To find a mode of performance for the Cultures of Place project Davenports Play Huddersfield (Taylor, 2022) I wanted to experiment with ideas around turning contemporary accounts of the event into a form of witnessing. The source text for this experiment was a newspaper report recounting the Davenports ill-fated visit to Huddersfield. (“The Davenport Brothers’ Visit to Huddersfield,” 1865)
This wasn’t the first time I had worked with this text. I had used it to develop a draft script that recounted the events of that night in a more traditional format. This script was subsequently published in the first issue of The Penny Mysteries (Taylor, 2018) and forgotten about.
Cultures of Place afforded the opportunity to work a little more closely with the source. This time I wasn’t so interested in a straightforward scripted adaptation of the piece, but I was more interested in understanding the event as witnessed by the journalist on the day (the only first-hand account I can find so far). The source is, of course, a written piece not a verbatum statement, it is a piece of performative writing designed to provide the sensation and the humour expected of a newspaper account. Even so I started by working creatively with the source in a number of ways, these can be summed up with the following diagram;
This approach is based on work published in (Corbett et al., 2022) where we have a call to ‘…embrace creative research methods and alternative ways of presenting histories…’ that ‘explores a different set of imaginative techniques to address the fundamental challenge of understanding magic in the past’. Note, when Corbett et al. are discussing ‘magic’ they mean real magic or witchcraft, while here I’m using it as an approach to an account of performance magic, or at least, in this case, in a form that was ambiguous in its attempt at representation.
I wanted these approaches to be an experiment in finding new perspectives on a journalistic representation to a past event, moving toward a creative intervention that allows you to see (creatively) 360 degrees into the past. The point being that I could use this new-found process to act as a remembering in order to devise a performance of a witnessing of the event.
My approach was to borrow techniques from Fidelity, Brevity, Performance, Empathy, the emphasis, as I am new to the approach, was to be as playful as possible. This included written (some examples of written responses are shown below) and practical response such as repeatedly telling the story to camera, recounting, and occasionally mis-recounting, the events of that night.
The final result was the devising of a performed witnesses statement that, while mostly accurate to the events of 1865, inevitability succumbed to the creative process of the imaginative techniques applied.
I hope to employ these techniques further in a new project that’s on the cards… but that’s for another day.
Corbett, P., Compton, A. K., & Pooley, W. G. (2022). Creative Histories of Witchcraft: France, 1790–1940. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge Core. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009221054
Taylor, N. (2018, April 29). The Davenports visit Huddersfield in 1865. The Penny Mysteries, 1(1), 63–69.
Taylor, N. (2022, June 24). The Davenports Play Huddersfield [Performance]. Conan Doyle, Houdini, and the Davenport Brothers: the Huddersfield Connection, The University of Huddersfield.
The Davenport Brothers’ Visit to Huddersfield. (1865, February 25). Huddersfield Chronicle, 779, 8. British Library Newspapers.