Counting her dresses and other plays...

Lib Taylor

REF 2014 UoA 35

Supporting website to output 3


This performance juxtaposes a soundscape of voices, live performance, an 'exhibition' of paintings and mediated images projected onto and across the space to evoke Stein's sense of theatre as a place of experience and emotion, not as a place of story and action. The performance comprises five of these theatre fragments which have been combined in a collage that alludes to the experimental art that Stein promoted.

  • Description of project
  • Research Questions and Contexts
  • The Devising Process: Key Decisions and Performance Strategies
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Performance Text
The performer folding dresses

Description of Project

Counting Her Dresses and other plays … was a mixed-media, promenade performance/installation, based on theatre writings by Gertrude Stein (1874 - 1946). The work was presented in Bob Kayley Studio, University of Reading in December 2010; its duration was approximately 45 minutes. The performance was structured by a collage of spoken text taken from selected writing by Stein; it was not a staging of Stein's plays.

The text comprised five fragments from plays by Stein with additional textual material from one of her novels. The source texts were the theatre writings For Her Country Entirely (a play in letters), Counting Her Dresses (a play), I Like It To Be A Play (a play), Captain Walter Arnold (a play) and A Play Called Not And Now, plus selected passages taken from the novel The Making of Americans.

The performance occupied the entire floor area of a black box theatre studio and the audience walked around and between the set elements. There was one live performer (professional actress Sarah Hunt) who carried out a specified sequence of moves around the space but did not speak, interacting with a soundscape of spoken text voiced by Sarah Hunt and Clare Parke Davies. At one end of the space was an 'exhibition' of copies of paintings by artists in Stein's circle such as Matisse, Braque and Picasso. The paintings were hung to resemble the crowded walls of Stein's own living room where she held her salons. The paintings were interspersed with mirrors, reflecting both the audience and the performer as they moved around the space, and also screens onto which pre-recorded images and a live video feed from the performance were projected. A montage of live or recorded images was also projected onto a cluster of opened umbrellas suspended between floor and lighting rig in one area of the space. As well as the performer, two video camera operators and a projectionist were present with the audience in the performance space to run multimedia components.

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Counting her dresses and other plays ...

Video of the performance

Research Questions and Contexts

1. How can devising performance illuminate Stein's writings for theatre, which problematize theatrical realization?

Gertrude Stein's essay 'Plays' questions theatre's function, modus operandi and appeal. In her highly idiosyncratic writing style, Stein relates the pleasure and cynicism she felt when attending the theatre as a child, and this prompts her to reflect upon the affect associated with embodied performance. She wrote over 100 plays, but they have never received the critical attention given to her prose and poetry, and it is not clear that her plays were ever intended for performance; the texts give no sense of mise-en-scène, character, narrative or dialogism. But despite being rarely performed, Stein's plays have been highly significant for the development of theatrical modernism and the avant-garde.

Performance experimentation with Stein's plays can foreground critiques of form and ideologies of representation, and develop modernist and postmodernist aesthetics of reflexive and fragmented performances. The Counting Her Dresses project was an original means to pursue these issues, drawing from Stein's own interests and the ways that a specific avant-garde performance tradition has used Stein's work.

2. How can performance style actualize the aesthetic specificity of Stein's fractured, ambivalent and mutable texts in material form?

Stein migrated from the USA to Paris in 1903 where she opened a salon, displaying and promoting the work of leading visual artists at her home. She collected the early art work of, among others, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin and Renoir. At that time, Cubism was emerging as a means to reject mimeticism in favour of geometric abstraction in visual art. A key Cubist practice was the fracturing of depicted objects and figures into overlapping, sharply defined facets. Surfaces were opened out and flattened onto the picture plane and assembled to depict multiple viewpoints at the same time. Simultaneously, Stein was producing experimental forms of prose, poetry and drama that sought new expressive techniques and have been characterized as 'literary cubism' (Bonds and Conners, 2011: iv).

Counting Her Dresses and other plays … adopted abstraction in language and theatre form, multiple perspective, and fractured images and subjectivities. Research into Stein's work and her cultural milieu was the provocation for developing a performance aesthetic that transposed the two-dimensionality of early Cubism into an exploration of three-dimensional performance space. That space could become both referential of a specific historical and cultural location and also an abstract theatricalized space that represented an 'exploded' and fragmented reality.

3. How might the separation and fragmentation of voice and body through intermedial performance explore Stein's interests in the ambivalent relationship between writing and self?

