begins to circle the space, looping continuously around the stage and auditorium. And so I find myself watching a swallow fly through the air at the Teatro Olimpico. I stay and watch the bird for a while, craning and rotating my neck to follow its trajectories. I am in equal measures delighted – what better way to end a visit to a theatre than with a bird flying elegantly around the space? – and slightly uneasy: when birds get stuck inside human

Teatro Olimpico


structures (e.g. pigeons in shopping centres), whose job is it to return them outside? I approach a theatre attendant: the swallow, the man tells me smiling, actually lives inside the theatre; staff and local residents are fairly used to its appearances during performances. I try to take a photograph of the swallow, but the bird is too fast for my digital camera and its delay: no matter how many times I try, I cannot still the bird’s image inside the frame, and I end up with several photographs of the ceiling’s painted clouds.

I stay a little longer to watch the bird fly this way and that, unsure as to what to make of its presence here, if anything. Then, realizing I might


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be late for my train, I exit the theatre, the swallow still taking to the air. I have barely enough time to buy a postcard of the Olimpico to post back to London: on the reverse I quickly describe coming across the swallow, and on the front I do a very rough drawing of a bird flying below the clouds of the theatre’s ceiling.

Part 2 More than a year has passed since my visit to Vicenza. Since then, a half-­formed, never-­quite-there idea has been playing on my mind: namely, to isolate the instance of the swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico, and to say ‘this is the subject matter. I will write about this’. And yet what exactly is this, and how do I write about it? Literary theorist Roland Barthes proposed that each single thing we wish to study might require a new science unto itself. He called it ‘the impossible science of the unique being’,6 and suggested: ‘why mightn’t there be, somehow, a new science for each object? A mathesis singularis (and no longer universalis)?’7 It would be a discourse functioning purely for this particular event: a series of invented postulates pertaining to an impossible science, whose focus would be this, and this only. Fine . . . but what exactly is this? This is an instance of exception. This is an instance of the ordinary. This is produced through the coming together of a swallow, a Renaissance theatre, and the air inside the space. Or else: what do you get when you put together a swallow, the Teatro Olimpico, and air? What you get is this: a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico.

This Let’s pause on these words: a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico. Although the sentence’s subject is the bird, it is the

Teatro Olimpico


combination of the three elements that is at stake – swallow, air, and theatre. It is a sentence that is obstinately itself, nothing more and nothing less: a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico is a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico. Available yet withdrawn, open yet closed, and all the while resolutely singular. I know what it is . . . but what is it? Is this a problem of language, its abstract and fixed sentence structures being ill-­suited to retrace the fluid becomings of matter and the lure of particulars? And if so, what kind of language might we invent to speak this? There is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges in which the writer describes an imaginary planet named Tlön. The people living on Tlön are fully aware of the irreducibility of reality to language, and for this reason resort to using accumulative lists of objects, qualities and sensations to describe single things. For example, instead of using the word ‘moon’ to refer to the moon, they say ‘airy-­clear over dark-­round’.8 Borges offers a further example of an object which, in Tlön’s language, is referred to through the following list: ‘the sun, the water against the swimmer’s chest, the vague quivering pink which one sees when the eyes are closed, the feeling of being swept away by a river or by sleep’.9 Borges does not disclose what the list refers to; he informs us that people on planet Tlön are more interested in ‘a kind of amazement’ than in the steadfast links between words and things.10 Might our sentence ‘a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico’ function similarly? Perhaps its different terms (the swallow, the air, the theatre) combine to form a single referent, thought, or event, yet this referent remains curiously absent or unknown, and what truly matters is ‘a kind of amazement’. And yet if the logic of planet Tlön is followed through, it can quickly lead down a spiral: the darker potential implicit in Borges’ story yields to a form of writing that can only ever refer back to itself, or worse to its own impossibility; burrowed in the rift between words and things, the risk is to lose the event or referent altogether.


In Place of a Show

The task here, the labour, is to call the event, to ‘language’ it. In place of pitting the writing and the event against one another, let’s pay heed to their inevitable enmeshment; for, as Barthes notes, ‘the word penetrates the act throughout.’11 In fact, writing accompanied the swallow from the start. My visit to Vicenza was after all a research trip, meaning that I was tuned to events and places through a discursive frequency. To use a visual metaphor, my situation was not dissimilar to a photographer working with long exposure: my research, like the shutter of a camera, was open, and so the instant the swallow flew into the space, it also flew into the frame of the project. Rather predatorily on my part, by flying into the theatre the swallow was unwittingly caught in a web of words: that is, it moved into writing. The bird’s flight was therefore already discursive, both in the etymological sense of the word discourse (‘to run this way and that’), and in the sense of it presenting itself as a writing occurrence. The bird’s flight at the theatre already constituted a mode of writing, of composing, of ‘meaning’. The question ‘What is this?’ might therefore be answered as follows: this is an instance of the world arranging itself into a poem.12

Here is where we meet There is another reason why the swallow’s flight cannot be dissociated from writing. As I sat in the theatre observing the bird’s graceful trajectory, I thought to myself: this happens in a book . . . I have read about this . . . The book is Here is Where We Meet by John Berger, in which the writer recounts a similar incident taking place inside the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland.

Teatro Olimpico


Berger finds himself there during an opera rehearsal, and describes how at one point the soprano’s voice suddenly stopped, for a starling had flown inside the large theatre: It headed towards the lights, believing they were exits into the sunshine. It had forgotten or could not refind the doorway it had come in by. It flew between the hanging backdrops of the Sea, Mountain, Spanish Inn, German Forest, Royal Palace, Peasant Wedding. And as it flew it cried Tcheeer! Tcheer! More and more shrilly as it realized more and more surely that it was trapped.13

The starling’s entrance interrupts the rehearsal, halting human song and speech; the bird is clearly trapped and needs to leave the Grand Théâtre. Its exit happens via a surprising acoustic alignment of the singer and the starling. The rehearsing soprano begins imitating the bird’s calls, slowly adjusting her pitch so that the two cries become ‘almost indistinguishable’, and the bird begins flying towards her;14 the


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singer then steps through a side door and onto the street, from where she calls again to the bird trapped inside. Eventually the starling flies out of the theatre and into the open air, sparking a round of applause from a small crowd of passers-­by. The main difference between Berger’s starling and the swallow at the Olimpico is that the starling is trapped, whereas the swallow has made the theatre its home and dwelling place, and is therefore in no need to escape; we could view its choice to inhabit the Olimpico as a small avian transgression, a silent and elegant act of disobedience, as though it had claimed the hall as its own lavish Renaissance aviary, visited each year by thousands of bird watchers from across the globe. As a matter of fact, visitors to this theatre do resemble bird watchers: sitting motionless on the steps, they gaze ahead, upwards and to the sides, scanning the (painted) clouds this way and that. Even during the cold months, when the swallow would be most likely wintering in southern Africa, visitors look searchingly around the theatre, their pointed fingers tracing invisible lines and imagined aerial trajectories.15 A second difference between the two scenarios is that whereas the first involved the starling’s cry, perfectly matched by the singer in an impromptu display of vocal virtuosity, the swallow in Vicenza was silent, and so was I; yet this silence also constituted an alignment, a sympathy, a common frequency. In his study on air and reverie Gaston Bachelard writes that ‘a gracefully curved trajectory must be traced with a sympathetic inner movement. Every graceful line . . . reveals a kind of linear hypnotism: it leads our reverie by giving it the continuity of a line.’16 My own version of the soprano’s virtuosic cry was a silent accompaniment, tracing the swallow’s graceful trajectory ‘with a sympathetic inner movement’. And lastly, the opera singer’s actions are motivated by a desire to return to the rehearsal, which the distracting starling could not attend; does this mean that the starling’s surprising exit is stage-­managed so as to reaffirm the theatre as a purely human space? In his narration Berger adds: ‘There is an old opera house superstition that if a bird is killed on stage, the building will catch fire.’17 The starling must be safely returned

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to its element, lest the theatre burn to the ground. The continued existence of the building, and the lives of the people working there, are dependent on the continued life of the bird. Berger does not mention that during a different opera rehearsal on 1 March 1951, a large fire started at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. The flames almost wholly consumed the building, reducing the stage and back-­stage areas to cinder, and completely liquefying the metal safety curtain.18 It is not known whether the fire had anything to do with the death of a bird.

Co-­inhabitants Why are the Olimpico’s maintenance team happy to have a bird live in the theatre? The simple reason might be that humans protect swallows


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because swallows protect humans. As co-­inhabitants of the world, the two share a long history of protection and guardianship. Mythically, the swallow’s split tail is attributed to a serpent’s bite, following an incident in which the bird saved a human from being eaten by the snake. One of Aesop’s fables features a swallow advising a nightingale to leave the tree and to nest under the roofs built by humans (the nightingale replies that it will never approach humans’ dwellings, having suffered too much of their cruelty).19 On a pragmatic level, swallows and humans help to guarantee each other’s essential resources. The birds are notorious for feeding on the millions of insects that fly around farmhouses, thus helping to maintain food crops. This becomes especially apparent when observing field tractors during spring and summer in the Northern hemisphere: numerous swallows can be spotted flying behind the vehicles, like an avian cloud gently pushing the tractors along; the birds are in fact delighting in an extravagant meal, since the vehicle’s passage through the grass provides them with an instantly locatable surge of insects.20 A brief ornithological sketch of the barn swallow, or Hirundo Rustica, reveals that its likeness has been around for over three million years, and that it is ‘truly cosmopolitan, being found in all the zoogeographical regions of the world except Antarctica’.21 Capable of constructing its own mud nests, the barn swallow easily shelters in the nooks and crannies of barns, archways and vaults. It literally inhabits ‘our’ spaces, nesting inside human artefacts, ‘from nest boxes to bridges to our own homes.’22 It is no surprise that the bird was once referred to as house swallow or chimney swallow – terms that indicate ‘an intimate sharing of living spaces’.23 The Hirundo Rustica is what is known as a synanthrope (etymologically, ‘with humans’); it has followed humans into whatever settlements we have constructed through the ages, including the present ever-­expanding urban centres: like humans, the bird has moved from a rural setting (rustica) and adapted to an urban one, leaving behind its natural habitat of grasslands, rock exposures and hollow trees.24

Teatro Olimpico


Despite a recent decline in their number due to intensive farming practices and a general loss of bio-­diversity, the Hirundo Rustica continues to dwell inside human-­built environments and thus guarantees porosity to our enclosures. In our all-­too-human twenty-­ first century cities, the swallow is an example of what philosopher Donna Haraway calls a companion species, reminding us of ‘the world that is also non-­human . . . that is not us, with whom we are enmeshed, making articulations all the time’.25 As ecologist David Abram writes, human consciousness is ‘simply one form of awareness among many others’, and we live surrounded by a ‘more-­than-human world that abounds with winged intelligences’.26 The flight of swallows splays open a multiplicity of lives, scales and temporalities: [E]very form one perceives – from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on the blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself – is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.27

We might think of the swallows’ flight not only as opening pathways and fissures within human enclosures, but also as weaving together a sense of place, as recounted by W.G. Sebald: At earlier times, in the summer evenings during my childhood when I . . . watched from the valley as swallows circled in the last light, still in great numbers in those days, I would imagine that the world was held together by the courses they flew through the air.28

Sebald’s passage continues by referring to Borges’ imaginary planet Tlön: ‘Many years later, in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius . . . I read of how a few birds saved an entire amphitheatre.’29 Sebald offers no details as to how the birds managed to rescue the theatre, and neither does Borges in his original story, leaving it to the reader to ponder how such a feat might have been accomplished; the only clue given by Borges is that a horse was also involved.


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The v Continuing with my early attempts at writing about the swallow, I wondered whether others might have penned an account of that specific avian dweller, especially given the shared histories of co-­inhabitation and guardianship that bind humans and swallow. Might there not already be a whole book dedicated to the Olimpico’s bird? Thinking along these lines, I began to imagine that each event in our lives, no matter how small or apparently insignificant, might already constitute the subject of a book; somewhere lies an ever expanding ‘event library’, featuring new volumes such as This Morning’s Shower, That Dog Barking in The Distance, and These Clouds Slowly Gathering this Afternoon: as if to each daily occurrence corresponded a scholarly work, replete with an annotated bibliography and suggestions for further reading. I was therefore speechless when, browsing the British Library catalogue, I came across a 1948 book entitled Andrea Palladio and the Winged Device, written by a James Reynolds. The title alone posits a clear connection between the famed Renaissance architect and something airborne, a winged device.30 I quickly turned to the section on the theatre and found a promising opening statement: ‘Just to wander into the auditorium of the Olimpico at any time of the day, quite alone, is a challenge to the imagination.’31 Rather disappointingly, however, the winged device featured in the book’s title does not refer to the swallow or any other type of bird. As Reynolds explains: ‘The detail most used by Palladio in all manner of buildings he called his “winged device”. Actually this reference is to the window that has become synonymous with the name of Palladio down the years.’32 According to the author, this type of window expresses ‘the quality of “lift” and airiness’, a quality also found in other architectural features such as archways and keystones that seem to spring ‘into being, fully winged’.33 The book is truly an admirer’s eulogy to Palladio (it is subtitled ‘a panorama painted in prose and pictures’), and while reading through its pages I began to suspect this ‘lift’ to be none other than the author’s

Teatro Olimpico



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own airborne admiration for the architect. This suspicion is reinforced when I find that each chapter begins with the drawing of a Palladian building, executed by the author himself: the drawings are in themselves unremarkable black pen sketches, if it weren’t for a small detail, featured in each one, that catches my attention. Each drawing clearly features a lone bird flying in the sky. It is no more than a coincidence, and of course Reynolds’ focus lies squarely on the buildings: the bird’s function is simply to provide a decorative counterpoint, framing and deferring to a primary subject, that is, the Palladian edifice. Let’s return to the postcard I had scribbled on: what is the image of the bird doing there? How does my drawing differ, if at all, from Reynolds’? I would like to think that the mark I made on the postcard is not decorative, but rather an essential part of the image. Visually compared, the two birds are almost identical; for both have been rendered through a slightly curved v, that rather generic bird sign commonly used whenever sketching an outdoor location. Its purpose is to quickly mark ‘outsideness’: wherever it is placed on the page, the v signals to the viewer this is air, this is outside. The image of the bird turns a blank page into a sky: it ushers in air, wind, turbulence, weather. Unlike Reynolds’ drawings, the v I drew on the postcard signals ‘outsideness’ in an indoor environment, as if weather had irrupted within the Olimpico. Which leads me to ask: what happens when a theatre opens its doors to the elements, to wind, to rain, to fire? And how does it do this without losing its own definition or boundaries? This is the task, here is the labour: within the theatre, find its outside.

An invitation to stay I wish my whole battened heart were a property like this, with swallows in every room – so at ease34

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How does the swallow mark the arrival of turbulence and weather within the theatre? How does ‘outside’ enter ‘inside’? Other than the curved v, and the sky-­painted ceiling I had photographed, I wondered how else to approach and render the swallow. And so I began to collect words that might describe this avian ingress. On the simplest level, the bird’s presence is an incongruity. Here is a hirundine flying indoors, and therefore out of place, out of its element: like a fish out of water, the swallow is out of the open air. Naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau called swallows ‘the fish of the air’, and compared their aerial revolutions to the water ripples on the sea surface.35 The bird’s appearance is a chance occurrence, it is adventitious, a word whose literal meaning is, aptly, ‘that which comes to us from outside’. We could also say that it is an accident, in the sense that it has little to do with the substance of the Olimpico itself. Or better still, that it is an accidental, which is the precise ornithological term for a bird that has strayed or been blown from its usual range or migratory route. Does the swallow’s presence disturb the boundaries of the Teatro Olimpico, disrupting the order of this Renaissance museum? It is tempting to compare it to a different irruption, of an aquatic and less benevolent kind. Six months after my visit, Vicenza’s river burst its banks and flooded the city streets, the historic centre disappearing beneath a metre of water. Special suction pumps had to be deployed to rescue the Olimpico, which is positioned just next to the river: the waters reached the theatre’s cellars, then its corridors, but went no further.36 Unlike the river’s destructive outpour, there is nothing more ordinary, quotidian, and to some extent banal, than swallows taking to the air, both outdoors and indoors, in Italian towns and cities. It is quite simply what happens following their arrival in spring. On my visit it was clear that the swallow’s presence was perceived as unobtrusive. After all, the bird lives in the theatre, meaning that it returns again and again, fashioning substance out of accident, rule out of exception. Regardless of when it took up residency there, it is now an inextricable part of the theatre.


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It would therefore be imprecise to say that its irruption capsized the order of things, or that it destabilized the theatrical apparatus; just as it would be simplistic to view its presence as an example of ‘nature’ bursting through the strictures of ‘culture’.37 What is missing from such grand claims is the word ordinary. Before encountering the one at the theatre, swallows had featured significantly during a short trip in the north of Italy: I had taken photographs of an adult feeding its young in the ceiling vaults at the train station in Mantua; I had been comforted by their multitudes chirping and swooping across the sky every evening, a habit ornithologists refer to as ‘comfort behaviour’;38 and I had been distressed to find a lone swallow lying on a busy pavement, unable to lift itself, its eyes anxiously darting around. This might partly explain why I was so taken by the one gliding beneath the painted clouds of the Olimpico: there you are, I thought to myself; there you are and, it follows, here I am. If the swallow can be here, then so can I. The bird’s arrival presented me with an invitation to fully inhabit my own skin: to be there as it flew around, to stay for a while and

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do nothing, to co-­inhabit the theatre. This non-­disruptive irruption, this reminder of the outdoors, allowed me to find a place indoors. Instead of antagonizing the theatre, the bird’s presence made it instantly more inhabitable and welcoming. Its flight through the air re-­ marked the Olimpico, gently outlining its elliptical shape and occupying its volume; its aerial revolutions provided a novel measure of sorts, a spatial cadence: this . . . this . . . this . . . this . . . this . . . this . . . In place of capsizing or bursting any theatrical boundaries, the swallow reveals these age-­old limits to be fully inhabitable, traversable, usable. Instead of challenging the theatre’s old walls, it has found a way of putting them to good use. And it is because of those walls and their inclosing function that this spectator, in turn, was able to pay special heed to the bird’s arrival.

