Leeds IMC 2021: Performance Climates and Convent Drama

Performing with the Sepulchre, La Maigrauge 2018.

This summer Aurélie and Liv took the opportunity to reflect on some of our convent drama experiences as the Medieval Convent Drama project draws to a close, as part of a Leeds IMC panel on Performance Climates. Our shared paper considered the ‘climates’ of performance that we worked with in Fribourg — from climates of religious belief and practice to architectural climates, to literal, meteorological ones.

While drafting the paper, we found ourselves thinking about how to define the broad, religio-cultural climate and sense of place which surrounded the local performances we’ve undertaken for the project, and in which they were situated, a process which involved recalling and discussing memories of many very small but nonetheless interesting moments, often unpredictable encounters and interactions with passers by as we rehearsed outside, or brief chats with audience members at the close of performances – as well as our attendance at a range of Fribourgeois religious festivities and processions. We also recalled our memories of severe weather events in performance – particularly the heavy rain and thunder which accompanied our 2017 Huy Nativities – and the extent to which weather that was actively hostile to performance created a very particular atmosphere and set of experiences among our performers and spectators.

Perhaps the most fruitful area we worked through, though, was returning to some of our 2018 interview data from the Maigrauge convent in Fribourg, where we performed and whose sisters kindly agreed to be interviewed post-performance. Coming back to this data now, we were able to focus in on the physical climate of the Maigrauge church and the ways it was evoked and described by sisters in their interviews – particularly with reference to their medieval sepulchre, a copy of which we used in performance (as can be seen on the image above). Re-reading our interviews, we saw how complex the interaction between object, place and moment of performance had been for some sisters, and just how emotionally significant the sepulchre as an artefact had been to their experience of our performance. The ‘climate’ of the conventual church was one in which the replica sepulchre, and all that it stood for, played a bigger role in sisters’ experience of what we were doing than we perhaps fully realised at the time we were performing. Returning to this data and re-viewing it in the context of performance climates really brought this out for us, and it’s something I hope we’ll be able to return to more fully in our work going forward. Thankyou to Dana Key and our fellow panelists at Leeds for offering us the opportunity to think about this from such a helpful perspective!