Operation Name Badge 2013 (View Video)

Date: 16-20 September, 2013

Why was Roland Metcalf, Visiting Fellow in Performance not issued with a staff name badge at the launch of the new School of Arts & Media? This operational hiccup became the impetus for the proliferation of paranoid investigations by the Whissell & Williams regime. Officers in Training sweep up all new Performance students in the frenzy and introduce them to the Schools facilities, resources and staff in the process.




Officers in Training

Miss C Williams - OIT/3/27 - (Associate: Charlotte Crossland)
Miss T Williams - OIT/2/27 - (Associate: Theresa Foster)
Whissell OIT/1/27 - (Associate: Peter Blain)

Notes on Language and the Whissell & Williams Regime. Richard Talbot


‘You can see the actors thinking’ says Carran Waterfield, co-artistic Director of Triangle, watching a video clip of actors in role as 'Officers in Training'. The performers are immersed in role and they are faced with the problem of translating the code used by the Whissell & Williams regime so that it makes sense for the people they encounter in everyday reality. As 'Officers in Training', or actors in training, it’s like learning and practising a new script in a vaguely familiar language. In this situation the performers can improvise but they need to be precise, and this often slows them down. The temptation to lapse is strong as they want to turn to the fluency and speed of a language that they usually rely on, naturally.

The action within the interaction itself is less interesting, perhaps. Dramatic situations generally emerge from the dilemmas and obstacles generated by a notional air of mystery around the performance event. The reasons for the presence of the regime are obscure, and their purpose even more distant. This encourages people in everyday reality to dwell with them, to ask questions, and to try to help them. In this sense, the language of the regime is being tested. In this video clip, the student whom the 'Officers in Training' encounter outside the library does not speak the language fluently either. Her expression suggests that the Whissell & Williams regime itself, its rules, its uniform and purpose during induction week at the University of Salford, is all foreign to her.

In actor training, slowness presented by self-consciousness and deliberate thinking is usually discouraged by tutors and directors. Actors are encouraged to trust their impulse. But in this work which is often static, or at the most physically regimented, the problem of struggling with language and deploying the code takes precedence over impulse, in the normal sense. By ignoring impulse, and relying on the intellectual gambols and logical complications the performers offer a kind of verbal stupidity, which could even be understood as clowning. It is deliberately ponderous, exhaustively logical and pedantic. It forces the performer to immerse themselves in all the liquid metaphors associated with verbal interaction: drowning in nonsense; thrashing about in semantics; plugging, stuttering and stopping the flow of action by unleashing their code. They jump, or dive in to a conclusion, and race to finish each other’s sentences. This linguistic floridity is supported by a caricatured mock RP, sometimes clipped and emphatic, sometimes languorously drawn out as it unfolds the slow appearance of new thought, elongating words as the speaker seeks confirmation. Thus it acknowledges the rhythm in speech, replacing semantic meaning with an emphasis on sounds and patterns in a kind of coded hyperbole and obfuscating nonsense.

It is through this emphasis on the patterns of language that the Whissell & Williams project inflects the codebreaking imperative of counter-intelligence, Bletchley Park, MI6 and GCHQ. In this way it can be said that over the last ten years the project has used language and the business of translation repeatedly to highlight the comical aspects of covert tactics, subterfuge, clandestine, secret and intimate encounters, and coded communication in bureaucracy and espionage. It emphasises human idiosyncrasy, intellectual weakness and the potential for misunderstanding within the mythologies (from James Bond to Alan Turing) surrounding national security.