Deb Margolin’s Performance Composition: Writing and Embodying

Poetry and the Monologue

These four pages comprise two examples of Margolin’s performative writing. The first image is a selection from her earlier collection of writing and notes. This piece is housed in the collection with her poetry, notes and drafts from approximately the 1970’s, however this example does not have an exact date. The subsequent three pages make up a monologue from her script “Of All the Nerve,” this one is titled “Out of Work Jazz Musician.” These two selections are put in conversation through this exhibit that seeks to view Margolin’s personal development as a performative writer and how her writing may evoke performative qualities even when it is not presented in script form.

The line, “So I stand over my thoughts and dreams…” immediately acquaints the reader with Margolin’s point of view, that is imaginative and limitless, because the ‘I’ is ‘standing over’ or existing above/beyond the intangible essence of ‘thoughts and dreams.’ This imagined circumstance is poetic precisely because it is impossible in terms of the literal and the metaphor and allusions throughout are lyrical as well as historical. This mixing of free indirect discourse with evocative description creates a sense of flowing consciousness and self-awareness within the writing that is performed by the ‘I’ who follows this train of thought to the end of the page. This point of view affects a specificity that is accessible only though this mode of stream of consciousness, where the progression of the piece is contingent upon associations that are automatic to the narrative perspective.

This is how automatic writing is performative. Firstly, it is performative to the writer herself. As Margolin convinces her students reading her syllabus, “by sheer dint of spiritual gravity, the writer tends to drop deeper and deeper, surprising herself.” And the subsequent association with this surprise written out in front of her will compel the actor to probe the feeling or the place from whence this image, story, experience, description…etc, arose from; this process may be tracked in the development of this piece from beginning to end.

The Context of ‘The Script’

The monologue selection, by comparison is more obviously performative, however there are detectable traces of style and technique that carry over from her earlier writing. Written about 20 years later, this monologue is exemplary of Margolin’s performative aim to collapse boundaries. One way that the writer does this is through automatic writing, which collapses the internal boundaries in the writer’s mind when trying to write logically and clearly. In “Out of Work Jazz Musician,” Margolin’s writing collapses another boundary by engaging the actor with the character and with the audience, simultaneously. ‘Collapsing boundaries’ is the conscious action of effecting a realness and presence in performative writing, so that the art of performance is presented to the audience as true life. It can be collapsing boundaries of identity, time, reality, gender…etc. In this way, the performance is read as the present, the now: this is the essential role of writing for Margolin’s performance, because it creates a space of intervention for the actor to then embody and live the composition.