Coda (‘tail’) One year after my visit to the Olimpico, I wrote to the theatre to enquire about the swallow. In my letter I asked direct questions such as: does the bird still live there? Does someone take care of it, or does it feed itself? Does it live alone? Partly I was after information for research purposes, and partly a confirmation: since I had not found anyone else who had written about this swallow, I wanted to know that the bird existed in the eyes of others, that it had a life other than inside my own memory and imagination. A few weeks went past, then months, and I never heard back from the theatre. Determined to not let that disappoint me, I continued with this writing task, confident that I didn’t require ‘facts’ to further the research process; all I really needed was the sentence ‘a swallow flying through the air at the Teatro Olimpico’, and a few photographs of a sky-­ painted ceiling. Then in April 2012, as I was preparing a public lecture on the swallow at the Olimpico, something unexpected happened: an event both trivial


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and yet somewhat unbelievable, as some audience members said themselves.39 The evening before the presentation, I carried out an Internet search to see if someone else out there in the world might have written about the bird. I had of course done this search many times in the past, but on this occasion instead of typing in English ‘swallow Teatro Olimpico’, I wrote in Italian, ‘rondine Teatro Olimpico’. To my great surprise I immediately came across an article, from Vicenza’s main newspaper, entitled ‘Olimpico: in scena fantasmi, rondini e pipistrelli’ (Olimpico: ghosts, swallows and bats take to the stage). I braced myself as I opened the article page and began to read the first text ever to refer to the swallow, other than what I had already written: The charm of the Teatro Olimpico has already captured theatre lovers, enthusiasts of Andrea Palladio’s genius, and tourists from all over the world. And now, it has also attracted winged admirers. About a year ago a swallow flew in from the windows behind the colonnade, at the back of the auditorium; it stayed for about a week, flying through the air even during shows, gliding only a few centimetres away from spectators’ heads. This apparition enchanted a theatre director and writer from Milan, Augusto Corrieri, who happened to be inside the Olimpico at the time. One year on the director wrote to the theatre’s team to ask what might have happened to the swallow, saying: ‘I am carrying out a research project in London and focusing on the advent of the swallow at the theatre’.40

For a brief moment, I thought the article was referring to someone other than myself: a person who happens to share my name, is also involved in theatre, and is interested in the swallow. I then realized that the newspaper must have obtained a copy of my letter and used it generate the article, and I was pleased to see that my research had made ‘the news’ in Vicenza. And then the thought struck me: I have finally found someone who is writing about the swallow . . . and that someone is myself. Amid these considerations, I paid little attention to the fact that, according to the article, the swallow had only stayed inside the theatre

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for a week, which in itself challenges, or even invalidates, some of the writing I had already done e.g. the swallow can hardly be said to have made the theatre its permanent dwelling. The article then continues by mentioning the supposed presence of ghosts, and that the site of the theatre was originally a prison. It ends by mentioning that in fact there is an airborne dweller inside the Olimpico, who returns year after year: it is not a swallow, but rather a bat. A short interview with the theatre’s guardian, presumably the same person I had spoken to on my visit, ends as follows: Our mascot has become a bat that every September returns to see us. Usually it remains within the stage façade, and some times, even during the shows, it exits from its hiding, appearing from the central archway and flying above spectator’s heads: it has been filmed by the cameras recording the shows.41

Interlude: A Rectangle of Sky The photographs I took merely show the ceiling of the theatre. I was hoping to still the swallow within the frame, to capture its darting figure beneath the painted clouds and sky. Again and again, the bird glided smoothly over my head, as I fumbled with different timings and camera settings, to no avail. Unbeknown to me at the time, my unsuccessful photographs can be linked to a number of historical practices – divinatory, illusory, zoological, theatrical and painterly – which might shed light on the bird’s passage within that rectangle of sky.

~ In ancient Rome there was a type of religious official known as the soothsayer, or auspice (meaning ‘observer of birds’), whose job was to contemplate natural phenomena, especially the flight of birds,


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and interpret these as an indication of divine approval or disapproval of a proposed action; for example, when having to make a decision concerning battle or the growing of crops, the soothsayer would set to work by delimiting a section of the sky using a staff or large stick: then, depending on what birds flew into that invisible frame (their number, direction, speed), the soothsayer would decree the best course of action. Roland Barthes writes of his attraction to the soothsayer, the one who marks out the sky – ‘the one thing that cannot be marked’ – and who ‘solemnly [traces] a limit of which immediately nothing is left, except for the intellectual remanence of a cutting out’.42 For Barthes, the rectangle of sky traced in the air is a sort of page: what the birds wrote there, the soothsayer would read and interpret. A textual fragment from a novel is comparable to ‘that piece of sky cut out by the soothsayer’s staff ’,43 within which we might observe the ‘the migration of meanings, the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations’.44 Or, as poet-­ philosopher Hélène Cixous puts it, writing is air cut out of air.45 The ancient divinatory interpretation of birds carries further political implications, as extolled by philosopher Michel Serres: The greatest empire the world has known, the longest-­lasting in our history was, when all is said and done, governed by the flights of birds. This was the most profound political decision ever taken. You who read this now, you who have just learned this, stop what you are doing and tell everyone . . . No battle was ever entered by Roman legions, no cargo of wheat allowed to set sail, no law amended, no matter of significance ever decided at that time until the soothsayers had received the approbation of birds; whether this took the form of how they flew through the sky or the way they pecked at grain, nothing was done without the addiction of birds. Rome, as we know . . . remains the greatest empire of all time, and it put its fate in birds. Have you ever heard better news, do you know of a single philosophical idea finer and wiser than this one? Is there anywhere a simple fact more likely to teach the great and mighty a lesson in true humility?46

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~ I could not time the swallow’s passage to the camera’s shutter. Had I somehow been able to still the bird, then I could have produced a successful picture; in a moment of frustration (perhaps a hunter’s frustration), I imagined capturing and killing the swallow, performing taxidermy, and suspending its lifeless body from the ceiling with a nylon thread: I would then have finally been able to take photos of the bird in flight, at the expense of turning it into a lifeless representation of itself. This puts me in mind of the white dove, the bird perhaps most readily associated with theatre spaces. Night after night, doves featured greatly as part of magicians’ acts during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was fairly common for some of these birds, once released on stage, to fly confusedly up into the rafters, a space which in Italian theatres is referred to as cielo (sky) or aria (air);47 unwilling, or perhaps unable, to return to their owners, a small population of ‘accidental’ doves would have thus resided temporarily in many theatres’ skies. Some of the magician’s birds, however, did not find freedom on stage; if anything, the theatre is precisely where they ceased to live. Overly stressed by the conjuror’s demands, tightly squeezed within a piece of clothing or mechanical equipment, they would die of suffocation; at times during the magic act, in which all kinds of inanimate objects seemed to miraculously come to life, the limp body of a dove would appear between the magician’s hands, the bird having met its end just before the illusory moment of birth.48

~ My arms were stretched towards the ceiling, camera in hand. I wonder now what I was really after: why was I so interested in taking a photograph? Perhaps I was, and still am, attracted to the semiotic short circuit, the play of opposites: here is a ‘real’ bird, flying beneath a ‘fictitious’ sky (and


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what is more, inside the first indoor Western theatre, which is built to resemble an outdoor amphitheatre). The Olimpico’s painted ceiling doubles up as a kind of theatrical decor or backdrop for the swallow. One order of signification bumps into another, the harder edges of categories like ‘reality’ and ‘representation’ blur a little; ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are seen to hold water. On reflection, the uncanny effect of seeing a bird fly beneath a painted sky stems from a very familiar conceit. We only have to think of zoos in which animals (especially small ones) are at times positioned against ‘painted prairies or painted rock pools’.49 As John Berger writes, in the essay ‘Why Look at Animals’, these backdrops are essentially ‘theatrical decor’50 whose function is to bluntly suggest the animal’s original habitat. We might also think of those nineteenth century dioramas in which animal taxidermies were arranged in lifelike postures within a simulated natural environment; it is as though knowledge of animals required their erasure: to possess them is to lose them. In the case of the swallow, we can speak of an ‘accidental diorama’, since the combination of the animal and its depicted natural backdrop occurred by chance. Of course in this diorama the bird could come and go freely, entering and exiting its Renaissance aviary as it pleased, perhaps feeding on the insects from the nearby river. And yet, as my hands aimed the camera skyward, I was unwittingly trying to still the bird within an order of signification, to immobilize the animal in front of a depiction of its habitat. Was the seemingly harmless act of taking a picture not indebted to a history of subjugation? Berger laments how, over the last two centuries, animals have been rendered ‘absolutely marginal’, so that now they all appear to us as ‘fish seen through the plate glass of an aquarium’.51 Having banished modes of co-­existence with nonhuman animals – the travelling horse, the mule, the ox, farm animals, the whale, and others – our species has enclosed itself within the walls of a puzzling solitude; by ending our more-­than-human kinships, Berger writes, we have initiated our own abandonment.

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The attempt to still the swallow against the painted sky partakes of this history and practice of marginalization, a history that (in the briefest of chronological sketches) is inextricably connected to the sea voyages and explorations of the sixteenth century, Renaissance cabinets, taxonomy, drawing and the visual arts, perspective, optics and the camera obscura, taxidermy, the birth of ornithology, museum collections, colonialism, modern tourism and consumer capitalism. To this list we must finally add the item that is most obvious, and therefore the best hidden, and that is the theatre itself: the conceit whereby an animal is placed in front of a background is not altogether different from the one that features a human performer standing in front of a painted backdrop. Both framed environments posit an animal (human or nonhuman) stationed against an inert landscape; in both instances the subject is captured by an apparatus and repeatedly ‘imaged’ within a regime of representation. The same painted backdrop of a forest might serve a troupe of actors as well as a herd of taxidermy deer.


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Part 3 If my photographs failed to capture the swallow, what did they catch instead? Let’s change our perspective so as to focus less on the actor (the swallow) and more on the background: the theatre, its façade and walls, the building, the city. When I first walked inside the auditorium and took a seat, long before the bird’s arrival, there were no other tourists about, nor staff: I was in an ostensibly empty theatre, with nothing taking place. And yet this ‘nothing’ held a historical resonance: though I did not know this at the time, for four centuries the Teatro Olimpico remained empty and unused. It is as though its true purpose, since its inception, were to host a kind of vacuum: a room for nothing and nobody, excepting the occasional visitors stumbling inside to marvel at the sumptuous scenic façade. In the next few pages the focus shifts to what was already taking place inside the theatre before the advent of the hirundine, as I sat on the steps looking around. Moving backwards through time and space, we will then shift to the moment of first arriving inside the auditorium; and before that, to the walk along the corridor that leads from the box office to the auditorium; and before that, to arriving outside the theatre; and before that, to the walk from the train station through the streets of Vicenza, looking for signs to ‘Teatro Olimpico’. Let’s slowly retrace our steps back through time and space, to emerge into the open air again.

Sitting I have been sitting inside the Teatro Olimpico for over half an hour. In a short while the swallow will make its appearance out of the blue, but right now I am simply observing the auditorium, the visitors, and nothing in particular. What is it like to inhabit a theatre, even for just a half hour – to be here, as one would in a park or square, watching the world go by?

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In the nineteenth century Friedrich Nietzsche demanded secular equivalents to Christian churches and cathedrals, buildings in which to simply sit and stay for a while.52 I wonder why Nietzsche did not think of theatres, given that, as Marvin Carlson writes, the opera house ‘replaced the cathedral during the nineteenth century as the central spiritual icon of European culture’.53 Perhaps Nietzsche’s omission is due to the fact that theatres are generally accessible only when attending a show, or at best as part of a guided tour. How might we sit for a while inside the ‘place of seeing’, unburdened by expectations or desires, renouncing the single-­point focus that a show traditionally demands? There is an account given by a spectator attending the inaugural performance at the Teatro Olimpico in 1585. Filippo Pigafetta recounts how the audience filled the theatre gradually over the entire day, and that he sat in the auditorium for a total of eleven hours, content to watch people arriving and mingling, ‘not getting tired at all’;54 the crowd gasped in awe when, later that evening, the show began with the fall of the large curtain that had been obscuring the newly built façade. Although I was only there for an hour, I too was content to have the opportunity to sit without much purpose, tuning in and out of the environment, oscillating between boredom and reverie. This kind of unfocused state has been marginalized in our epoch, and is hence all the more valuable, according to Adam Phillips; the psychoanalyst and writer ascribes positive potential to unstimulating situations, those times in which we are able ‘to lie fallow like we did in childhood’, in a kind of recuperative stupor, a spell ‘of vaguely restless boredom in which desire can crystallize’.55 There is a passivity which can lead us back to place, desire and intentionality, the word ‘passive’ stemming from the Latin passivus, ‘capable of feeling or suffering’. What if we went to the theatre simply to lie fallow for a while? What if we bought tickets not for the show, but for the spell of restless boredom? And what if, to further speculate, we inhabited those walls not just for a few hours, but days, months, or even years? This was the case, in the fifth century A.D., when the amphitheatre in Arles became fully inhabited: houses and churches were constructed inside and all


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around its perimeter, so that what had once been an outdoor theatre was transformed into a series of dwelling spaces, with several units nested alongside one another. The amphitheatre was thus occupied for thirteen centuries, with generations of Arles’ residents performing everyday activities inside and around its walls: people slept on the old auditorium steps, cooked in the choir pit, or conversed backstage. As architecture historian Robert Harbison points out, the houses inside the Arles amphitheatre sprang up for a simple reason: [B]ecause people needed somewhere to live, not because they followed a theory of continuous spectacle or wanted to display themselves. Nevertheless one would have felt some of the old theatre feeling penetrating these precincts. It was still an arena, however defaced.56

Picture the beginnings of this theatrical habitation: one house, then another, then another; at which point, during the gradual filling out of

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the amphitheatre, would it have been possible to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the theatre had ceased to be a theatre? Quite possibly never. In the nineteenth century, a local writer successfully campaigned to have the houses demolished and the building restored to its former use, returning a fully functioning amphitheatre to the centre of Arles.57

Arriving in the auditorium I walk through a small door, and for the first time I set my eyes upon the famous façade and its illusory perspectives, the auditorium shaped as a Roman amphitheatre, and the sky ceiling. Above the façade’s main archway is the Latin inscription Hoc opus hic laborest (this is the task, here is the labour). I wonder why I am visiting a place whose image is already familiar to me: is it simply in order to see it ‘with my own eyes’? And why am I taking so many pictures, in themselves identical to photographs I have already seen? Perhaps the real purpose of this trip, as of any visit to an iconic site, is precisely to maintain an image; we go to a place in order to take photographs, to confirm and refresh the image, so that it may continue existing as such. Our role as tourists, as novelist Don DeLillo imagines it, is to stoke a collective perception, to perpetuate the circulation of the image.58 In fact the Olimpico’s façade has been circulating for several years, not just as a photographic image but also as a three-­dimensional reproduction. Known as the ‘Olimpichetto’, this is a marginally smaller but otherwise identical copy of the theatre’s scenic façade. Built in 1948, it has toured Europe and the United States; at the Expo 2010 Italian pavilion, held in Shanghai, over seven million visitors walked through the Olimpichetto’s main passageway on their way into the exhibition.59 And yet before it was assigned this role of ambassador for the Italian Renaissance, the Teatro Olimpico underwent a long period of near-­ total disuse, remaining empty for most of its existence. How could such


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an architecturally significant room lie vacant? The answer lies partly in its unique architectural peculiarities, which can be briefly sketched as follows. The theatre was commissioned in 1580 by a group of humanist scholars and dignitaries known as the Olimpico Academy, of which Palladio was a member. The act of constructing and designating a building as a theatre, thus allying architecture with performance, hadn’t happened since the fall of Rome, 1,000 years previously. The other theatres that had begun operating in Italy during the sixteenth century were temporarily installed inside existing halls; the Olimpico represents the birth of brick-­and-mortar theatre architecture, and no doubt this accolade has partly guaranteed its legacy. The Academy acquired the site of a prison building for the purposes of building the theatre within it.60 The space imposed limitations on Palladio’s otherwise harmonious classical design: he had to squeeze a Roman circular auditorium into an ellipsis, the stage and auditorium stretching considerably out to the sides and greatly diminished in depth. A striking architectural anomaly is the portico surmounting the back of the auditorium, which in the Roman theatre served to shelter spectators from the rain, leaving one to wonder what its indoor function might be.61 Palladio’s design did not feature the famous illusory perspectives that extend behind the scenic façade; these were added later, for the theatre’s inauguration, and in order to cater for the then established Renaissance appetite for illusion.62 The vistas represent Vicenza, but transfigured so as to resemble the Greek city of Thebes, home to many ancient wars and myths, such as Oedipus. In order to give the illusion of city streets vanishing into the distance, the pavements tilt upward, while the tops of the buildings tilt downward and gradually decrease in size; the perspectival illusion only works as long as no human bodies enter the structure. One impatient spectator present at the opening show in 1585 lamented that ‘in the exiting of people from the streets, from afar they seemed like giants and when coming closer they seemed to get smaller, when the opposite should be

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true’.63 To try to correct this anomaly it is believed that taller actors would be placed at the front of the vistas, while shorter ones stood at the back. Nowadays, the vistas are treated as an Italian cultural treasure. During the air bombings of Vicenza in 1944 they were carefully dismantled and hidden away;64 and on the rare occasions in which the Olimpico, which is locally referred to as ‘The Great Old Man’, is used for plays or concerts, it is strictly forbidden to walk inside the vistas: there are in fact very strict rules determining who is to be allowed to be on stage, and what can and cannot be done once there.65 This level of care and reverence might obscure the simple fact that the perspectives, made of wood and stucco, are none other than the stage set left over from the theatre’s inaugural performance in 1585, a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. As scholars have duly noted: Born as a temporary element meant for that particular performance, the academic commissioners liked them because in that imaginary Thebes, evoked in the style of palaces in Vicenza, they saw the realization, on the illusory plane of the stage, of the grandiloquent and monumental city they belonged to.66

What the present-­day visitor sees through those archways is a left over stage-­set from a production that took place more than four centuries ago: built for that first performance, the set was not taken down, and the theatrical ‘get out’ left uncompleted. And so the set was integrated into the Olimpico itself, now destined to feature Thebes as a background. An aside: in Pliny’s encyclopaedic Natural History (77 A.D.), the entry for swallows mentions that the bird ‘will not enter a house in Thebes, because that city has been captured so frequently’.67 Unlike the ancient city, the stage-­set housed at the Olimpico is most likely one of the safest places for birds, given that it has remained perfectly untouched for over four centuries and is strictly inaccessible except to professional restorers.