For Stein, fragmentation and multiplicity extend to subjective identity, which is characterized by doubling, the splitting of language and self, and the materiality of signifying mediums that undercut their presumed transparency. Stein's writing of her own life through that of another in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), purporting to be the life-story of her sexual partner, draws attention to this and to the implicit gendering of modernist artistic practice.

The performance text and multimedia realization of Counting Her Dresses and other plays … drew on Stein's experimental writing, in which language is fragmented and replayed, dislocated and reframed to demonstrate the facets of its surfaces while also obscuring transparent representation and meaning. The performance aimed to interrogate Stein's self-creation of identity and its projection as image, text and voice by separating these from each other.

4. How can the temporality in Stein's conception of a 'continuous present' be represented and experienced in theatre performance?

Language for Stein is not a means of conveying a meaning or sense, and it does not construct story. Narrative in her writing gradually disappears, and following the work of philosophers William James (her own teacher) and Henri Bergson, she thinks of time as a flow rather than a set of 'conscious states'. James described experience as a 'stream of consciousness', and Bergson similarly referred to consciousness as continuity.

The Counting Her Dresses and other plays … performance sought to resist narrativization, in which a spatial conception of time would organize a series of discrete moments into a teleological sequence. In contrast, the performance's experimentation in temporality and representation uncoupled language and perception, and by using a collage of repeated speech, gesture and image it aimed to put pressure on the work of language to mediate both perception and experience.

The Devising Process: Key Decisions and Performance Strategies

  • Choice of textual material

  • Performance environment

  • Why one silent performer?

  • Text and voice: writing the 'continuous present'

Choice of textual material

 

Four Saints in Three ActsBrief performance history of Stein's work for the theatre

 

Stein wrote over 100 plays but her work has a very limited production history. She wrote the libretto (1927-8) for America composer Virgil Thomson's opera score Four Saints in Three Acts, produced on Broadway in 1934 where it had considerable public profile. But until the 1960s it was largely the poets and artists of the American avant-garde including Living Theatre and Judson Poets Theatre who performed her work, in small, experimental spaces attended by a self-selecting niche audience of intellectuals. More recently, performances of her stage texts were means for postmodernist practitioners to develop new aesthetic forms (e.g., Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson and the Wooster Group). Since the 2010 performances of Counting Her Dresses and other plays …, Katie Mitchell's promenade performance Say It With Flowers at Hampstead (opened 5th April 2013), was based around several of Stein's shorter plays.

 

Four Saints in Three Acts - Robert Wilson

Four Saints in Three Acts (Robert Wilson, 1996)

 

Say it with Flowers - Katie Mitchell 

Say it with Flowers (Mitchell 2013)

 

 

Choosing Stein

I have previously created PaR performances based on work by Marguerite Duras, a female modernist writer whose plays are often regarded as unperformable. To develop these interests further I aimed to engage with Gertrude Stein's theatre texts, and locate them in her broader output and milieu. My previous experience of Stein's work included The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), her poetry collection Tender Buttons (1914), performances of Four Saints in Three Acts (Wilson, 1996) and House/Lights (The Wooster Group, 1997) and an awareness of the significance of Dr Faustus Lights the Lights (1938) and her novel The Making of Americans (1925). My intention was to explore the possibilities of her theatre texts; not to present a realization of any of Stein's plays but to use fragments of her texts as part of a commentary on her work and life, both of which were significant in the development of twentieth century art and culture. She influenced the practices of artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, which underpinned the development of Modernism. Their work impacted upon her writing, with its multiple perspectives and fragmented, repetitive and rhythmic language.

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

 

George Braque's Violin and Candlestick

George Braque's Violin and Candlestick (1910)

 

 

Selection of texts

  • Counting Her Dresses

Counting Her Dresses was the first play I worked on, exploring ways of delivering the text and developing performance images. Experimentation with clothing (selecting clothes from wardrobes, dressing and undressing) led to repetitive and rhythmic movement whose measured pace established the rhythm of the performance. We also separated voice and body, by setting one performer's gestic movement against the voice of the other as well as using recordings. The text's patterning was most clear when movement was slow, calm and deliberate, leaving space for the voice (see below). A non-theatrical presentational style developed from the work on this text, deploying everyday gestures. Counting Her Dresses became the defining text for the performance style.

  • For Her Country Entirely

For Her Country Entirely comprises a series of fictional letters, and repeated returns to this text provided a framework for the performance. In referring directly to the act of writing, it connects to Stein's own daily working practice but letters in particular suggest connections between Stein and the social group that she nurtured physically and creatively. In the final text, the fictional letters were interspersed throughout.

