Practice and practising are intrinsically linked, the doing and undoing, an engaged and never ending pursuit, a mode of being, an action or a ritual that can be repeated but never perfected. The practice is where the public and private intersect, often on the backs of unpaid labour, a labour that sometimes involves love, at other times an obsessive repetition and treacherous deconstruction in the attempt to reach the impossible complete articulation.
Interchangeably placed, at times in the background and then in the foreground, practice and practising 1 exist in a disturbed chronology of all time and no time. When did the practice begin? Did the practising come before or after?
One might practise in order to avoid thinking while in the practice, cultivating a possibility for awareness not situated in the theoretical but in the active now. This is most certainly the territory of the elite athlete, the dancer, the yogi master and all other expressions reliant on the rehearsal of the corporal including that of the actor, the musician, the baker, the typist, the painter, the surgeon and the linguist.
Praxis can at times be seen as synonymous with practice, although in the Marxist sense of the word it must be connected to a theoretical basis, an emancipatory endeavour. As a liberating act, praxis desires to separate itself from being reduced to practice, to uncritical application of customs and codes. Praxis implies transformation on a larger scale, whereas practice in and of itself does not necessarily require this, in the way that social actions reverberate and narratives delineate. If theory developed and redeveloped in practice is praxis, then a dialectic is implied, and neither the action, activity, nor practice presumes the primacy of the other.
But what if we are to remove from the equation this philosophical investigation, this aggrandizement of practice into praxis, and concentrate solely on practice and practising? And if we localize these words within the cabaret commons what more is to be illuminated and discovered?
In Live Art there is always some kind of preparation before the practice, be it in the downing of a shot, a repetition of lines or actions to be performed, the emptying of thoughts to invite the present task in. The practice is the product of the live performer, it is what draws our attention to them, it is what entertains us, disturbs, disrupts, bores and sometimes moves. Practising is what constitutes the cultural capital of the artist, the practice provides the resource from which economic capital can be hoped for. Unfortunately, neo-colonialist forces relying on capitalist structures that emphasize the profits of global distribution systems over periods of development and experimentation make the project of getting paid for artistic practice quite difficult. To paraphrase the musician Diamanda Galas, “people want the piece but they don’t want to pay for the production of the work. ...people now (only) want (to pay for) the final product... the theatrical version.“ 2
Furthermore, the quantifying and commodifying of the cabaret art form proves to be a difficult task. Inherently it is never stable, always changing, and its unpredictable dynamics (form, roster of acts, aesthetics, audience, space) are what create the allure and attraction. But then how does one practise for this? The instability of the encounter calls out for improvisation, volatile inspired moments that challenge spectators to find the joy in being destabilized, disturbed and unsettled. An audience that arrives and stays for this experience cannot expect the next cabaret will be like the one before or the one after. Like the one night affair or the public sex encounter spectators experience a confluence of energies that must be savoured in the moment and never to be exactly repeated under exactly the same conditions ever again.
The perseverance and persistence, the practising, is the grounding, the training, the preparation, but also the utterance, the speech, the voice of the live moment, its fundamental ontology. Practising can create contingencies, preparedness for the unexpected or unknown, allowing for improvisation when necessary and the ability to confidently say “yes” to the moment. It is the counterplot, the conspiracy and the sedition that mocks the cultured, the fashionable and the erudite. Sometimes it becomes the source for change and then sometimes it becomes the rule.
Are we able to practise collectively as a society? Certainly Judith Butler linked the performance of gender to this idea of practising and practice with her idea that “...performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its affects through its naturalization in the context of a body, understood, in part, as a culturally sustained temporal duration.”[note]Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999.[/note] Interestingly, these ideas have remained dangerous, Butler having become the embodiment of the radical (and counter Christian) idea that gender is not a natural construction but obtained through repetition. In the French language “répétition” is a way of expressing “rehearsal” or a “practice”, and while it can be carried out individually it is also at times something done collectively, generationally, embodied, like the way our DNA adapts or the evolution of cooking/eating rituals/customs that keep us from poisoning ourselves every time we go to make supper.
And finally, Living is also a practice, one composed of an ongoing practising for the final outcome, Death. In Life, the body domesticates itself, trains itself to living, to the repetition of breathing, internal pumping, ingesting and excreting. It must then unlearn this practice, or become incapable of it, and turn towards a new preparation, a readying for the practice of complete stillness, in which it can be said, the unending cycle of practising has finally concluded...
Stephen Lawson is a transdisciplinary artist, performer, curator, and educator.