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The corridor I arrive at the box office and reception area, and pay six euros for my entry ticket. I am then directed towards the theatre proper via a dimly lit corridor, displaying glass panels that recount and celebrate the Olimpico’s history. There is a general consensus among scholars that the theatre is in fact something of a curiosity in the history of Western architecture. One critic writing in 1782 warns against seeing this theatre as a model, however notable some of its features,68 while another describes it as an oddity that had very little impact on the history of theatre architecture, and cannot be said to have introduced the proscenium arch.69 Its very existence has been termed accidental, ‘an aberration, an abnormal variant’,70 mainly because of the space being ‘a sort of academic discourse in three dimensions’:71 a scholastic treatise in wood and stone, whose subject is the study and recovery of the Roman amphitheatre.72 The Olimpico was already a dated curiosity during its time, ‘an anachronistic experiment’,73 since the Roman model on which it is based was superseded by developments in illusory staging taking place in those years in Florence, where the proscenium arch fully came into being. Why has the Olimpico, then, been perfectly conserved, unlike countless others that have perished? Following its opening in 1585, with a successful production of Oedipus Rex, the theatre lay largely empty up to the twentieth century.74 The space was conserved by the Academy but unused, due to historic, economic and pragmatic factors: first, the Counter-­Reformation’s anti-­ theatrical censorship that came into effect shortly after the Olimpico’s opening, which banned many public performances; secondly, a collapsing local economy, which left many other works unfinished, and potentially obscured Palladio’s last grandiose project; and finally the fact that the theatre did not feature the increasingly popular proscenium arch, and therefore couldn’t accommodate seventeenth century theatrical machinery required to produce illusionistic, framed scene changes.75 It was only after the Second World War that the space was returned to use, albeit more as a museum and tourist destination.

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There is a strange logic of conservation at work here: the Olimpico, effectively ‘the first permanent theatre in continental Europe’,76 has survived perfectly intact despite, or rather because of, remaining empty and unused for so long. It is as though the function of a permanent theatre might be found in the etymology of the word permanence: ‘to remain to the end’.

Outside After a short walk from Vicenza’s train station, I find a sequence of large metal letters placed on top of an old archway: teatro olimpico. The signage confirms the location and defines it: ‘this is a theatre’. I take a first photograph, then walk through the archway and into a courtyard that includes a grass lawn, several pot plants, and thick ivy climbing up the old walls of what was once a prison building. There is a curious parallel between this most theatrical of ritual displacements – the passage from outside to inside, and back out again – and that detail inscribed in the scenic façade of the Olimpico: Hoc opus hic laborest (this is the task, here is the labour). This was the Academy’s motto, chosen to emphasize the effort involved in classical education and the acquisition of knowledge. The sentence is taken from Virgil’s Aeneid, at the point in which Aeneas, having successfully descended into the land of the dead to visit his deceased father, is straining to climb back to the world of the living: The journey down to the abyss Is prosperous and light Night and day, the gates of dark death stand wide open But to retrace one’s steps, to emerge into the open air again This is the task, here is the labour . . .77

The downward passage from life to death (from the open to the closed, from outside to inside) is a smooth affair; it is the opposite journey, the retracing of one’s steps so as to return to the open air, that requires work and dedication.


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There is a further iteration of this passage from outside to inside. An often marginalized fact in the studies on the Olimpico is the fact that it was entirely modelled on the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre in Vicenza, which Palladio observed and studied; known as the Berga Theatre, this Roman monument was slowly disappearing beneath plants and soil, sinking back into the landscape.78 In a sense, Palladio’s project consisted in removing the ruin from the landscape and placing it indoors, fully restored; the Greco-Roman theatre was thus rescued from encroaching vegetation and safely deposited within the four walls of a guarded room. Palladio’s gesture mirrors the larger historical development of Western theatre architecture in the last 500 years: there is an abandonment of the open air Greek model – arguably joyous, affording a direct relation to landscape, sky and weather – in favour of an indoor enclosure, shut off from the natural world, and enforcing a self-­regarding sociality.79 Today nothing remains of the ancient Berga theatre: it has been completely submerged, not by trees and vegetation but by buildings and city streets. Picture the beginnings of its disappearance: one house, then another, then another; at which point during its gradual disappearance would it have been possible to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the theatre had ceased to be a theatre?

From the train station to the theatre As the train pulls into Vicenza train station, I realize I have only three hours to find and visit the Olimpico. I start walking fast, casting a quick glance at a billboard displaying the city’s map: it has an old concentric layout, with Palladio’s theatre tightly cocooned in its centre, just next to the river. Leaving the station behind me, I head north along the length of Viale Roma: this would most likely have been one of the older routes leading in and out of town, in the direction of Rome. I then turn right onto Corso Andrea Palladio, a long street featuring several buildings and

Teatro Olimpico


houses designed by the Renaissance architect; coincidentally, the Teatro Olimpico, which was Palladio’s final work, lies at the very end of the long Corso, effectively marking out the course of his life. In fact, Corso Palladio would most likely have been the route of the architect’s funeral procession in 1580. Construction of the theatre began in March 1580, and in 19 August that same year, according to one account, Palladio collapsed in the theatre’s pit ‘as he was directing the placing of some plasterwork.’80 Along the funeral procession his apprentices carried a large alabaster model of the theatre, in celebration of his final accomplishment.81 The architect’s life thus came to a conclusion (etymologically, ‘a definitive enclosure’) inside the walls of the first definitively enclosed theatre. The history of the Western indoor theatre began in this way, as airless encasement: in a sense, to step inside a theatre is to pass from open air to entombment, from life to death. Perhaps one reason the Academy preserved the theatre is because it memorializes the death of its architect. If so, the Olimpico is effectively a tomb without a body, a spacious hall accommodating no one and nothing in particular: it is only fitting that such a room, which is neither for the living nor for the dead, should have remained vacant for centuries. To take the familiar riddle concerning the tree’s fall in a forest – does it make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? – we might ask of the Olimpico if a theatre is still a theatre when there is no one inside. One scholar fittingly describes Palladio’s final accomplishment as ‘a piece of day-­lighted sculpture’, and very much not a venue for performances.82 Perhaps all theatres, to a greater or lesser extent, share this anomalous trait. After all, they were established as urban monuments, before they had a clear function as places for performance.83 Cities around Europe competed to construct these buildings regardless of what might be shown inside, their main purpose being to stand as concrete examples of the city’s cultural prestige. Since its inception then, the théâtre à l’italienne is a ‘cathedral in the desert’, an Italian expression that


In Place of a Show

spotlights the contrast between architectural sumptuousness and a near-­total lack of functionality.84 Far from being aberrant or exceptional, the Olimpico typifies theatres as spaces from which purpose has been evacuated; in place of a show, they host a vacancy, a ‘void-­fullness’ that, as described by Italo Calvino, is redeemed by a darting presence: every theatre contains an ‘all-­powerful and ever-­present void, so heavy that it crushes the world, the void whose annihilating power is clothed in solid fortresses, the void-­fullness that can only be dissolved by what is light and swift and slender.’85

On Exporting a Building

Cuvilliés-Theater, Dalston Theatre, Teatro Olimpico, and finally Teatro Amazonas: simply mapped, the sequence of chapters reveals a geographic rippling out, starting from the writing desk, then leading out to my immediate neighbourhood, followed by a visit further afield to Italy, and lastly a trip to an opera house in Brazil. Shipped from Europe piece by piece in the late nineteenth century, Teatro Amazonas first emerged incongruously in the Amazon’s dense vegetation, the surrounding forest having since been replaced by urban sprawl. Echoing the swallow at the Olimpico, the final chapter is similarly marked by a desire to track the entanglement of the human and the more-­than-human: other lives, scales and phenomena at play within the théâtre à l’italienne, ‘a space’, as its chief apologist Georges Banu describes it, ‘with no relation to nature, an abstract and intellectual space, a space that is exclusively and entirely human.’1 Since the Teatro Amazonas crossed the Atlantic to be built inside a rainforest, might more-­than-human entities not have infiltrated this anthropic domain? Or is this desire for ‘Nature’ simply a variant and continuation of colonial myth making? Instead of travelling to Brazil in the hope of finding an exotic auditorium, the trip began from a more sober desire: to observe a familiar European construct within an unfamiliar location. There is no ‘Nature’ or ‘Wilderness’ here; if anything, the theatre’s construction is shown to abet a pernicious view of history, a mono-­focal perspective legitimating powerful ideological narratives linked to European modernity, colonialism and the unleashing of capitalism upon the world.


In Place of a Show

It is only later in the chapter, by following philosopher Alphonso Lingis’ characterization of (human) language as emerging from worldly murmurs, that the theatre’s enclosed space is seen to open to wide-­ ranging acoustic orders, twinning the human and the nonhuman in co-­constitutive relations. By attending to murmurs we might tune out of a certain European legacy which has negated natural phenomena in the name of progress, as described by ecofeminist Val Plumwood: ‘Progress is the progressive overcoming, or control of, this “barbarian” non-­human or semi-­human sphere by the rational sphere of European culture and modernity.’2 The ‘backgrounding’ of natural phenomena is foundationally identical to the othering of non-European cultures. As in the previous chapters, where the place of the text’s composition is variously foregrounded (the room, the library, the square), here a form of travelogue acts as the main through-­line, connecting multiple findings and linking the act of travelling to the material displacement of the building from Europe to Brazil.

Chapter 4

Teatro Amazonas: ‘The Opera House in the Jungle’

We no longer know the world because we have conquered it. Michel Serres

1 ‘I hate travelling and explorers’: this is the opening line of Tristes Tropiques, a book written by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1950s, largely based on a trip to Brazil.3 Far from glorifying travel, Lévi-Strauss is harshly critical of a trend of travel literature developing at the time, involving writers whose aim is solely to find ways ‘to fill a hall with an audience’ (for example, through a display of colour photographs), and whose work is legitimated by the simple fact of having travelled a great distance.4 We live in a world on the wane, and what we encounter through travel is a species increasingly uneasy about its own immurement: ‘The first thing we see when we travel is our own filth’, in other words the ruination brought about by Western civilization.5 In Lévi-Strauss’ account this ruination does not coincide with contemporary ideas of disaster – linked for example to environmental damage – but is rather ascribed to ‘over-­communication’, that is, humanity’s increasingly solipsistic entanglement with its own networks. It is as if our skin ‘had been irritated by the friction of ever-­greater material and intellectual exchange brought about by the improvement of communication’, producing a global cacophony that knows no boundaries.6 It follows that the act of travelling can no longer be one of discovery, for an


In Place of a Show

‘overexcited civilization has broken the silence of the seas once and for all’.7 Travel writing can only add to this cacophony, all the while deceiving its audience as to the existence of places and people who somehow fall outside of it: So I can understand the mad passion for travel books and their deceptiveness. They create the illusion of something which no longer exists but still should exist, if we were to have any hope of avoiding the overwhelming conclusion that the history of the past twenty thousand years is irrevocable.8

More than sixty years have passed since the publication of Tristes Tropiques, and the questions it instigated resound with greater insistence today: how to inhabit and move within a world on the wane? And, it follows, what possible roles might communication – writing, speech, discourse – take within such a saturated landscape, if any? How does one travel and write, when the silence of the seas has been broken? I am roughly 20,000 feet, or 6,000 metres, up in the air, flying over the world’s largest rainforest. I am heading to the riverine city of Manaus to visit the Teatro Amazonas, known as ‘the opera house in the jungle’, and the cultural jewel of the state of Amazonas. No doubt the decision to travel to this theatre is partly based on a certain romantic myth, a nature–culture binary, in this case the opposition between tropical rainforest and theatre building. The mind is held captive by images of lianas twisting up a neoclassical proscenium arch, and small monkeys scuttling around the auditorium’s red velvet seats. But while the city of Manaus is indeed set inside the rainforest, 1,000 kilometres west of the Atlantic, it is, like any contemporary city, an urban universe enclosed upon itself: the chances of lianas and monkeys reaching the theatre are scant. The only way to find the ‘opera house in the jungle’ is by recalling the period of its construction. In the early and mid-­nineteenth century, after Brazil obtained its independence from Portugal, and the Amazon River

Teatro Amazonas


was opened up to international commerce, Manaus barely had 3,000 inhabitants. By the end of that century it had grown into a small boom town, featuring Parisian-­style boulevards with electric lighting and bottle-­green trams, and of course the famed opera house which, at the time of opening in 1897, would have been a stone’s throw from the jungle. Today Manaus has the highest population growth rate in Brazil, going ‘from less than 200,000 people in the mid-1960s to nearly 3,000,000 residents’.9 Various multinational companies are stationed in the city’s outskirts, including Samsung, Honda, Sony and Shell. As historian Greg Grandin writes, Manaus ‘bursts out of the Amazon like a perverse Oz, steadily eating away the surrounding emerald foliage’.10 If just over a century ago the epithet ‘the opera house in the jungle’ would have been rather accurate, today it ought to be changed to ‘opera house in the city in the jungle’, since the forest has long given way to urban development. And lest we nostalgically invoke the foliage that once surrounded the theatre, let’s consider that the loss of vegetation is exactly what was announced by the arrival of Teatro Amazonas: the opera house acted as an emblem of nascent urban expansion. Erected before government buildings, its function was synecdochal, standing as


In Place of a Show

extravagant placeholder for the city that would, and did, emerge through international industry and commerce.11 Here I am then, on this Manaus-­bound aeroplane, despite the city being unfavourably described as a ‘perverse Oz’. What am I looking for? Whatever I find, I tell myself, is what I am looking for. And perhaps there will be parrots perched on the theatre’s chandeliers, and jaguars napping on the cool marble of the foyer’s floor, as though theatre buildings weren’t solely human affairs, but rather sites of ongoing negotiations between mineral, vegetal, animal and human realms. I land on a quiet Sunday evening, December 2012. The tropical heat to which I’m suddenly exposed seems to imbue everything with a kind of hallucinated vitality: even the act of walking, the rubber flip-­flops gliding along the pavement, and the pavement itself, seem saturated with an incredible charge, like a mirage made concrete. As I would later read, regarding the Amazon’s climate: ‘The tropical humidity is so intense that if you leave envelopes lying around they seal themselves.’12 On my first evening I find the city streets mostly deserted, except for hundreds of tall anthropomorphic structures, wrapped in tarpaulin, scattered on every street.

As I make my way through the empty streets I’m reminded of an altogether different journey I made back in 2010, to the small Italian town of Sabbioneta, home to the first freestanding indoor theatre in the

Teatro Amazonas


West.13 There too I arrived to find row after row of deserted streets, strangely echoing the town’s history. Vespasiano I Gonzaga, nobleman, diplomat and patron of the arts, built Sabbioneta from scratch in the sixteenth century, in accordance with the Renaissance notion of an ‘ideal city’. In order to populate the town and its Roman-­style perpendicular roads, peasants living nearby were forced to relocate within its walled perimeter. The theatre, the town’s final construction (1590), was the first in Europe to be ‘built from nothing’, as the visitor’s brochure explained, ‘independent from pre-­existing structures’. It still bears the large Latin inscription running along its sides: ‘Roma quanta fuit ipsa ruina docet’ (the greatness of Rome is told by its ruins). Vespasiano died prematurely, and apparently only got to attend a single performance, for the opening of Sabbioneta’s carnival. Following his death, the town became deserted, and remained so for centuries to come. Ironically or not, it was this abandonment that helped to conserve the Renaissance roads and buildings, which to this day have remained largely intact.


In Place of a Show

Sabbioneta was preserved through a paradoxical logic of destruction-­ as-conservation perhaps best exemplified by Pompeii: there too the town’s buildings were in a sense preserved by catastrophe, the volcanic ash falling on the town like ‘a protective blanket’, as described by architecture historian Robert Harbison: That catastrophe has had the effect of making centuries of history shrink to nothing. We can have Pompeii because it didn’t experience the intervening years, a relic without a history . . . The most extensive of all ruins never actually fell into ruin, after the roof fell like a protective blanket keeping even the most trivial objects and a certain number of inhabitants in place’14

I arrive in Manaus’ main square, Praça São Sebastião, dominated by the imposing rose-­pink opera house, its domed roof decorated with thousands of green and golden tiles forming the Brazilian flag, visible from afar and around the city. The building featured famously in Werner Herzog’s epic 1981 film Fitzcarraldo.15 In the opening scene we see the eponymous protagonist, played by Klaus Kinski, standing entranced while watching the final scene of a Verdi opera. The tenor Enrico Caruso is singing the last aria while slowly collapsing to the ground, his hand stretched dramatically towards the audience, a gesture that Fitzcarraldo interprets as being directed towards him alone, to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. As Caruso’s character expires, singing to his lover: ‘my dear . . . I command you to love me and to live . . . farewell’, Fitzcarraldo begins to confuse fiction and reality; unwittingly captured by opera’s affective apparatus, he believes Caruso has spoken to him directly, and that he must go forth and build a new opera house, elsewhere in the Amazon jungle.16 The film largely came about because of Herzog’s fascination with the Teatro Amazonas. In the journal he kept during the shoot (which he composed in such small handwriting that one would think it was meant never to be read), Herzog remarks that the theatre appears to have landed out of nowhere:

Teatro Amazonas


According to an English scholar – and the view is shared by the majority of his readers – the opera house in Manaus, the Teatro Amazonas, is a spaceship, not built by human beings. He simply rejects all reports of its construction – the blueprints, the photos, all the supporting documents – claiming they are government forgeries.17

Herzog does not give any clues as to who the English scholar might be. If the theatre did land there, however, it did so through the prodigious forces of capital and international commerce. Between roughly 1850 and 1910 the state of Amazonas and the neighbouring state of Pará experienced the so-­called golden age of rubber, one of the many Brazilian boom and bust cycles based on extracting a single natural resource. Wild rubber was collected from the forest and shipped to London, New York and other commercial centres, enabling Manaus to become a veritable ‘Paris of the tropics’, replete with all the facilities and luxuries of a European capital city. I take a walk around the theatre’s perimeter. There are no shows on today, nor will there be any during the next ten days of my stay in Manaus. In the large square opposite the theatre a few locals are sitting on stone benches. There is a stall selling tacacá, an Amazonian broth of shrimp and a spicy spinach-­like plant called jambu; the owner of the stall has set up a projector, screen and speakers, and is playing music videos by the Bee Gees. I stand and watch the video to ‘Stayin’ Alive’, and to my surprise I feel utterly at peace, weightless, floating back to early teenage-­hood, repeatedly playing the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in my bedroom in Milan, courtesy of my older brother handing his cassette tape down to me. And though the song is all too familiar to me, I realize I had never seen the accompanying music video, in which the three band members walk rather forlornly around an abandoned town, moving through derelict houses and empty streets; there are no indications as to what might have caused the population to disappear, nor is it clear to me why the Bee Gees would have chosen such a desolate setting for what is, at least rhythmically, a