  • I Like It To Be A Play and A Play Called Not And Now

The decision to select from I Like It To Be A Play and A Play Called Not And Now sprung from the aim to foreground reflexive elements in the performance, since the two plays concern the creation and reception of mise-en-scène and performance. A Play Called Not And Now introduced a very different style of Stein play into the performance (and from a different collection, Last Operas and Plays); it is structured around longer speeches (perhaps monologues) with less syncopated interaction in the dialogic style. The use of fragments from this text not only enhanced the reflexive dimension of the work but also introduced a new dynamic that focused on less domestic/private elements of Stein's life. The play draws on her public activities of giving lectures and mixing, beyond the artists she supported, with a social elite for whom the theatre itself was a significant place (Charlie Chaplin, Anita Loos, Gertrude Atherton, Lady Diana Grey, Dashiell Hammett, etc.).

  • Captain Walter Arnold 

The very short play Captain Walter Arnold provided some opportunities for domestic exchanges in Stein's home and included reference to the daily routines of eating and drinking that also connect to the social occasions in Stein's salon.

  • The Making of Americans

The voicescape which finally emerged from the rehearsal process (see below) comprised fragments of Stein's plays spoken by the performers, interspersed with sonically manipulated voices telling incomplete stories that are repeatedly retold in The Making of Americans. In her lecture 'Plays' Stein used an extract from The Making of Americans to illustrate her ideas about the difference between reality and theatre, so the decision to select this material was multiply reflexive.

Performance Environment

View of the performance space from one end

Cubism and the performance space

Although Stein is best-known as a literary figure and not as a playwright, her deliberately naive and highly unconventional approach to writing play texts is a strategy to deconstruct theatre and connect it to other visual, aural and textual mediums:

I may say that as a matter of fact the thing which has induced a person like myself to constantly think about the theatre from the standpoint of sight and sound and its relation to emotion and time, rather than in relation to story and action is the same as you may say general form of conception as the inevitable experiments made by cinema. (Stein, 1995: xxxv)

Her focus on the visual and aural aspects of performance suggests a concern with live embodied staging and the creation of an experience, not telling a story. The question for performance is how to create a visual and aural space that might embody Stein's notion of experience and represent her idiosyncratic approach to theatre writing.

floor painted with abstract pattern of planes and angles

The floor was painted with an abstract pattern of planes and angles recalling Cubist painting and disorienting the spectators' understanding of space 

 

My intention was to create an immersive performance space which drew directly on Cubist painting. In such a fragmented, 'exploded' space any moment of experience might be perceived from multiple points of view. Not only might the audience walk around the space, as if in a room, but they might see parts of set elements, mirror reflections and projections, perceiving abstract shapes as they looked across the space. The audience were able to look in all directions, not always focusing on the performer herself but sometimes on the images projected behind and across her.

Overhead view of exploded performance space

Overhead view of 'exploded' performance space 

 

 

The elements of the set

  • The physical space

The setting comprised four or five installations located across the entire space, each of which referenced a domestic room or part of a room, to connote Stein's Paris salon: a dining table, a desk, a sofa, a wardrobe. As textual exploration developed (see above) so the more public spaces Stein occupied gained significance for the performance and the setting developed to incorporate these: a blackboard, a dais with microphone and a table with reception refreshments. Objects referring to Stein's public lectures and her growing celebrity as a writer drew attention reflexively to her public persona.

 

Speaker's dias and blackboard

Speaker's dias and blackboard

 

  • The Exhibition

One of the most important elements in the space, which was of both private and public significance, was the 'exhibition' of paintings which hung at one end of the performance space. Making reference to Stein's own sitting room, whose walls were covered in the paintings by the artists she supported including Picasso's painting of Stein, the display presented copies of works by Picasso, Matisse and Braque, for example. The performance space referenced Stein's private collection of paintings and also the public exhibitions that her promotion of the artists enabled.

 

Stein and Toklas in the living room salon of their Paris house

Stein and Toklas in the living room salon of their Paris house 

 

 

The exhibition at one end of the performance space

The exhibition at one end of the performance space, including mirrors and screens 

 

  • Intermediality and multiple perspective
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Sequence 1

Examples of visual intermediality

Live and mediated images proliferated across the entire set, projected not only on the screens in the exhibition space but also onto the performer and onto a group of umbrellas (connecting to umbrella references in The Making of Americans and 'Plays') hanging in one part of the set.

