Enemy of the Stars in Performance

In: BLAST at 100

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As a central component of the July 2014 BLAST at 100 symposium in Trinity College Dublin, the organisers commissioned the first performance of Wyndham Lewis’s famously “unstageable” play Enemy of the Stars. This challenging text blends images, extended prose, and theatrically “impossible” stage directions with more conventional dialogue. Working with the 1914 published BLAST version as an exclusive source, directors Nicholas E. Johnson and Colm Summers collaborated with undergraduate actors, designers, and technicians to create a site-specific and semi-immersive experience of the play. Rather than a theatrical performance in the conventional sense, this was practice-as-research, presenting the experimental outcomes that emerged from theatre artists grappling with Lewis’s 1914 text. This essay sets out to explore the questions, methods, insights, and results that arose during the process of creating the performance, as well as providing documentation, critical analysis, and reflection from both directors. Methodologically, this essay will address the significant potential of performance as a strategy of literary investigation, including for texts that are not inherently dramatic. Finally, the pedagogical and political potential of this method within modernist literary studies and the contemporary university is explored, given the intensive involvement of students at every level of the process.