In Place of a Show

buoyant song; in fact, the song’s number of beats per minute match those of the human heart, which is why the British Heart Foundation suggests treating a person’s cardiac arrest by ‘pushing hard and fast in the centre of their chest to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees’.18 I walk back to the hostel I’ve booked myself in, singing to myself: I’m going nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me now . . . I’m going nowhere, somebody help me yeah . . . I’m stayin’ aliiiiiiive.19

2 Lévi-Strauss’ dismissal of travel writers and their celebrated journeys, as described in his 1955 book, is contrasted with a description of a typical anthropologist’s encounter with the Parisian public twenty years earlier, in the 1930s. He recounts how, first of all, a cheerless ceremony to mark the anthropologist’s departure would always take place in a drab uninhabited building, and that later, upon the explorer’s return, a lecture would be given inside ‘a small, gloomy, icy and dilapidated amphitheatre’, using faulty equipment that, far from celebrating the journey’s findings, seemed to almost annul them: The projector, which was fitted with inadequate bulbs, threw faint images onto an over-­large screen, and the lecturer, however closely he peered, could hardly discern their outlines, while for the public they were scarcely distinguishable from the damp stains on the walls.20

Because the icy, dilapidated theatre was situated inside a park, the audience would consist of a handful of elderly regulars, as well as stray groups of children accompanied by their mothers, in search of temporary relief or distraction: To this mixture of moth eaten ghosts and restless infants the lecturer was privileged – as the supreme reward for so much effort,

Teatro Amazonas


care and hard work – to reveal his precious store of memories, which were permanently affected by the chill of the occasion, and which, as he spoke in the semi-­darkness, he felt slipping away from him and falling one by one like pebbles to the bottom of a well.21

It is unclear whether Lévi-Strauss preferred this nightmarish scenario, in which one’s travel account was nullified by the occasion, to the professionalized and celebrated travel literature that would later develop. Yet the tone of his writing betrays a faint nostalgia for the days in which anthropologists were worse off, as though within those drab conditions lay the enviable potential of remaining unremarked: the possibility of not adding to an increasingly deafening cacophony of discourses and images on travel. The following day I walk inside Teatro Amazonas’s elegant and spacious marble foyer. A temporary platform has been installed, its backdrop depicting a large football stadium with a bright green pitch: it is an advert for the FIFA World Cup 2014, Manaus being one of the host cities.22 A group of teenagers on a school trip promptly arrange themselves in a football team formation and have their picture taken by their teacher. This is not the first time the sport enters Teatro Amazonas; as I was soon to discover, the theatre remained abandoned for much of the twentieth century, and as a Manaus historian writes: ‘Cut off from its intended destiny, the theatre was used for activities which had nothing to do with dramatic art. For some time the stage was used as an indoor football pitch.’23 It is tempting to picture a game taking place inside the opera house’s auditorium: given the stage’s rectangular shape, the goal posts would likely have been placed at the sides, effectively in the wings; any attending spectators would have been spoilt in their choice of seating – balconies, royal box, or stalls – while a referee could have easily overseen the game standing inside the orchestra pit, in place of a conductor.


In Place of a Show

In fact theatre spaces and sports grounds share historical affinities: for instance, the spaces accommodating the indoor theatres of Elizabethan London, as well as others in France, had originally been built as royal tennis courts; this meant that the stage, backstage area and auditorium were specifically made to fit within the proportions and dimensions of tennis courts, 33.5 metres long by 9.6 metres wide.24 I pay ten Brazilian reals for a guided tour. The guide, who cannot be older than eighteen, walks a small group of us around the building, explaining how every item in the theatre bears testament to a sea voyage: the wrought iron used in the balcony railings was shipped over from Glasgow, the glazed tiles adorning the roof are from Alsace, the gold framed mirrors from elsewhere in France, the marble is from Carrara, the crystal chandeliers from Murano, and so on. The entire theatre was slowly assembled over seventeen years, each constituent part having been shipped over from Europe.25 I suspect that the ‘authentically European’ provenance of all construction and decorative materials would have satisfied the city’s aspiration to concretely embody the social and political ideology of modern European cities: the carved and gilded goods that crossed the Atlantic established, on a tangible and material level, the isomorphic pairings Manaus–Paris, Manaus–London, Manaus–Lisbon. As the tour guide points to the different components transported by ship, I cannot help but think of the last scene in Herzog’s movie. When Fitzcarraldo’s grandiose plan to build an opera house in the Peruvian town of Iquitos turns to nothing, he defiantly sets about staging an alternative: we see him entering the town’s harbour by boat, comfortably reclined in a red velvet chair (an actual seat from Teatro Amazonas’s auditorium); heroically poised and self-­contentedly smoking a cigar, the protagonist’s dream is fulfilled, if only in part, through the displacement of one of theatre’s most powerful symbols i.e. the seat. Around this privileged spectator we see other theatrical components aboard smaller boats: props, pieces of scenery and backdrops, as well as musicians and opera singers dressed in full costume, who proceed to perform on the river, while Iquitos’ residents watch from the shore.

Teatro Amazonas


As we make our way across a strip of red carpet, the guide narrates how the theatre was modelled on Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala and the Opéra de Paris. Through an innocent slip in grammar, a wrong conjugation of a verb, the young Brazilian guide refers to these iconic European buildings as if they were no longer in existence (which, to my surprise, I find deeply unsettling). We enter the elegant horseshoe-­shaped auditorium, which is indeed a beauty to behold, as the guide informs us: its wrought iron railings lend it a quality of spaciousness that is rare for this kind of theatre, and the neoclassical stucco decorations are simple and graceful, in a conscious effort to restrain the opulence typical of Baroque opera houses. The stage curtain, painted by Brazilian artist Crispim do Amaral, depicts ‘the meeting of the waters’, a natural phenomenon occurring just outside Manaus, where the dark water of the Rio Negro and the cream-­coloured water of the Solimões (which join to form the Amazon) can be seen flowing side by side without mixing for several miles.26 The epithet ‘opera house in the jungle’ acquires a contemporary resonance once you step inside; for the relatively small horseshoe-­ shaped auditorium truly contrasts with the city’s bustling sights and sounds, its street vendors, an immense fish market, and the numerous vultures perched atop buildings. If I were alone, I would stay longer in the auditorium, simply to indulge the familiar quiet that a space like this is able to recreate, especially when (ostensibly) empty. It is a peculiarly self-­thwarting desire, a dream of finally being able to connect to the social, despite or through its very absence. Philosopher John Gray warns against this type of silent solitary refuge, as it merely confirms our human predicament: ‘Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places . . . where they will be thrown back into their thoughts.’27 It is far better, according to Gray, to spend time in a zoo than in an isolated monastery. I would argue that a monastery adapted to accommodate multiple species would be optimal, especially if sited in a theatre: I dream of opera and butterfly houses, theatre-­aviaries, orchestra pit aquariums, and amphitheatres carpeted with grass for livestock to graze on.


In Place of a Show

We enter the ornate reception hall, or Salão Nobre, and are asked to wear large acrylic slippers so as to not damage the original wooden flooring. The Teatro Amazonas is a treasure trove of oddities, of facts stranger than fiction. We are told that the hall’s columns are ‘not real’: they are merely plaster and iron substitutes for a series of authentic Carrara marble columns that never made it to Manaus, as the ship that was transporting them tragically sank crossing the Atlantic.28 We are then shown a large canvas by the Italian artist Domenico De Angelis, who, without setting foot outside of Rome, was commissioned to depict some of the Amazon’s flora and fauna: in the foreground there are rubber-­yielding trees with a few squirrels perched on the branches, and in the background a large river. The guide points the squirrels out as an inconsistency, exclaiming ‘There aren’t any squirrels in the Amazon rainforest!’ I chuckle, together with the other European tourists in the group; why did De Angelis choose to paint these animals, given the vast array of fauna he could have chosen from? Perhaps it was because, as a European at the end of the nineteenth century, images of toucans, alligators or jaguars were difficult to obtain, whereas he would have had ample access to squirrels simply by walking around a park in Rome. A few days later however, upon leaving Manaus and venturing into the jungle, I would come across squirrels leaping around the trees, specimens of the Amazon red squirrel, which is native and non-­ endangered. How did the line ‘There aren’t any squirrels in the Amazon rainforest!’ find its way into the guide’s rehearsed script, a script presumably handed down to her? It may be that that line’s purpose is simply to elicit a laugh from the mainly European visitors; a laugh that, in retrospect, seemed to reassure the group that our knowledge and cultural sensitivity is far superior to that of our forebears. It seems clear that the squirrels provide a link to Europe: at the time of the theatre’s inauguration in 1897, the painted rodents would have established a sense of familiarity for the Portuguese, French and British spectators, visually suggesting that home was equally here in the jungle, where small squirrels also perch on trees. Similarly, the auditorium’s ceiling depicts four large structures closely resembling the Eiffel Tower, so that

Teatro Amazonas


when looking up from one’s seat one might remember or imagine the thrill of standing at the feet of the Parisian landmark.29 Walking around the hall I get into a conversation with the guide and mention the film Fitzcarraldo: she tells me she has not heard of it, which surprises me, not because I had envisaged Herzog’s work to be especially popular with northern Brazilian teens, but rather because I assumed that a proportion of the European tourists who visit the opera house daily would have seen the film and perhaps enquired about it, thus causing a reference to Fitzcarraldo to feature in the guides’ script. I explain that it is a movie set during the time of the rubber boom; the protagonist is obsessed with opera, and in order to obtain the money to build an opera house in the Peruvian town of Iquitos (also part of the Amazon basin), he sets off on a ship in the hope of reaching a previously inaccessible part of the forest and harvesting its rubber trees. The guide then tells me ‘there is a ship here’, and once more indicates the large De Angelis canvas, which indeed features a small vessel sailing along the river.


In Place of a Show

We stand there for a while, looking in puzzlement at the painted ship, neither of us knowing what to make of it. As the tour comes to its end, I ask if there is an archive that I might be able to visit; the guide shakes her head apologetically and suggests I visit the gift shop where, among t-­shirts, bags and mugs depicting the Teatro Amazonas, I see a large book with a photograph of Klaus Kinski on its glossy cover, his piercing blue eyes and electric blond hair easily recognizable from a distance. However, upon closer inspection I discover that it is a dance book, and that the photograph on the cover is actually of the Russian choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who, in this instance, looks uncannily similar to the German actor.

3 Throughout his book, Lévi-Strauss is plagued by doubts about travel, about how to inhabit a world on the wane. Describing a journey at sea of several weeks, he writes of the apprehension that would take hold of him each morning, when the ship would stop off at a port, as opposed to the weightlessness he felt when sailing through the night. As he wrote: It was the opposite of a voyage. More than a means of transport, the ship seemed to us to be a dwelling-­place and a home, in front of which the revolving stage of the world would halt some new setting every morning.30

Picture the anthropologist standing to one side, as all manner of cargo, people and animals would alight and aboard the ship, an operation lasting several hours. And finally the engine powering up, and the ship setting off once more, gliding effortlessly into the night, ‘as if movement were creating a sort of stability more perfect in essence than immobility’.31 The next few days in Manaus are marked by attempts at obtaining research material on Teatro Amazonas, as well as preparing for a short

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jungle trip, Manaus being the main stop-­off point for tourists wishing to head into the forest. I visit the city’s main bookshop and enquire about books on the theatre, to no avail. I find the municipal library, located in the same square as the theatre: behind closed ornate gates, a small handwritten notice explains that due to March’s heavy rains (that is, nine months previously) the library is closed until further notice. I obtain a strong lead when I semi-­reluctantly board the city’s open-­ deck tour bus: after passing by the 2014 World Cup football stadium, and what is apparently a river-­beach under construction (a digger and a loader visible from afar), I get into a conversation with the dexterously multilingual guide, who informs me that the Teatro Amazonas has an archivist working inside the building. The guide also confirms two historical anecdotes that I had noted down during my visit to the opera house, and which I was eager to learn more about. The first concerns the large ‘empty’ frames presently adorning its corridor walls; although now filled with a plain soft fabric, these wood-­carved frames are thought to have originally contained French crystal mirrors and paintings, all of which have been stolen except for a single mirror, which we were shown on the tour; it is unclear whether some of the paintings might still lie behind the fabric, awaiting restoration. Secondly, the bus tour guide confirms that for a brief period during the Second World War, when the Amazon briefly reverted to exporting latex in large quantities (mainly for the production of car tyres), the opera house was used as a rubber storage facility. Thus, the theatre built with money obtained from rubber was temporarily converted into a rubber deposit: a pleasing circularity, as though the sumptuous building were a manifestation of the valuable latex contained therein. This association between the opera house and rubber tyres strongly reminded me of a small theatre in Angers, France, which a friend had taken me to some months previously, explaining that it is now a garage where he has his car serviced: the nineteenth century auditorium was entirely filled with car parts and vehicles, while the sparks from a welding machine cast an orange glow around the hall’s elaborate stucco balconies and decorations.


In Place of a Show

Following the bus tour I return to the opera house; I find an entrance at the back, and after enquiring I am directed to a cool air-­conditioned room to meet the archivist, a Brazilian woman in her early sixties. Despite her not speaking English, and my no-more-than-basic grasp of Brazilian Portuguese, the crux of our conversation is all too clear: it seems that most of what I have learnt about the theatre is false. According to the archivist’s own research, the theatre was never abandoned, given that records show an unbroken sequence of performances taking place throughout the twentieth century; thus the building could not have been used as a rubber deposit or an indoor football pitch, nor would canvases and mirrors have gone missing: the fabric inside the frames was there from the start, to help with the acoustics. The archivist casually dismisses all these anecdotes as fanciful myths and stories (estórias), which bear no relation to Teatro Amazonas’s factual history (história). None of the books and documents she regularly consults refer to these fabrications. This archivist’s role is to uphold a strong and unassailable account of the building’s history, so as to best guarantee its legacy and prestige: no misuse of the theatre ever took place, no incursions of other activities or materials have ever challenged the imperative to stage performances in the state’s opera house. Is it possible that this unproblematic account of Teatro Amazonas is being triggered by my own enquiring presence, my ‘tourist’s gaze’? Perhaps what I am getting is what I am seen to desire and call forth: an easily exportable historical object, static, visible and photographable. As anthropologist Marc Augé writes: ‘Many of the sites and monuments we visit are effectively immobilized as atemporal objects whose aim consists solely in being seen or filmed.’32 The theatre that is taking shape through this meeting is borne of a relation, and the play of power it presupposes: because of my knocking on the door, because of my sitting down opposite the archivist, and because of my saying that I am carrying out a research project in London, the ostensibly marginal and fractured history of Teatro Amazonas emerges robust and consistent; as with any other globally renowned landmark (the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, etc.), the uncertainties of history are effaced for

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the sake of the recognizable brand, the opera house now ready to be consumed by the privileged enquiring presence of European visitors. Regardless of a traveller’s good will, the act of travelling produces these oddly static landmarks, markers of compact and monolithic histories; even the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor books and online forums cannot help but pay heed to such easily consumable versions of history and architecture. The only ‘fault’ that the archivist points out is in relation to the numerous cupi (termites) which, previous to the last restoration in 1990, had found their way into many of the theatre’s wooden beams and decorative structures: the termites had eaten their way through floors, armchairs and curtains, just as they do when they colonize a forest tree and slowly consume it from the inside out, causing its eventual collapse. But this termite problem, I am informed, is now completely rectified.33 To help me in my own research, the archivist offers to compile a CDROM of the major books and articles relating to the opera house and its history, which I gladly accept. I leave the cool interior of the archive and stumble into the oppressive mid-­afternoon heat. I walk around the city confused as to what to think or believe: was the script recited by the theatre’s tour guide merely a fabrication, much like the story of the painted squirrels, designed to entertain tourists? I chance upon another large square in which Christmas celebrations are taking place: mock cotton snow has been laid across the pavement, and a gift-­bearing Santa Claus is seen descending from a tall pine tree (or what appears to be a tall pine tree, I cannot be sure). A red firemen’s truck is parked on the edge of the square, with its motto painted in white letters along the side: ‘o amigo certonas horas incertas’ (a good friend in bad times). I find my way back to Praça Saõ Sebastiaõ and sit once more on one of the stone benches, by the stand selling tacacá. In front of me is the screen on which a few evenings ago I had seen the Bee Gees’ video, though this evening no projector is in sight; as I gaze at the screen’s white surface, the familiar tune inevitably starts playing in my head, and for a brief moment I can see John Travolta, strutting confidently down


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a Brooklyn street, the sound of his amplified footsteps falling in time to the tune of ‘Stayin’ Alive’. As I would find out after my trip to Brazil, the film Saturday Night Fever is based on a 1976 factual story by Nic Cohn, a British journalist who had been assigned by the New Yorker magazine to research and write an account of the city’s disco phenomenon; as the journalist confessed many years later, his article had been entirely fabricated: he hadn’t once set foot in Brooklyn or a disco club, and had chosen to invent the story from scratch, basing the main character on a ‘mod’ friend of his from London.34 The following day my perplexity concerning the theatre’s real or fictitious histories only increases. I begin reading through the various books, articles and documents kindly copied onto CD, and find clear confirmation of every single one of the estórias dismissed by the archivist: the building’s abandonment, its use as both a rubber depot and an indoor football pitch, and the theft of mirrors and canvases are all mentioned by various Brazilian historians writing at different times. What is more, it seems that during its heyday only one complete opera performance (that is, featuring an orchestra, a full cast, scenery, etc.) was ever mounted at the theatre, for its 1897 inauguration. The ensuing decade only featured minor concerts and variety-­style shows: the stage and backstage areas were too small to accommodate opera’s sets and technical demands, and the cost of shipping companies from Europe prohibitive; furthermore, nine Italian performers died of malaria on a visit in 1900, which made it harder to attract overseas companies. In 1910, when the rubber boom turned to bust, the theatre became abandoned and remained so for much of the twentieth century. Like the champagne bottles that are hurled and smashed on the side of ships to mark their departure, that inaugural performance in 1897 initiated a century-­long journey of abandonment: following that first lavish display, the theatre remained largely purposeless, a ‘cathedral in the desert’ (as Cruciani names the théâtre à l’italienne) available for football games, rubber storage, and whatever else might

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take shelter within its walls.35 It was only after the 1990 restoration, and a 1997 ‘centenary celebration’ with a Verdi opera, that the theatre resumed its intended function.36 The CD I was given thus contradicted the archivist’s own version of the theatre’s history, openly addressing the very events and narratives that she had somehow chosen, or felt professionally obliged, to declare insubstantial. Why had the archivist, clearly aware of the documents’ contents, been so quick to deny any narratives of abandonment or misuse? Let’s return to the English scholar mentioned by Herzog, who ‘rejects all reports of [the theatre’s] construction – the blueprints, the photos, all the supporting documents – claiming they are government forgeries.’37 This outlandish viewpoint might be useful, given that it severs the link between the building and its documented or narrated history. The Teatro Amazonas is not history made visible; its material existence can neither prove nor disprove historical facts. As the writer and philosopher Paul Carter proposes, there is a dominant understanding of history which privileges and attaches itself to monuments and buildings, no doubt for their seemingly still and immutable qualities; this kind of history, which Carter names ‘imperial’, has a ‘preference for fixed and detachable facts, for actual houses, visible clearings and boats at anchor. For these, unlike the intentions which brought them there, unlike the material uncertainties of lived time and space, are durable objects which can be treated as typical, as further evidence of a universal historical process.’38 Carter uses the very apparatus of the théâtre à l’italienne to illustrate his point: imperial history is conceived as a sort of ‘theatrical performance’, a ‘diorama history’, with the historian merely recording what unfolds on stage of its own accord: ‘This is the illusion of the theatre, and, more exactly, the unquestioned illusion of the all-­seeing spectator.’39 Such a theatrically conceived historiography allows the omniscient historian to record the sequential appearance and disappearance of discrete objects and actors on the stage. This, however, is an illusion borne of perspective and staging, for the historian’s ‘primary object is not to understand or to interpret: it is to legitimate’.40


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By virtue of little other than standing in place, the cultural jewel of Amazonas gets used to legitimate a powerful narrative of origins and continuous development, a myth of ‘order and progress’, as stated on the Brazilian flag. And because this is what the building is thought to embody, its history must therefore be presented as solid and permanent: impermeable to time, weather, termites and all other intrusions, so that the values ascribed to it might equally stand strong and unchallenged.

