This thesis presents a systematic investigation of the backstage spaces of theatres in the city of Sydney, Australia, combining the documentation of eight specific theatre buildings with ethnographic accounts of performers’ activities within them. As the
title of the thesis suggests, my focus throughout is to better understand the ‘place’ of performers, the ways in which performers inhabit certain physical, social, and imaginative realms. Through this thesis I assess the impact of backstage spaces on
performers’ work processes, their performances, and their own understandings of
what it is to be a performer.
To undertake this assessment I conduct a tripartite survey of the backstage spaces
afforded performers, taking into consideration ‘perceived’ space (space as it is empirically measured), ‘conceived’ space (space as it is represented), and ‘lived’
space (space as it is experienced). Approaching this survey via Edward Casey’s
understanding of ‘place,’ my analysis is informed by a range of theories, notably,
spatial syntax analysis, discourse analysis, and phenomenology.
Through this thesis I develop two overarching and interconnected arguments. The first
is that theatrical performance is profoundly affected by the features of backstage
support spaces and by performers’ backstage practices. Building on this, the second is
that a study of backstage spaces offers a particularly apposite approach to further
understanding the ‘place’ of theatrical performers. I contend that the backstage spaces performers inhabit can be characterised by their very poverty and that these poor conditions testify to a widespread ignorance and ambivalence on the part of society at large towards performers’ needs. Furthermore, noting the way in which performers valorise their own abilities to compromise and adapt, I argue that backstage areas largely inform performers’ dominant discourses of professionalism and worth.
Ultimately, I identify the ‘place’ of the performer as one of flux that necessitates the constant negotiation of significant tensions. [Please note: The photographic documentation and building plans referred to in the text of this thesis are not available online. Please contact the Department of Performance Studies at the University of Sydney or the Sydney eScholarship Repository.]