4 Lévi-Strauss seems to find respite in the thought that a person’s history and identity necessarily limit the scope of travel: no matter how far we might journey, we are inevitably anchored to an already existing life, to memories, to a past that we carry with us. He quotes approvingly from the travel diaries of writer François-René de Chateaubriand, on his way to visit Pompeii in the early nineteenth century: We all carry within ourselves a world made up of all that we have seen and loved. And it is to this world that we return incessantly, though we may pass through, and seem to inhabit, a world quite foreign to it.41

The first line of Chateaubriand’s citation is strikingly similar to an altogether different passage, the opening paragraph from Franz Kafka’s 1917 notebooks: We all carry a room about inside us. This fact can be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.42

To continue Kafka’s suggestion: if we listen closely we can hear a mirror rattling around, perhaps even a gentle rustling of curtains, the creaking of wooden floor boards, the slight tinkling of a chandelier: these are the

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sounds of the theatre we carry about inside us, the all too familiar apparatus made up of an enclosed auditorium and stage; a construction to which we always return, even when it seems we inhabit a world quite foreign to it. Every evening in Manaus I attempt to put some order to my notes and photographs, hoping to track emerging patterns and recurrent motifs. Before me I have a list of key words that includes Europe, Brazil, the theatre, rubber, Fitzcarraldo, the Bee Gees, football, global capitalism, destruction, Lévi-Strauss, nonhuman sounds (more on this to come), as well as places, events and people that have not made it into this account. Sitting at the centre of this map, like a talisman that will hopefully connect these disparate elements, is the image of the painted steam ship, from the canvas hanging on the wall of the Salão Nobre; why has this ship ended up in the middle? There is a longstanding connection between theatres and the nautical world, given that the deckhands of sailing ships often worked as backstage operators, applying their skills in moving large canvas sheets and knot-­tying to the set-­changes in stage performances; in Victorian London between twenty to fifty men were needed to operate a show.43 Today’s stage rigging techniques and terminologies draw largely from traditional ship rigging: a list of common English terms include the apron, the backcloth, the canvas, the scene bay, the dock, the crew, the flats, the rails, the bridge, the counterweight system, the rake, the batten, the boards, the (backing) flat, the drop, the rig, the blocks, the deck hands, the crew, the belay, the bo’sun, the cleat, the clew, the hitch, the lanyard, the purchase, the trapeze, the trim, as well as expressions such as ‘to learn the ropes’, ‘to stand by’, and ‘to set’.44 Let’s turn to the ship depicted in the painting, which the Teatro Amazonas’ guide and I stared at in puzzlement. One of the documents handed to me by the archivist narrates that the painted steamship is a specific Italian liner, from the Genoese fleet Ligure Brasiliana, a company that was subsidized by the governments of Pará and Amazonas, and which shipped many materials, as well as artists, from Europe to northern Brazil.45 Like many other ships operating the same


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journey, it ‘sailed loaded with hevea brasiliensis [rubber] in raw form and returned with [its] holds filled with the most refined manufactured goods from all parts of the world’.46 It is difficult to say whether the painted vessel is leaving the Amazon or returning to it: if it is leaving, it is most likely transporting rubber to Europe; if it is returning, then it is carrying European luxury goods destined for the rubber barons and their opulent mansions. The logic of industrial capitalism allowed for this equivalence between rubber and luxury goods: the crates filled with Brazilian latex – referred to as ‘white gold’ at the time – would be emptied in Europe, and then filled with furniture, vases, chandeliers, grand pianos, champagne bottles and more, for their return to Manaus. It is an astonishing conversion of matter, and its hidden operators consisted in a disenfranchised population of rubber tappers scattered around the Amazon forest. These workers would vulcanize (i.e. cure) the rubber by burning dampened palm nuts, thus forcibly inhaling a thick toxic smoke; at the end of a day’s work the rubber tappers would be ‘racked with spasmodic coughing and covered with smoke, dirt and soot’.47 As one critic has noted, overall the conditions of these workers were worse than those working Britain’s satanic mills and the other grim factories in Europe.48 And so, regardless of which geographic pole it might be moving towards – Europe or northern Brazil – the painted ship is essentially taking leave of one exploited people and travelling towards another. The heavy price of the rubber trade was paid not so much by the forest (the Brazilian rubber tree only grows in the wild, which limits its exploitation), but by these workers who would spend their mornings making incisions in the trees’ bark, and their evenings collecting the white latex that slowly dripped out of what were referred to as ‘the weeping trees’. The many natives that turned to rubber tapping, voluntarily or not, were heavily exploited, displaced, or killed. Other workers from north-­eastern Brazil, who migrated to the forest in the 1870s to work the trees, were instantly caught in a system of indefinite debt towards their bosses. As naturalist Sy Montgomery notes, ‘the latex

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barons built their wealthy wicked city on the bones of Indians – and the [city] people’s frenzied way of life hinted that they knew it’.49 A single baron in the basin (admittedly the cruellest) was responsible for the death of some 30,000 forest Indians. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Amazonian rubber trade, dubbed by Montgomery ‘the most criminal organization ever spawned by unbridled selfishness’, supplied all the world’s rubber.50 The precious latex became an essential ingredient of the Industrial Revolution: in Europe it was largely used in factories, for example in the machinery’s belts, pumps, tubing and gaskets. Amazonian rubber was also employed in telegraph wiring; a surge in production occurred in 1890 when bicycles first hit the market, and then again in 1900 with the production of car tyres, which ‘definitely transformed rubber manufacturing into a major component of the world’s most sophisticated industrial complex’.51 The Teatro Amazonas was inaugurated in 1897, the same year the world’s first car dealer opened in London. Fêted as the ‘most audacious cultural initiative undertaken in Brazil’,52 the theatre emerged in this post-(or neo-) colonial and economic context: the country’s northern elite made unimaginable profits by exploiting the native population and supplying a key ingredient to a burgeoning global industry, all the while clearing the forest to build a small replica of a modern European city. As philosopher Tsenay Serequeberhan notes, ‘in its global invasion and subjugation of the world, European modernity found the unreality of myriad non-­capitalist social formations, which it promptly shattered and replaced with its own replication of itself.’53 In light of this we can understand the statement of a north Brazilian politician at the time: ‘theatres march on a par with civilization’.54 Or, as Marvin Carlson notes, ‘by the second half of the nineteenth century the opera house had become an obligatory monument for any city anywhere in the world wishing to establish its European-­oriented cultural credentials’.55 The opera house was in fact the object of ardent criticism from the start, denounced for being much bigger than necessary to the


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population,56 a view that echoes strongly with the condemnation of the 43,000 capacity football stadium built in Manaus for the 2014 World Cup, in a city where games typically attract fewer than 600 spectators.57 Why then build such lavish structures? It has been suggested that the early twentieth-­century spectators flocked to the Teatro Amazonas ‘like penitents to church’, attempting to absolve or deny the culpability of their cruel business operations through the distraction of European opera.58 This interpretation misses a crucial point; for the opera house, shipped over from Europe piece by piece, entailed the re-­composition of all the attendant social, architectural, aesthetic, gastronomic and economic orders linked to a specific modern European subjectivity. Let’s remember that the theatre was built before Manaus’s government buildings: the home and dwelling place of the ruling elite was the théâtre à l’italienne, its volumes, surfaces and attendant rituals. It was through erecting the theatre that the rubber boom could flourish, not the other way round. The opera house was therefore not only the place in which to represent or stage cultural–economic prestige; more significantly, it was the site in which the powers unleashed by capital could be immanently unfurled, energized and deployed. More than an emblem of economic prosperity, the auditorium and halls functioned as the very premises for cradling and propelling a global financial apparatus. The barons and businessmen that went to the opera house were not there to seek distraction from everyday life and commerce, but precisely to fully inhabit their roles, to ‘network’ and oil their business operations. Thus the Teatro Amazonas performed a similar function to the rubber gaskets, tubes and tires being made across the Atlantic: the opera house was not a by-­product but rather a vital component of that industry, allowing capitalism to materially spread its reach across the globe. As the place to see and be seen, the opera house linked theatre architecture to the apparatus of finance and international commerce (if they had ever been unlinked): curtains, floorboards and balconies became coterminous with the production of capital and the establishing of a global financial system. And this link was physically enacted via

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the steamship that travelled between Europe and northern Brazil: as if that lone vessel painted on canvas, still moving along the river, provided a porthole through which we can observe these interconnected histories. *  *  *


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I leave my notes at the hostel and take a stroll through town. The air is slightly cooler this evening due to a rain shower falling earlier this afternoon. I take up my usual seat in the square. Looking around I notice small speakers attached to the square’s lampposts, playing Muzak-­style Christmas songs. In a bar nearby a musician is playing MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), which mingles with the Christmas songs to produce an odd cacophony. At the far end of the square small children are riding toy electric cars that move at a snail’s pace. Everything seems to be taking place slowly and deliberately, I think to myself, as though advancing inch by inch, when I suddenly see someone I recognize, walking in my direction: a woman I met briefly during a guided tour of the municipal theatre in Rio de Janeiro, one week ago. She asks me what I’m doing here in Manaus, and I explain that I’m carrying out a writing project on theatres. She says ‘oh, so performances and such?’ I hesitate before replying: ‘Not really, no . . . just the theatres.’ The woman then remarks how much Manaus has changed since her last visit three years previously; she points to all the cafés and restaurants dotted around the square, their pristine looking facades, and says: ‘All this wasn’t here before.’ And at that we say goodbye, and she wanders off. However brief the encounter, the woman’s last comment interrupts my private reverie and forces me to consider extended temporalities. Although she was referring to the newly opened, or reopened, outdoor cafés, the sentence ‘all this wasn’t here before’ could be interpreted in many ways: for instance, it could refer to the early nineteenth century, when Manaus was but a scattering of huts, long before a city rose up around its foundational building, the Teatro Amazonas. Or it might allude to a previous geological era, when for five million years the Amazon River was not a river but a vast flooded forest, the largest lake to have existed.59 Or, even further back, to a time fifteen million years ago, when the Amazon’s waters flowed westward into the Pacific, instead of eastward into the Atlantic.60 My fantastical veer into deep time does not last long; before I even realize it, I am already considering whether to write about it or not. As

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British naturalist John Stewart Collis recounts, he was once able, while on board a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, to grasp ‘the reality of a hundred million years’, only to see this knowledge slip instantly away into abstract thought: ‘That is our general trouble. The findings of geology are too recent to be as yet incorporated into our consciousness.’61 I stand up from the bench and stroll around. What do I see? The kids riding, the trees, the cafés, people eating, walking, sitting and chatting. Where is ‘history’? Where is three years ago, one hundred years ago, fifteen million years ago? It is only through documents that we can trick ourselves into accessing the past. We can read of Manaus at the turn of the twentieth century, at a time when its residents were ‘the highest per capita consumers of diamonds in the world’.62 We can read that ‘Manaus had electricity before London, a telephone system before Rio de Janeiro’, and that while ‘New York and Boston relied on horse-­drawn trolleys, Manaus enjoyed the opulence of bottle-­green electric streetcars that operated around the clock’.63 We can read a list of the town’s facilities during the golden age of rubber: three hospitals, a public library, a zoo, a botanical garden, ten private secondary schools, a racecourse, a bull-­ ring, thirty-­six fashionable doctors, twenty-­four bars, twenty-­three high class department stores, eleven fancy restaurants, nine modistes, nine gentlemen’s outfitters, scores of barber’s shops, seven billiard saloons and seven bookshops.64 And we can then read of how all this disappeared almost overnight, once the rubber that had began being produced more cheaply in Southeast Asia suddenly appeared on the market: the barons and their families literally fled Manaus, knowing everything was lost; the Parisian-­ style streetlights were switched off and the town went dark. As Greg Grandin observes: Once the gilded epitome of a rubber-­boom excess, Manaus after the bust became a ‘city of the past’, as the Washington Post observed, with the drop in latex prices ‘acting more slowly but as surely as the ashes of Vesuvius in Pompeii’.65


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I make my way back through the empty streets to my hostel. For some reason, the Bee Gees’ song is still going round in my head. Why do we hold on to certain motifs, or why do they hold on to us? I am beginning to think that ‘Stayin’ Alive’ might actually be an ideal soundtrack for derelict streets and buildings, and that the band knew this when recording the video to a song whose lyrics indirectly evoke disaster: ‘Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking / And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.’66 Picture the Bee Gees walking slowly through the film set of an abandoned town at the Hollywood MGM studios . . . Picture the Bee Gees walking slowly through the darkened streets of Manaus, after the collapse of the rubber market . . . Picture the Bee Gees walking slowly through the ash-­laden streets of Pompeii.

5 We have broken the silence of the seas. The immurement lamented by Lévi-Strauss, of humans engaged solely with their own networks of exchange, is that of a solipsistic species incapable of relating to anything outside its domain. In an effort to challenge this human entanglement, another philosopher, Michel Serres, denounces the fact that during the twentieth century we abandoned the shovel and the oar (metonyms for the land and the sea), and that our present occupations always take place indoors, in relation to human language: [T]he essentials take place indoors and in words, never again outdoors with things. We’ve even walled up the windows in order to hear one another better or argue more easily. We communicate irrepressibly. We busy ourselves only with our own networks.67

For Serres, the impoverished world we have thus produced resembles ‘stage theatre’: it is a scene ‘thick with humanity and purified of things’, a sealed interior in which the ‘earth, water, and climate, the mute world,

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the voiceless things [are] placed as a decor surrounding the usual spectacles’, i.e. human drama.68 How might we tune into phenomena that have been rendered mute and voiceless? How might we open the windows to this theatre and let in other sounds – the creaking of insects, the whirring of the wind, the humming, buzzing and murmuring of the world? My stay in Manaus is coming to an end, and I am busy shopping for food, utensils and a hammock in preparation for a two-­day boat trip. The city is well equipped in this respect, and I am clearly part of a ceaseless flux of tourists heading forth into the jungle, with cameras, insect sprays and Lonely Planets in hand. I visit a street-­stall near my hostel and order a suco de guarana, a local speciality made from ground cashew nuts, milk, and powdered guarana. I get chatting to the owner, and after mentioning that I live in London, he asks me in a rather plaintive tone if there are many cars there, his hand motioning as if to wave off unwelcome flies. I do my best to come up with the Portuguese for ‘yes, there are many cars in London’, but I am temporarily lost for words, my mind floating associatively towards a passage by W.G. Sebald, in which the writer is describing his habit of lying on hotel room beds, listening to what he calls the ‘new ocean’ i.e. the sound of car traffic streaming through open windows, engulfing the whole city: Ceaselessly, in great surges, the waves roll in over the length and breadth of our cities, rising higher and higher, breaking in a kind of frenzy when the roar reaches its peak and then discharging across the stones and the asphalt even as the next onrush is being released from where it was held by traffic lights.69

This ocean-­like rumble of traffic, Sebald warns with characteristic optimism, is gradually spelling our destruction. ‘Sim, tem muitos carros em Londres’, I manage to proffer, and wander off with my beverage in hand. I go to sit on one of the square’s stone benches and begin reading a recently acquired foldout sheet about the rainforest, produced by the


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local tourist office. Amid photographs of tarantulas and lush green vegetation, I find a passing reference to the Encante (the enchanted): according to a popular indigenous myth there is a golden city at the bottom of the Amazon River, inhabited by the notorious pink river dolphins. These mammals, which I would spot a few days later, quite by chance, in the port of Santarém, are perceived as enchanted beings, shape-­shifters who can take on human form and lure people to the river’s depths. There are accounts of people in the forest being woken by the sounds of a party – music, singing, dogs, cattle – and, upon venturing out to identify the sound’s source, discovering it to originate beneath the river’s surface, down below in the Encante.70 The dolphins’ shape-­shifting abilities can be at least partly explained by their physical features, which share uncanny commonalities with those of humans: the pink-­grey pigment of their skin lends them a ‘foetus like’ appearance, as of a ‘person in a watery beginning’;71 their bulging foreheads give the effect of a flat human face; and, most strikingly, their large wing-­like flippers each contain the bones of five fingers.72 I set the foldout sheet to one side, and take out my camera. I have one last task to carry out in relation to the Teatro Amazonas, and that is to examine the paving that encircles the theatre. At the time of the rubber boom, that is, before the advent of air conditioning, the opera house’s doors and windows would remain wide open during performances, to allow the air to circulate. This, however, meant that outdoor sounds, particularly the noise made by horse-­ drawn carriages arriving late at the theatre, could potentially disturb the indoor proceedings. And so a latex-­based substance was secured onto the paving surrounding the building. The trace of this padding is evident in a markedly darker set of old paving stones, suggesting that black rubber once lay on top. This theatre, built from rubber, was thus acoustically insulated by rubber: the noises from outside were muffled for the benefit of spectators sitting in the horseshoe auditorium, ensconced in what Michel Serres calls ‘the ideal city of human communication’.73 On the simplest level, this regime of attention is based on silencing one set of

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sounds – the accidental or ‘background noise’, which Georges Perec sought to draw attention to – so as to enable a particular form of communication to occur, that of music and poetry.74 What are made to compete here are two acoustic orders, which might be broadly identified as ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, or ‘meaningful’ and ‘meaningless’, the first term being operatic song and music, and the second the sounds coming from the city and surrounding jungle (specifically the sound of horse hooves and carriage wheels). If at first the rubber paving might seem little more than a historical curiosity, its larger implications come to light in relation to the essay ‘The Murmur of the World’, by philosopher and anthropologist Alphonso Lingis. Expanding on Michel Serres, Lingis suggests that when we enter into communication, we do so through a ‘struggle against the rumble of the world’.75 In order to narrow in on the purely signifying content of speech or song, we effectively elide ‘the glossolalia of nonhuman things – the humming, buzzing, murmuring, crackling, and


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roaring of the world’.76 Simply put: ‘Communication is an effort to silence . . . noise.’77 According to Lingis, music, as more conventionally understood, is a recent invention that participates in this removal of the landscape, of beings other than human, of noise. Music thus conceived can only be about the drama of human connection: Separated from vocalizations, rumblings, creakings, and whirrings of animate and inanimate nature, music becomes a means of communicating between humans only. Words can be added to it, speaking of the loneliness of individuals overcome through human love. But this . . . is a recent creation.78

Picture the scene half way through Fitzcarraldo, when the protagonist sets up a gramophone on board his moving ship and plays a heartrending aria from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto; as the vessel moves slowly along the water, the surrounding jungle’s incessant rustlings, creakings and screechings are muffled by the operatic aria. The ‘glossolalia of nonhuman things’ is thus muted, or ‘backgrounded’;79 the singer’s hymn to the ‘loneliness of individuals overcome through human love’ now takes centre stage: Sweet love I am a slave to your whims With a word, a single word, you can comfort my woe Come and feel my heart’s quickening beat With a word, a single word, you can comfort my woe.80

Just as at the start of the movie – when, inside the Teatro Amazonas, Fitzcarraldo and Caruso appear locked in a brief moment of ecstatic connection, to the exclusion of everyone and everything else – here too operatic expression seems to entail what Lingis describes as ‘the elimination of all the marginal and subliminal signals coming from the non-­musical sonorous medium’.81 In Verdi’s aria love is equated with fixation and enslavement to another human being; for ecologist Frey Matthews, this obsessive

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attachment is a limited version of an older all-­encompassing experience, in which we gain access to a reanimated world: ‘falling in love, as it is understood in the modern context, can be viewed as a vestigial phenomenon, a residue of an archaic modality’;82 in this more expanded affectivity we feel our hearts beat with ‘intimations of interpermeation’, recovering an awareness of ‘everything participating in everything else, [in a] mutual holding and enfolding at the structural base of existence’.83 I take a final stroll around the theatre’s perimeter. To the touch, the older paving stones do not seem ‘rubbery’. It seems odd that latex paving was not reinstated during the 1990 restoration, given that its stated aim was to revert to the ‘original’ theatre through a ‘complete and correct restoration’, a prodigious undertaking during which all decorative elements – chandeliers, furniture, crystal mirrors, curtains, porcelain, etc. – were itemized and boxed up, the entire process documented in 20,000 photos and 120 hours of film.84 Presumably the rubber paving was seen as redundant: nowadays the doors and windows of the theatre remain firmly shut to maintain a cool air-­conditioned interior. ‘We’ve even walled up the windows in order to hear one another better or argue more easily’, Serres laments.85 Might soundproofing technologies, such as the latex flooring that once encircled the Teatro Amazonas, be missing an essential trick by attempting to diminish one soundscape and highlight another?86 It is not a case of flipping the hierarchy on its head – silencing Verdi or human speech – but of recognizing the material entanglement of the so-­called background and foreground. As Lingis points out, communication happens through ‘the resonance of things animate and inanimate’.87 Whenever we communicate, whenever speak, sing and write, we do so in relation to: [T]he remote rumours and rumblings of the gods and demons; the barking dogs and the crowing roosters . . . the night insects and the frogs; the rustling of leaves; the clatter of the rain; the restlessness of air currents in the night skies; and the creaking of the rock strata – the background noise.88


In Place of a Show

Could a theatre, somewhat paradoxically, be a place to tune into the background? I imagine an audience of geologists at the opera, capable of paying attention to the ‘creaking of rock strata’ during a Verdi aria, perfectly content ‘to hear the distant rumble of the world and its demons in the midst of the ideal city of human communication’.89 Without wishing to dissolve the walls of an all-­too-human theatrical apparatus, it is vital that we pay heed to those background noises as they enter the auditorium; there is always the possibility of attending to more-­thanhuman sonorities, even while comfortably ensconced in a red velvet chair. I walk some distance from the building, and carefully position my camera to take a last photograph. I try to imagine the latex paving, and the horses and carriages quietly encircling the theatre. As I look through the viewfinder, I think of Verdi’s final dying moments in Milan, in 1901: straw was laid on the road outside his house, in order to soften the noise made by horses’ hooves; people believed that in this way the celebrated composer could spend his last moments in peace, undisturbed by the rumble of traffic. As I press the shutter button, I see the straw-­covered street in Milan, with the carriages quietly coming and going.90 I leave Manaus by boarding one of the boats that travel daily down the Amazon River. I would soon be visiting other theatres, often coming across them by chance: the municipal theatre in Santarém, which features the statue of a vulture perched on its roof, its eyes glowing electronically red at night; a hall in Fordlandia, a largely forgotten jungle town built by Henry Ford in the 1920s in an attempt to harvest rubber; a rudimentary outdoor platform in a town called Settenta Kilometros; and another ‘opera house in the jungle’, the Teatro da Paz in the large city of Belém, on the Atlantic coast: though far less known and mythologized than its Amazonian twin, Belém’s theatre was in fact completed more than twenty years before, in 1874; it too was built from European materials and once featured a rubber-­coated pavement running around it. I spend two days on the boat, either cocooned in my hammock (itself tightly nestled within hundreds of other hammocks in which

Teatro Amazonas


individuals and families eat, converse and sleep), or else perched on a plastic seat, staring out at the river through the boat’s iron railings. At night the captain keeps switching a large roaming spotlight on and off, checking for potential obstacles ahead and other boats. At one point, early in the morning, a small boat appears, towing a large assembled warehouse or depot.

Notes Introduction: A Smoke Machine that Cannot be Switched Off 1 The theatre of ‘plush and gilt, velour and cherubs’ is from Mackintosh, Iain (1993), Architecture, Actor, Audience (London: Routledge), p.61. Instead of repeating this list of terms each time, I will mostly be using the word ‘theatre’ and occasionally the epithet théâtre à l’italienne, which is the term commonly used in theatre studies for referring to the historical formation of this European architectural and aesthetic construct. See, for example, Wiles, David (2003), A Short History of Western Performance Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). 2 Stevens, Wallace (1951), ‘Imagination as Value’, in The Necessary Angel: Essays on reality and the imagination (New York: Vintage Books), p.152. 3 Bachelard, Gaston (1994), The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press), p.56. 4 Augé is writing about indeterminate and semi-­abandoned urban sites. See Augé, Marc (2004), Rovine e Macerie. Il senso del tempo, trans. Aldo Serafini (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri), p.91. Author’s translation. 5 Cruciani, Fabrizio (1995), Lo Spazio del Teatro (Bari: Laterza), p.11. Author’s translation. 6 Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space, p.5. 7 The critic Georges Banu has compiled a list of 205 principal théâtres à l’italienne around the world. Incidentally, two of the four buildings discussed here feature in that list: Teatro Amazonas and the Residenztheater. See Banu, Georges (1989), Le Rouge et Or: Une poétique du théâtre à l’italienne (Paris: Flammarion). 8 Recent ‘ruin lust’ publications include: Solis, Julia (2013), Stages of Decay (Munich: Prestel); Barter, Daniel (2013), States of Decay: Urbex New York & America’s forgotten north east (London: Carpet Bombing Culture); Marchand, Yves and Meffre, Romain (2010), The Ruins of Detroit (London: Thames & Hudson); Van Rensbergen, Henk (2007), Abandoned Places (Bruxelles: Lannoo International).



9 Höfer, Candida (2004), Architecture of Absence (West Palm Beach: Aperture Foundation). 10 The reference is to the Teatro all’Antica, in the Italian town of Sabbioneta, which features in the fourth chapter. 11 This mode of creative and critical enquiry can be likened to what Steven Connor (and others) have termed cultural phenomenology, which aims to ‘stay closer to the grain of experience’ in order to ‘particularise the study of culture’, and proposes ‘to write in a much wider range of tunings and entablatures’ than those typically practised in academic writing. See Connor, Steven (2000), ‘Making an Issue of Cultural Phenomenology’, in Critical Quarterly (Vol. 42, Issue 1). 12 Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, p.178. 13 Stevens, Wallace (1980), ‘Adagia’, in Opus Posthumous, ed. Samuel Morse French (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), p.158. 14 For example, Bojana Cvejic writes: ‘In line with Michel Foucault’s articulation of the concept, the word dispositif, as I use it, is more than a spatial or architectural arrangement of stage space; it is an apparatus that ideologically shapes spectatorial attention by organising its modes of perception.’ Cvejic, Bojana (2011), ‘Xavier Le Roy: The Dissenting Choreography of One Frenchman Less’, in Contemporary French Theatre and Performance, eds Clare Finburgh and Carl Lavery (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p.267. 15 In relation to how the mechanism of representation is still at work in one-­on-one performances, performance studies scholar Nicholas Ridout writes: ‘We appear only by means of representation, and at a distance.’ Similarly, André Lepecki makes reference to ‘the architectural imperative of the representational’ when describing the uncanny persistence of the proscenium arch during a gallery-­based performance by artist La Ribot. See Ridout, Nicholas (2007), ‘On Art and Theatre’, in Tate Etc., Issue 11, Autumn. Available at artandtheatre.htm. Accessed 10 September 2013. And Lepecki, André (2005), Exhausting Dance: Performance and the politics of movement (London: Routledge), p.84.



1  Cuvilliés-Theater: The Lasting House 1 The phrase ‘the agony of an empire can last a thousand years’ is by Calvino, Italo (2002), ‘Scrutatore di Film’, in Sono Nato in America: Interviste 1951–1985 (Milan: Mondadori), p.466. Author’s translation. 2 Carlson, Marvin (1989), Places of Performance: The semiotics of theatre architecture (London: Cornell University Press), p.6. 3 In Albert Speer’s notorious theory of ruin value, referenced at the end of this chapter, the Third Reich’s architect proposed constructing buildings that would decay in such a way as to resemble old Roman ruins, thus provoking the admiration of future generations. Here I have used a phrase by Don DeLillo: ‘The ruin is built into the creation . . . which shows a certain nostalgia behind the power principle, or a tendency to organize the longing of future generations.’ DeLillo, Don (1986), White Noise (London: Picador), p.258. 4 Marvin Carlson, The Haunted Stage: Theatre as memory machine (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003), p.150. 5 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. (2000), Munich and Memory: Architecture, monuments, and the legacy of the Third Reich (London: University of California Press), p.40. 6 Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space, p.56. 7 Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance, p.7. 8 Carlson, Marvin (2003), The Haunted Stage: Theatre as memory machine (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press), p.150. 9 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.40. 10 See Tidworth, Simon (1973), Theatre: An illustrated history (London: Pall Mall Press), p.87. 11 Ibid., pp.90–1. 12 See Apollodorus (1997), The Library of Greek Mythology, trans. Robin Hard (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p.27. 13 See Derksen, Dieter and Horst, Eberhard (1989), ‘Das verkünstelte Opernhausgepäu des Herrn von Cuvilliés: zur geschichte des Münchener Residenztheaters’, in Bayern im Rokoko, ed. Von Herbert Schindler (Munich: Süddeutscher Verlag), p.43. Author’s translation. 14 Ibid., p.43. 15 Ibid., p.66. 16 Wiles, David, A Short History of Western Performance Space, p.220.



17 Banu, Georges, Le Rouge et Or, pp.10 and 12. Author’s translation. 18 Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, p.13. Author’s translation. 19 Tidworth, Simon, Theatre, p.91. 20 Ibid., p.83. 21 Wiles, David, A Short History of Western Performance Space, p.223. 22 See Mittman, Barbara G. (1984), Spectators on the Paris Stage in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press). 23 De Saussure, Ferdinand (1959), Course in General Linguistics, eds Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye and Albert Reidlinger, trans. Wade Baskin (New York: Philosophical Library), p.113. 24 Urban, Florian (2009), ‘The New Old Buildings: Remarks on the reconstruction debate’, Goethe Institut website. Available at http://www. Accessed 16 March 2011. 25 On this idea, see Italo Calvino’s description of the imaginary city of Maurilia, in Calvino, Italo (1997), Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage), p.26. 26 Carlson, Marvin, The Haunted Stage, p.150. 27 Ibid. 28 Freud, Sigmund (1985), ‘The “Uncanny” ’, in Art and Literature: Jensen’s Gradiva, Leonardo da Vinci and other works, ed. Albert Dickson, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin). 29 See Urban, Florian, ‘The New Old Buildings: Remarks on the reconstruction debate’. 30 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.xviii. 31 Ibid., p.39. 32 Ibid., p.333. 33 Ibid., pp.39–40. 34 Ibid., p.5. 35 Ibid., p.7. 36 Ibid., p.32. 37 In ibid., p.39. 38 Freud, Sigmund, ‘The “Uncanny” ’, p.359. 39 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.18. 40 Schwartz, Lynne Sharon ed. (2007), The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald (New York: Seven Stories Press), p.161.



41 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.21. 42 Sebald, W.G. (2004), On the Natural History of Destruction, trans. Anthea Bell (New York: Modern Library), p.10. 43 Ibid., p.25. 44 Ibid., p.30. 45 Arendt, Hannah (1994), ‘The Aftermath of Nazi Rule: Report from Germany’, in Essays in Understanding: 1930–1954, ed. Jerome Kohn (London: Harcourt Brace & Co), p.249. 46 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.21. 47 In ibid., p.18. 48 Ibid., p.19. 49 See ibid., p.19. 50 Gaab, Jeffrey S. (2008), Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History: Beer, culture, & politics (New York: Peter Lang), p.5. 51 Ibid., p.95. 52 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.133. 53 Gaab, Jeffrey S., Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History, p.95 54 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.135. 55 The list is compiled from an extensive online collection of theatre postcards. See Praefcke, Andreas, ‘Carthalia – Theatres on postcards’, available at http://www.andreas-­ Accessed 15 July 2015. 56 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.21. 57 Vidler, Anthony (1999), The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the modern unhomely (London: MIT Press). 58 Ibid., p.7. 59 In ibid., p.65. 60 In ibid., p.8. 61 In ibid., p.65. 62 Ibid., p.64. 63 Calvino, Italo (1997), Marcovaldo, or the Seasons in the City, trans. William Weaver (London: Random House), p.61. 64 Ibid., p.61. 65 Arendt, Hannah, ‘The Aftermath of Nazi Rule: Report from Germany’, p.249. 66 La Cecla, Franco (1997), Mente Locale: per un’ antropologia dell’abitare (Cremona: Elèuthera), p.65 and p.49. Author’s translation. 67 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.5.



68 In ibid., p.133. 69 Auster, Paul (1990), The Invention of Solitude (London: Faber & Faber), p.122. 70 Bishop, Elizabeth (1979), Sleepless Nights (New York: Random House), p.5. 71 Freud, Sigmund, ‘The “Uncanny” ’, p.367. 72 Ibid., p.367. 73 Vidler, Anthony, The Architectural Uncanny, p.66. 74 Freud, Sigmund, ‘The “Uncanny” ’, p.347. 75 See Todd, Andrew and Lecat, Jean-Guy (2003), The Open Circle: Peter Brook’s theatre environments (London: Faber & Faber), p.17. 76 Ibid., p.11. 77 See Todd, Andrew and Lecat, Jean-Guy, The Open Circle, p.143. 78 Carlson, Marvin, The Haunted Stage, p.159. 79 Ibid., p.159. 80 On this point see Wiles, David, A Short History of Western Performance Space, p.245. 81 Todd, Andrew and Lecat, Jean-Guy, The Open Circle, p.150. 82 Ibid., p.150. 83 Ibid., p.150. 84 In ibid., p.150. 85 Before staging The Lion King and Mary Poppins musicals, the New Amsterdam lay ruined and abandoned, as perfectly captured in Louis Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street, in which we see a cast of actors perform Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya inside the abandoned Broadway theatre. See Malle, Louis dir. (1994), Vanya on 42nd Street [film] (New York: The Vanya Company). 86 Arendt, Hannah, ‘The Aftermath of Nazi Rule: Report from Germany’, p.252. 87 In Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.40. 88 Ibid., p.40. 89 Banu, Georges, Le Rouge et Or, p.11. 90 Ibid., p.12. 91 Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Munich and Memory, p.15. 92 See Munich Residenz website, available at http://www.residenz-­muenchen. de. Accessed 15 July 2015. To view the productions that do occasionally take place at the theatre, see Accessed 15 July 2015.



93 Munich Residenz website. Accessed 16 March 2011. 94 See for example Stead, Naomi (2003), ‘The Value of Ruins: Allegories of destruction in Benjamin and Speer’, Form/Work: An interdisciplinary journal of the built environment, No. 6, October, pp.51–64. 95 Sebald, W.G., On the Natural History of Destruction, p.57.

2  Dalston Theatre: Progress Report on a Missing Building 1 Klein, Norman M. (1997), The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the erasure of memory (London: Verso), p.10. 2 Perec, Georges (1999), Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, trans. and ed. John Sturrock (London: Penguin), p.210. 3 Ibid., p.210. 4 The word phantom stems from the Greek phantos, meaning ‘visible’; the etymology is fitting given that this chapter insists on the visible as a site of latent and phantasmal transformations. 5 The ‘developer’s millennium’ is from Davis, Mike (1990), City of Quartz: Excavating the future in Los Angeles (London: Vintage), p.11. 6 Historically, UK theatres have largely operated as commercial ventures, as opposed to mainland European theatres that are typically treated as civic monuments; this means that many UK theatres have bitten the dust purely under the weight of commercial pressures. On this see Earl, John (2005), British Theatres and Musical Halls (Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications), p.4. 7 See Barratt Homes (2010), ‘Dalston Square’ [advertising brochure], Barratt Homes website, available at Accessed 22 June 2012. 8 The expression ‘affordable housing’ is the latest variation of what was once termed ‘public’, then later ‘social’ housing. On this see Minton, Anna (2012), Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-­first-century city (London: Penguin), p.118. 9 See OPEN (2006), ‘The Story That Was Never Told’, OPEN weblog, 28 September. Available at story-­that-was-­never-told.html. Accessed 10 September 2013.



10 Klein, Norman M., The History of Forgetting, p.12. 11 For OPEN’s detailed account of the area’s ruination, see OPEN, ‘The Story That Was Never Told’. 12 Barratt Homes, ‘Dalston Square’. 13 OPEN (2008), ‘We are Building the Slums of Tomorrow’, OPEN weblog, 2 April. Available at­arebuilding-­slums-of-­tomorrow.html. Accessed 10 September 2013. 14 See Latouche, Serges and Harpagès, Didier (2011) Il Tempo della Descrescita: Introduzione alla frugalità felice (Cremona: Elèuthera), p.25. Author’s translation. According to the authors, a self-­destructive ‘thermo-­ industrial’ model of limitless growth, rooted in the economic thinking from 1750, came into full effect during the 1950s, when the West finally installed the structures of catastrophe through the birth of marketing and consumer capitalism. 15 See Howard, Diane (1970), London Theatres and Music Halls: 1850–1950 (London: The Library Association), p.62. 16 See Earl, John and Sell, Michael (2000), The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres: 1750–1950 (London: A & C Black), p.106. 17 See Owen, Elizabeth (1985), The Rio Centre (Dalston) Ltd: The only cinema in Hackney [MA thesis] (Birkbeck University), p.18. For the Dalston Picture house conversion it appears that only the exterior walls remained untouched, whereas the interior was largely rebuilt. 18 The Four Aces Music Club was legendary for featuring Bob Marley and being a home to black musicians. See OPEN, ‘The Story That Was Never Told’. 19 See McGrath, Gavin (2009), Cinemas and Theatres of Hackney (England: self published), p.21. 20 Earl, John and Sell, Michael, The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres, p.106. 21 Anna Minton discusses the New Labour government’s strategy of purposely allowing urban areas and buildings to deteriorate so as to justify new developments. See Minton, Anne, Ground Control, p.91. 22 Hackney Council admitted to removing the roof tiles in court. See Whitter, Winstan dir. (date unknown), Save Our Heritage: The fight to protect over 120 years of culture in Dalston [DVD] (London: Beaquarr Productions). 23 See Mackintosh, Iain, Architecture, Actor and Audience, p.40.



24 The expression is by Bennet, Jane (2010), Vibrant Matter: A political ecology of things (London: Duke University Press), p.22. 25 For the expression ‘the theatre we have in mind’, see Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, p.11. Author’s translation. The qualifying epithet ‘incessant anachronism’ is by Read, Alan (2012), ‘Stage Hands’, inaugural lecture at King’s College London, 16 October 2012. 26 See the ‘Introduction’ in Butler, Tim and Rustin, Michael eds (1996), Rising in the East: The regeneration of east London (London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd). 27 See Butler, Tim (1996), ‘People Like Us: The gentrification of Hackney in the 1980s’, in Rising in the East, p.89. The areas of Stoke Newington and De Beauvoir were the first to undergo gentrification in Hackney. 28 Klein, Norman M., The History of Forgetting, p.2. Emphasis added. 29 Ibid., p.250. 30 Ibid., p.16. Klein describes Los Angeles’s branding of itself to attract tourism as an effort to ‘maintain the imaginary as the real and make it pay off ’. Ibid., p.28. 31 Ibid., p.13. Emphasis added. 32 Ibid., p.4. 33 A reference to Sinclair, Iain ed. (2006), London: City of disappearances (London: Penguin). 34 Lucretius (2007), The Nature of Things, trans. Stallings, A.E. (London: Penguin), v.320–21, p.12. The translation has been amended by the author. 35 La Cecla, Franco (1997), Mente Locale: Per un’ antropologia dell’ abitare (Cremona: Elèuthera), p.49. Author’s translation. 36 Stevens, Wallace, ‘Anatomy of Men by a Thousand’, in Stevens, Wallace (1990), The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Vintage Books), p.51. 37 Furthermore, as Klein writes, archival documents cannot properly ‘represent’ the past they supposedly refer to: ‘Evidence is a remnant left over by chance. Very often, historical documents survive because they were not important enough to destroy at the time. They are what was not consumed by the rhythm of events.’ See Klein, Norman M., The History of Forgetting, p.9. 38 See Thomson, David (2003), The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (London: Little Brown), p.390. 39 According to theatre historian Elena Tamburini, Parma’s Teatro Farnese (1618) is not ‘the first’ proscenium arch: a pencil drawing by Leonardo da



Vinci (1508), and later the Accademici Intronati’s theatre in Siena (1560), were the first examples. See Tamburini, Elena (2004), Il Quadro della Visione: Arcosenico e altri sguardi ai primordi del teatro moderno (Rome: Bulzoni Editore), p.37. 40 See Barratt Homes, ‘Dalston Square’. 41 On the canyon effect, see OPEN (2012), ‘Dalston Junction Step Free Access’, OPEN weblog, 20 July, available at uk/2012/07/dalston-­junction-step-­free-access-­tfl.html. Accessed 15 July 2015. 42 Amato, Joseph A. (2000), Dust: A history of the small and invisible (London: University of California Press), p.5. Science writer Hanna Holmes points out dust’s ecological role: ‘Rivers of dust flow around the world, riding the invisible currents of the air. They are such an integral part of the planet that without them, rain and snow would be rare.’ See Holmes, Hanna (2001), The Secret Life of Dust (New York: John Wiley & Sons), p.80. 43 Amato, Joseph A., Dust, p.1. 44 Ibid., p.20. 45 Lucretius, The Nature of Things, v.98, p.39. 46 Ibid., v.108, p.39. 47 Ibid., v.113, p.39. 48 Ibid., v.136, p.40. 49 Ibid., v.32, p.107. 50 Ibid., v.76–81, p.108. 51 Ibid., v.127–8, p.110. 52 Ibid., v.87–9, p.108. 53 Steedman, Carolyn, Dust, p.160. 54 Ibid., p.163. 55 ‘[S]cience is a way of perceiving and making what we may call “sense” of our percepts. But perception operates only upon difference. All receipt of information is necessarily the receipt of news of difference, and all perception of difference is limited by threshold. Differences that are too slight or too slowly presented are not perceivable . . . Knowledge at any given moment will be a function of the thresholds of our available means of perception.’ Bateson, Gregory (1980), Mind and Nature: A necessary unity (Glasgow: Fontana Paperbacks), pp.36–7. 56 Perec, Georges (2010), An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, trans. Marc Lowenthal (Cambridge MA: Wakefield Press), p.3.



57 Lowenthal, Marc in ibid., p.51. 58 This is the exact reverse of the strategy I employ in the third chapter, on Vicenza’s Olimpico: whereas there I seek ‘within the theatre, to find its outside’, here, in an outdoor setting, the question is how to activate the theatre’s four walls, which delimit, frame and contain perception and experience. 59 George Kernodle uses the term ‘inclosing function’ with reference to the fact of placing two pictorial/scenic elements at either side of the stage so as to frame the space, as exemplified by the Renaissance model. See Kernodle, George F. (1947), From Art to Theatre: Form and convention in the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.19. 60 Collins Tower is named after Charles Collins, one of the founders of the Four Aces Club, while Gaumont was one of the names adopted by the cinema during its time. 61 OPEN criticised the café, mostly on the grounds that a library should not require cappuccinos. Twitter posts at the time reacted angrily to the lease being given to the US multinational. See OPEN (2011), ‘Hackney Secure Starbucks Branding’, OPEN weblog, 17 October, available at http://­secure-starbucks-­brandingfor.html. Accessed 15 June 2015. 62 Adams, Bryan (1983), ‘Heaven’, in A Night in Heaven Original Soundtrack [Vinyl record] (New York: A&M). 63 I might add that this uncanny effect came about before Google Maps introduced its ‘time machine’ feature, allowing one to navigate back in time in certain popular destinations. The ‘glitch’ in Dalston Lane could be observed until early 2015; newer photographs have since been installed. See 64 Unlike Dalston Square, the ‘square’ in Brixton is a private courtyard/ thoroughfare, used exclusively by residents. 65 On the Brixton Empress, demolished in 1992, see Earl, John and Sell, Michael, The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres, p.285.

3  Teatro Olimpico: The Avian Theatre 1 Burnside, John (2011), ‘The Fair Chase’, in Black Cat Bone (Bodmin: Jonathan Cape), p.11.



2 Heim, Wallace (2012), ‘Can a Place Learn?’ in Performance Research: A journal of the performing arts, Vol. 17, No. 4, p.125. 3 Quoted in Heim, Wallace, ‘Can a Place Learn?’, p.125. Originally in Ingold, Tim (2011), Being Alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description (London: Routledge), p.142. 4 Calvino, Italo (2013), ‘Day-­flies in the Fortress’, in Collection of Sand, trans. Martin McLaughlin (New York: Mariner Books), p.77. 5 For a discussion of the Renaissance model as foundational to modern theatre, see for example Kernodle, George R. (1989), The Theatre in History (Fayetteville, Ark: The University of Arkansas Press). 6 Barthes, Roland (2000), Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard (London: Vintage), p.71. Emphasis added. 7 Ibid., p.8. 8 Borges, Jorge Luis (1965), ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, in Fictions, trans. Anthony Kerrigan (London: Caldar Jupiter Books), p.23. 9 Ibid., p.23. 10 Ibid., p.24. 11 Barthes, Roland (2005), The Neutral: Lecture course at the Collège de France, 1977–1978, trans. Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier, eds Thomas Clerc and Eric Marty (Chichester: Columbia University Press), p.29. 12 Adapted from a Wallace Steven’s sentence: ‘It is not every day that the world arranges itself in a poem.’ In Stevens, Wallace (1980), ‘Adagia’, in Opus Posthumous, ed. Samuel French Morse (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), p.165. 13 Berger, John (2006), Here is Where We Meet (London: Bloomsbury Publishing), pp.66–7. With thanks to Emma Bush for signalling the passage. 14 Ibid., p.68. 15 Rather fittingly, in Portuguese the uppermost balcony of a theatre is called o aviário, ‘the aviary’. With thanks to João Florençio for telling me about this. 16 Bachelard, Gaston, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p.65. 17 Berger, John, Here is Where We Meet, p.67. 18 Grand Théâtre de Genève Archive website, available at http://archives. Accessed 15 July 2015. 19 See ‘The Nightingale and the Swallow’, in Aesop (2006), Aesop’s Fables, trans. V.S. Vernon Jones (London: Collector’s Library), p.244.



20 See Cramp, Stanley et al. eds (1988), Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: The birds of the Western Palaearctic, volume V (New York: Oxford University Press), p.266. 21 Campbell, Bruce and Lack, Elizabeth eds. (1985), A Dictionary of Birds (Calton: T. & A.D. Poyser), p.571. 22 Turner, Angela K. (2006), The Barn Swallow (London: T. & A.D. Poyser), p.16. 23 Mynott, Jeremy (2009), Birdscapes: Birds in our imagination and experience (Oxford: Princeton University Press), p.2. 24 See Cramp et al., Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, p.263. 25 Haraway, Donna J. (2000), How Like a Leaf: An interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (London: Routledge), p.67. 26 Abram, David (1997), The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and language in a more-­than-human world (New York: Vintage Books), pp.9 and 15. 27 Ibid., pp.9–10. 28 Sebald, W.G. (1999), The Rings of Saturn, trans. Michael Hulse (London: Harvill Press), p.67. 29 Ibid., p.67. 30 In traditional theatre studies, the term ‘device’ denotes a scenic element such as a house, tree or mountain. See Kernodle, George R., From Art to Theatre. p.8, footnote 7. 31 Reynolds, James (1948), Andrea Palladio and the Winged Device: A panorama painted in prose and pictures setting forth the far-­flung influence of Andrea Palladio, architect of Vicenza, Italy, 1518–1580, on architecture all over the world, from his own era to the present day (New York: Creative Age Press), p.116. 32 Ibid., p.xiii. 33 Ibid., p.xiii. 34 Jamie, Kathleen (2009), ‘Swallows’, in The Poetry of Birds, eds Simon Armitage and Tim Dee (London: Penguin), p.162. 35 Thoreau, Henry David (1964), Thoreau on Birds, ed. Helen Cruickshank (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.), p.129. 36 Mancassola, Gian Marco (2010), ‘Uno Tsunami in Centro: Danni per Milioni di Euro, paura per l’Olimpico’, Giornale di Vicenza website, 2 November. Available at uno_tsunami_in_centro_danni_per_milioni_di_euro_paura_per_ lolimpico. Accessed 10 September 2013.



37 To supersede the nature–culture binary, it is useful once again to quote Tim Ingold’s definition of place as ‘woven from the countless lifelines of its manifold human and non-­human constituents as they thread their ways through the tangle of relationships in which they are comprehensively enmeshed’. ‘Nature’ and ‘culture’ are seen as mutually constituted fields of phenomena. Quoted in Heim, Wallace, ‘Can a Place Learn?’, p.125; originally in Ingold, Tim, Being Alive, p.142. 38 For a description of the barn swallow’s comfort behaviour, see Brown and Ferguson and Lawrence and Lees eds. (1999), Tracks and Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe (London: Christopher Helm), p.269. 39 The event in question was part of a two-­week festival organized by Forest Fringe, hosted at London’s Gate Theatre, in April 2012. The performance-­ lecture was later shown at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (US), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Exodus Festival, Ljubljana (Slovenia), and in London at Sadler’s Wells and Royal Holloway University’s Caryl Churchill Theatre. 40 Rezzara, Nicola (2011), ‘Olimpico: in scena fantasmi, rondini e pipistrelli’, Giornale di Vicenza website, 27 September. Available at http://www. fantasmirondini_e_pipistrelli/. Accessed 10 September 2013. 41 Ibid. 42 Barthes, Roland (1995), Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (London: Macmillan Books), p.47. 43 Ibid., p.47. 44 Barthes, Roland (2002), S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (London: Blackwell), p.14. 45 Cixous, Hélène and Heathfield, Adrian (2011), Writing Not Yet Thought [DVD], dir. Hugo Glendinning (London: Performance Matters); originally in Cixous, Hélène (1999), The Third Body, trans. Keith Cohen (Illinois: Northwestern University press), p.147. 46 Serres, Michel (2008), The Five Senses: A philosophy of mingled bodies, trans. Margaret Sankey and Peter Cowley (London: Continuum), p.99. 47 See Buzzichelli, Piero (2007), Elementi di Spazio Scenico, Nomenclatura Teatrale, Teatri e Scenografie (Florence: Alinea Editrice), pp.47–8. 48 With thanks to magic historian Marco Pusterla. Pusterla’s extensive weblog can be found at Accessed 10 September 2013.



49 Berger, John (1980), ‘Why Look at Animals?’, in About Looking (London: Writers & Readers), p.23. 50 Ibid., p.24. 51 Ibid., p.24 and p.14. 52 See Nietzsche, Friedrich (2001), ‘Architecture for Those Who Wish to Pursue Knowledge’, in The Gay Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp.159–60. 53 Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance, p.88. 54 Pigafetta, Filippo (1952), ‘King Oedipus in the Olympic Theater’, in A Source Book in Theatrical History: Twenty-­five centuries of stage history in more than 300 basic documents and other primary material, ed. Nagler, A.M. (London: Dover). 55 Phillips, Adam quoted in O’Hagan, Sean (2005), ‘That Way Sanity Lies’, The Guardian website, 13 February. Available at books/2005/feb/13/booksonhealth.lifeandhealth. Accessed 10 September 2013. 56 Harbison, Robert (1991), The Built, The Unbuilt and The Unbuildable: In pursuit of architectural meaning (London: Thames & Hudson), p.118. 57 Similarly, the Roman amphitheatres in Nimes and Lucca were used as fortified inhabitations, the former being returned to its original use, the latter retaining its housing function. See Woodward, Christopher (2002), In Ruins (London: Vintage), p.32. 58 See DeLillo, Don, White Noise, pp.12–13. 59 Unknown Author (2010), ‘Variati: l’Olimpichetto all’ Expo di Shangai’, Vicenza Piú Website, 28 January. Available at leggi/variati-­lolimpichetto-allexpo-­di-shangai. Accessed 10 September 2013. 60 See Kennedy, Dennis ed. (2011), The Oxford Companion to Theatre & Performance (Oxford: Oxford University press), p.435. 61 As noted by Roberto Pane, quoted in Oosting, Thomas J., (1981), Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press), p.18. 62 It has been suggested that Palladio was consciously reacting against this illusory sensibility by reviving the Vitruvian Roman amphitheatre, with no privileged viewing positions. See Magagnato, Licisco (1951), ‘The Genesis of the Teatro Olimpico’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 13, No. 3/4, p.211.



63 The testimony is by Giovanni Vincenzi Pinelli, quoted in Gallo, Alberto (1973), La Prima Rappresentazione al Teatro Olimpico (Milan: Edizioni il Polifilio), p.60. 64 See Kennedy, Dennis ed., The Oxford Companion to Theatre & Performance, p.145. 65 See Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, (2010), ‘Regolamento per il Funzionamento e l’Uso del Complesso Monumentale del Teatro Olimpico’, in Vicenza’s Museums’ website. Available at info/servizi.php. Accessed 22 June 2012. 66 Sinisi, Silvana and Innamorati, Isabella (2003), Storia del Teatro: Lo spazio scenico dai Greci alle avanguardie (Milan: Mondadori), p.93. Emphasis added; author’s translation. 67 See Pliny the Elder (ca. A.D. 77–79), Natural History, ed. John Bostock, available at Accessed 10 September 2013. Emphasis added. 68 Patte, Pierre (1782), Essai sur l’Architecture Théâtrale, ou de l’ordonnance la plus avantageuse à une salle de spectacles, relativement aux principes de l’optique & de l’acoustique (Paris: Libraire-Imprimeur de la Reine), p.64. 69 Kernodle, George R., From Art to Theatre, p.295. 70 Magagnato, Licisco, ‘The Genesis of the Teatro Olimpico’, p.220. 71 Ackerman, James S. (1991), Palladio (London: Penguin Books), p.34. 72 Cruciani describes the Olimpico as a predominantly academic project that ‘consecrates a century of theoretical and practical reflection on the ancient theatre’. Tamburini notes that it was never a ‘pure’ study of antique theatre, while Ackerman defines it as a celebration of the humanist–antiquarian drive of the Renaissance. See Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, pp.21–2. Author’s translation. And Tamburini, Elena, Il Quadro della Visione, p.43. And Ackerman, James S., Palladio, p.34. 73 Magagnato, Licisco, ‘The Genesis of the Teatro Olimpico’, p.214. 74 According to Oosting, following the theatre’s inauguration, thirty-­three years passed until another production was staged, and no other events (save the occasional reception) took place after that; he ends his scholarly study with the line: ‘Most enigmatic is the theatre’s nearly total disuse until the present century.’ Oosting, Thomas J., Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, p.148. 75 See Tamburini, Elena, Il Quadro della Visione, p.43. 76 Oosting, Thomas J., Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, p.1. Emphasis added.



77 Virgil (1991), Aeneid, trans. David West (London: Penguin), Book VI, v.126–9, p.136. The translation has been slightly amended by the author. 78 Harbison defines a ruin simply as a building sinking back into the landscape. See Harbison, Robert, The Built, The Unbuilt and The Unbuildable, p.106. 79 On this point see Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance, p.61. 80 Reynolds, James, Andrea Palladio and the Winged Device, p.118. 81 Ibid., p.118. 82 Oosting is paraphrasing Licisco Magagnato, see Oosting, Thomas J, Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, p.15. 83 Fabrizio Cruciani writes: ‘The theatre building became a requisite before its function was established. [It] is, from the 500s to the 900s, a city monument.’ Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, p.6. Author’s translation. 84 The expression is used by Cruciani. See ibid., p.178. 85 Calvino, Italo, ‘Day-­flies in the Fortress’, in Collection of Sand, p.77.

4  Teatro Amazonas: ‘The Opera House in the Jungle’ 1 Banu, Georges, Le Rouge et Or, p.14. Author’s translation. 2 Plumwood, Val (2003), ‘Decolonizing relationships with nature’, in Decolonizing Nature: Strategies for conservation in a post-­colonial era, eds William Adams and Martin Mulligan (London: Earthscan), pp.52–3. 3 Lévi-Strauss, Claude (2011), Tristes Tropiques, trans. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman (London: Penguin), p.17. 4 Ibid., pp.17–18. 5 Ibid., p.38. 6 Ibid., p.29. For ‘over-­communication’ see also his Myth and Meaning, where he writes: ‘It is only in conditions of under-­communication that [cultures] can produce anything.’ In Lévi-Strauss, Claude (2001), Myth and Meaning (London: Routledge), p.15. 7 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Tristes Tropiques, p.37. 8 Ibid., p.38. 9 Grandin, Greg (2010), Fordlandia: The rise and fall of Henry Ford’s forgotten jungle city (London: Icon Books), p.357.



10 Ibid., p.357. 11 In their brief history of Brazilian opera houses, De Toledo and de Oliveira note: ‘[I]n the republican era, and in addition to the prevailing ambition to achieve higher cultural standards, opera houses were associated with extensive city renovation plans which, to a certain extent, they came to symbolise.’ In De Toledo, Lima and Marques, Elza B. de Oliveira (1995), ‘Opera Houses’, in The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol. 21, p.49. 12 Herzog, Werner (2010), Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the making of Fitzcarraldo (New York: Ecco Harper Collins), p.118. 13 The Teatro all’Antica in Sabbioneta is also the first theatre to feature a back entrance allowing actors and musicians to access dressing rooms, as well as a foyer for spectators. It was designed by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi shortly after completing work on Palladio’s Olimpico, in 1588–1590. 14 Harbison, Robert, The Built, the Unbuilt and the Unbuildable, pp.119–20. 15 Curiously, when Herzog shot the footage of the theatre, its exterior was painted a light sky blue, not rose pink. There is ongoing uncertainty over the building’s original colour, with some historians maintaining it was actually grey (a fact which black and white photographs can neither prove nor disprove), and that the current pink is a misinterpretation of ‘a law, from 1869, according to which all plans for buildings had to feature varying degrees of that pink to indicate which type of masonry they were going to be built in’. See Mesquita, Otoni (2006), Manaus: História e arquitetura, 1852–1910 (Manaus: Editora Valer), p.217. Author’s translation. 16 See Herzog, Werner dir., (1981), Fitzcarraldo [film] (West Germany and Peru: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion). Writers who have analyzed the opening scene from Fitzcarraldo include Koepnick and Sebald. See Koepnick, Lutz (2012), ‘Archetypes of Emotion: Werner Herzog and Opera’, in A Companion to Werner Herzog, ed. Brad Prager (Chichester: Blackwell Publishing), and Sebald, W.G. (2005), ‘Moments Musicaux’, in Campo Santo, ed. Sven Meyer, trans. Anthea Bell (London: Penguin). 17 Herzog, Werner, The Conquest of the Useless, pp.97–8. 18 See British Heart Foundation, ‘Hands-Only CPR FAQs’, available at http://­health/life-­saving-skills.aspx. Accessed 10 September 2013. 19 Bee Gees (1977), ‘Stayin’ Alive’, on Saturday Night Fever: the original movie soundtrack [Vinyl record] (France: RSO).



20 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Tristes Tropiques, p.18. 21 Ibid., p.18. 22 A few days before hosting the first World Cup game in Manaus, between England and Italy, concerns were raised about the pitch’s dry condition after workers were seen applying green paint to the grass surface. See Wallace, Sam (2014), ‘England v Italy: Are they painting the Manaus pitch green?’, The Independent website, 12 June. Available at http://www.­v-italy-­manausin-­manic-race-­to-be-­ready-for-­opener-9533539.html. Accessed 2 July 2015. 23 Aguiar, Francisco (1991), Teatro Amazonas: Monumento à arte in plena selva (Manaus: publisher unknown), p.16. 24 See Mackintosh, Iain, Architecture, Actor and Audience, p.16. 25 The construction took seventeen years mainly due to a bureaucratic hold up. First conceived in 1881, there followed four years of construction, eleven of political–administrative wrangling, and another two to resume and complete the work. See Aguiar, Francisco, Teatro Amazonas, p.9. 26 Curiously, the water depicted on the stage curtain, as Montgomery points out, is ‘as blue as the Danube’. See Montgomery, Sy (2000), Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon quest (New York: Simon & Schuster), p.24. 27 Gray, John (2002), Straw Dogs: Thoughts on humans and other animals (London: Granta), pp.150–1. 28 It was the Santarense ship that was lost at sea; on this see COMAGI co. (1990), ‘Uma Obra Escola’ (Manaus: COMAGI construction company), unnumbered. On the shortage of European materials, see Ivone, Marguelis ‘At The Edge of My Seat: Teatro Amazonas’, in Lockhart, Sharon (1999), Teatro Amazonas (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers), p.97. According to one historical source the columns had always meant to be ‘fake’, in keeping with the taste for illusion and trompe l’oeil typical of neo-Renaissance architecture: on this see Derenji, Jussara (1996), Teatros da Amazônia, Theaters of Amazonia (Belém: FUMBEL), p.73. 29 With reference to post-­colonial discourse, we might say that through these material–architectural practices Manaus became ‘worlded’, a term coined by Gayatri Spivak to describe the way in which colonized space is brought into the world, that is, made to exist as part of a Eurocentric capitalist reality. See Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988), ‘Can The Subaltern Speak?’, in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press).



30 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Tristes Tropiques, pp.61–2. 31 Ibid., p.61. 32 Augé, Marc in Aime, Marco and Papotti, Davide (2012), L’Altro e l’Altrove: Antropologia, geografia e turismo (Turin: Einaudi), p.71. Author’s translation. Similarly, anthropologists Aime and Papotti write of Dogon culture and its people as ‘frozen’ by Western tourists’ view of it, idealized into immobility, a gaze that has its roots in colonial–ethnographic practices. See Ibid., p.171. 33 According to the pamphlet produced by the restoration company, termites were the main cause for the theatre’s disrepair. Forty cubic metres of termite-­eaten wood had to be removed and replaced during the last restoration. See Comagi co., ‘Uma Obra Escola’, pages unnumbered. 34 See LeDuff, Charlie (1996), ‘Saturday Night Fever: The life’, The New York Times website, 9 June. Available at nyregion/saturday-­night. Accessed 10 September 2013. 35 Cruciani, Fabrizio, Lo Spazio del Teatro, p.178. 36 In fairness to the State of Amazonas’ efforts to preserve their cultural symbol, there were other, less successful attempts at restoring the theatre, in the late 1920s, early 60s and early 70s. It seems many of these actually did substantial damage to the theatre’s original decor, which the final restoration sought to reverse. Throughout the twentieth century the opera house was intermittently used for galas, receptions, and the occasional performance, but never opera. 37 Herzog, Werner, The Conquest of the Useless, pp.97–8. 38 Carter, Paul (2006), Road to Botany Bay: An essay in spatial history (London: Faber & Faber), p.xvi. 39 Ibid., p.xv. 40 Ibid., p.xvi. 41 Chateaubriand, François-René (1921), Voyage en Italie (Grenoble: Jules Céas & Fils), p.82. Author’s translation. 42 Kafka, Franz (1991), The Blue Octavo Notebooks, ed. Max Brod (Cambridge USA: Exact Change), p.1. 43 See Southern, Richard (1970), The Victorian Theatre: A pictorial survey (Newton Abbot: David & Charles Ltd), p.62. 44 Entries taken from Harrison, Martin (1998), The Language of Theatre (Manchester: Carcanet), and Connor, Steven (2003) ‘Steam Radio: on



theatre’s thin air’, available at Accessed 10 September 2013. 45 See Derenji, Jussara, Teatros da Amazônia, Theaters of Amazonia, p.70. 46 Aguiar, Francisco, Teatro Amazonas, p.2. 47 Woodroffe, Joseph quoted in Hemming, John (2008), Tree of Rivers: The story of the Amazon (London: Thames & Hudson), p.202. 48 The ‘great Brazilian novelists José Verissimo and Euclides de Cunha chronicled the rubber trade as vividly as Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens were dramatizing the grim factories in Europe’. See Hemming, John, Tree of Rivers, p.203. 49 Collier, Richard quoted in Montgomery, Sy, Journey of the Pink Dolphins, p.24. 50 Montgomery, Sy, Journey of the Pink Dolphins, p.204. 51 Weinstein, Barbara (1983), The Amazon Rubber Boom: 1850–1920 (Stanford: Stanford University Press), p.165. 52 As described in Aguiar, Francisco, Teatro Amazonas, p.3. 53 Serequeberhan, Tsenay (1997), ‘The Critique of Eurocentrism’, in Post-­ colonial African Philosophy, ed. Emmanel Eze (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing), p.143. 54 From Derenji, Jussara, Teatros da Amazônia, Theaters of Amazonia, p.12. Emphasis in the original. 55 Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance, p.83. 56 See Otoni Mesquita, Manaus, p.211. 57 See Watts, Jonathan (2013), ‘Brazil Prepares for World Cup as Criticism Mounts Over Cost’, The Guardian website, Sunday 9 June. Available at http:// /2013/jun/09/world-­cup-brazil-­cost-mounts. Accessed 10 September 2013. In a paragraph that strongly echoes the theatre’s construction, the journalist notes: ‘There is no nearby cheap and abundant source of steel that can be delivered on time to the required technical standards. Instead, all 6,700 tons are being smelted in Portugal, shipped across the Atlantic and down the Rio Negro. Only two of the three ships have arrived.’ 58 Montgomery, Sy, Journey of the Pink Dolphins, p.24. 59 See ibid., p.47. 60 See ibid., p.47. 61 Collis, John Stewart (1973), The Worm Forgives the Plough (London: Penguin), p.203.



62 Montgomery, Sy, Journey of the Pink Dolphins, p.22. 63 Ibid., p.31. 64 This list, which has been slightly edited, is from Hemming, John, Tree of Rivers, p.181. 65 Grandin, Greg, Fordlandia, p.357. 66 Bee Gees, ‘Stayin’ Alive’. 67 Serres, Michel, (1998), The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press), p.29. 68 Ibid., p.3. 69 Sebald, W.G. (2000), Vertigo, trans. Michael Hulse (London: The Harvill Press), p.63. 70 This account features in Montgomery, Sy, Journey of the Pink Dolphins, p.73. 71 Ibid., p.28. 72 Ibid., pp.288–9. 73 Serres, Michel, quoted in Lingis, Alphonso (1994), The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common (Bloomington: Indiana University press), p.105. 74 ‘What’s really going on . . .? How should we take account of . . . what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, . . . the background noise, the habitual?’ Perec, Georges, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, pp.209–10. 75 Lingis, Alphonso, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, p.75. 76 Ibid., p.84. 77 Ibid., p.71. 78 Ibid., pp.99–100. 79 Val Plumwood makes a strong case for a parallel between the colonial ‘backgrounding’ of nature and the practices of ‘othering’ cultures. See Plumwood, Val (2002), Environmental Culture: The ecological crisis of reason (London: Routledge). 80 Verdi, Giuseppe [music] and Piave, Francesco Maria [libretto] (1851), Rigoletto (Venice: Teatro la Fenice). Available at http://www.librettidopera. it/rigoletto/pdf.html. Accessed 10 September 2013. Author’s translation. 81 Lingis, Alphonso, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, p.102.



82 Mathews, Freya (2003), For Love of Matter: A contemporary panpsychism (New York: State University of New York Press), p.20. 83 Ibid., p.3. 84 See Comagi co., ‘Uma Obra Escola’, pages unnumbered. 85 Serres, Michel, The Natural Contract, p.29. 86 Regarding soundproofing, Lingis writes: ‘Advances in soundproofing technologies and digital recording promise the complete elimination of background noise. Sensory-­deprivation tanks were first invented in the ’60s by John C. Lilly who was working with dolphins and, like every diver, loved the silence and the bliss of deep-­sea diving and thought to duplicate it on land.’ In Lingis, Alphonso, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, pp.92–3. 87 Ibid., p.104. 88 Ibid., pp.102–3. 89 Ibid., p.105. Emphasis added. 90 Verdi’s death is recounted in Sebald, W.G., ‘Moments Musicaux’, in Campo Santo, pp.204–5.

Image Credits Unless listed, all images in the present work are copyright of the author. Page 6 Photograph of Teatro Alla Scala after August 1943 bombing, courtesy of the archive Fondo Luigi Lorenzo Secchi, Archivi Storici, Politecnico of Milan (ASBA). 11 Unsent postcard of the Cuvilliés-Theater auditorium. Photographer unknown. 12 Photograph of the Cuvilliés-Theater auditorium © Wilfried Hösl. Used by permission of Wilfried Hösl, with thanks. 16 Postcard of the Befreiungshalle overlooking the Danube. Photographer unknown. 23 Unsent postcard of the Befreiungshalle’s interior in Kelheim. Photographer unknown. 87 Engraving of the Teatro Olimpico façade. Reprinted from Pierre Patte (1782), Essai Sur l’Architecture Théâtrale, ou de l’ordonnance la plus avantageuse à une salle de spectacles, relativement aux principes de l’optique & de l’acoustique (Paris: Libraire-Imprimeur de la Reine). British Library collection. 89 Photograph of the Olimpico’s auditorium © Pino Guidolotti. From Andrea Palladio Atlante delle Architetture, Marsilio Editore, 2000. Used by permission of Pino Guidolotti, with thanks. 93 Photograph of the Grand Théâtre de Genève’s auditorium. Used by permission of the Centre d’Iconographie Genevoise. 95 Photograph of the fire at Grand Théâtre de Genève, 1951. Used by permission of the City of Geneva, with thanks. 99 Drawings of Palladian buildings, by James Reynolds, 1948. Reprinted from Andrea Palladio and the Winged Device, by James Reynolds (New York: Creative Age Press). 102 Photograph of flood in Vicenza, 2 November 2010, by Cristina Saluti. Used by permission of Cristina Saluti, with thanks.


Image Credits

Page 112 Arles Amphitheatre eighteenth century engraving, by J.B. Guibert. With thanks to Robert Schediwy. 147 Photograph of the Teatro Amazonas’ auditorium, 1901. With thanks to Rogel Samuel.

Epigraph Credits Excerpt from Selected Essays by John Berger, copyright © 2001 by John Berger. Introduction, copyright © 2001 by Geoff Dyer. Used by permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Excerpt from Architecture, Actor, Audience by Iain Mackintosh, copyright © 2005 by Iain Mackintosh (London: Routledge), p.78. Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis group. Excerpt from ‘I Ricordi Perfavore No: Conversazione con Giorgio Agamben’ by R. Andreotti and F. De Melis. Reprinted by permission of Alias and Il Manifesto newspaper. Author’s translation. Excerpt from Essays in Understanding: 1930–1954 by Hannah Arendt, copyright © 1994 by Hannah Arendt. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust. Excerpt from Objects in This Mirror: Essays by Brian Dillon, copyright © 2014 by Brian Dillon. Reprinted by permission of Sternberg Press. Excerpt from Les Amis Inconnus by Jules Supervielle, copyright © 1934 Editions Gallimard, Paris. Reprinted by permission of Editions Gallimard. Author’s translation. Excerpt from Le Contrat Naturel by Michel Serres, copyright © 1994 Flammarion, Paris. Author’s translation.

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