The group of umbrellas acted as a screen for the projection

The group of umbrellas acted as a screen for the projection 

 

The paintings were interspersed with mirrors, which reflected the performer and, at times, members of the audience, placing them among the images in the exhibition. Screens were also placed among the paintings in the 'exhibition', onto which live and pre-recorded images were projected. These images, and the design of the screens themselves, referenced the multiple perspectives and overlapping surfaces of Cubist art. Like the 'exploded' set, the images were intended to offer alternative perspectives on moments of the performance. There were images of fabric moving while the performer shifted dresses along a rail, 'counting her dresses'). Images of sifting flour were projected while the performer consumed cakes, since Stein's companion Alice B. Toklas was a proficient baker. Images of flowers while the performer looked at a map of Majorca referenced Stein's and Toklas's lengthy stays there. Images of the performer were replicated multiply on screens in different forms, connecting to the Cubist aesthetic of fragmentation and multiple perspectivity, but also reflecting ideas around the notion of the multiple self (see below). Perhaps the most obvious reflexive element within the space was the presence of the technicians who operated live cameras and projectors among the spectators. Their presence came from a necessity to find ways of capturing the live feed of the performance, but their presence drew attention to spectatorship.

The camera operators moved around the space in full view of the audience

The camera operators moved around the space in full view of the audience

 

  • Immersion

What began as an intention to create an immersive environment developed into something more critically complex. Elements of the performance use strategies of immersive performance such as an encompassing performance space and a surround voicescape, but spectators were both drawn into and distanced from the performance. The audience's freedom to move within the space enabled them to interact with and be physically close to the performer; moments in the performance invited spectators to participate. Audience members could look in all directions and examine props and set. The voicescape, and the diverse and intermedial visual material attracted sensual engagement. However, the dominant image of the setting was probably the display of paintings which, in connoting exhibition, encouraged the audience see all aspects of the setting as display. Although the performer sometimes invited audience participation, more often she behaved as though they were not present. Thus audience experience shifted between a bodily, sensual incorporation into the performance and a distanced observation of the event.

Why one silent performer?

Listen to audio voicescape of performance and Stein reading her own work:

The doubled voice

Audio text of performance

 

Gertrude Stein reading from The Making of Americans

 

The key to Stein's own fusion of identities is her synthesis of the Stein/Toklas figures in her The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which purports to tell Toklas's life story, but is in fact Stein's own autobiography. The devising process started with two performers, intended to represent the split and overlap between Stein and Toklas, though not specifically the two historical figures. Part way through the devising process, one performer withdrew from the project. Before replacing her, I reconsidered how issues of splitting and doubling might be performed and what opportunities using only one performer offered for overlapping and interweaving identities. This could become a way of expressing Stein's ambivalent relationship with writing the self. By using two voices but a single live performer, spoken language becomes detached from distinctive 'characters'; identities are layered and blurred as one voice masquerades as another, thereby questioning the nature of self and inscription. 

 

Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (Picasso, 1906)

 

Stein was keenly interested in the difference between enunciative and enounced subjectivities, and her comments on her portrait exemplify how the speaking subject ('I') and the subject referenced by language and representation ('me') might be the same and also different from each other: 'I was and still am satisfied with my portrait, for me it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me.' (Stein, 1984: 8 ).

The blurring and doubling of voices necessitated a separation of voice and body. We had already explored the potential of recorded soundscapes as part of the performance environment. We had also experimented with amplifying the spoken text in order to denaturalise the live voice and 'perform' the language (see below). The decision to develop the voicescape to include all the spoken text, but delivered by both performers (including the performer who had to withdraw from the live performance), and for a single silent performer to inhabit the physical performance environment offered possible new meanings. The doubling of voice and its dissociation from the body denoted the deferred identities of Stein/Toklas and their/Stein's écriture. Instead of conceptualizing the body as source, matter or origin, it focused attention on the refraction and doubling of Stein's identity that are present in her own investigations of language. The exploration of the multiple self became more effective through the single performer whose presence was multiplied using live cameras within the performance environment, alongside the doubled voice in the voicescape.

 Live footage of the performer projected on the screens set among the paintings

Live footage of the performer projected on the screens set among the paintings

 

 

Who is the performer?

 

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Sequence 3

Examples of folding her dresses

 

Placing a single performer in the 'exploded' setting, the projected images and the voicescape raised questions about who the performer represented. Clearly she was not intended to be an historical representation of Stein or Toklas; she did not resemble either of them nor did the spoken play texts locate her as either of them. But her actions bore some relationship to the lives of the two women: she ate cake (Alice B. Toklas's memoirs,1954) famously included recipes), she wrote letters and stories, she mused over a map of Majorca (Stein and Toklas were in Majorca in 1914/15), she gave lectures. Moreover her actions also connected the figure to Stein's fictional world: she folded dresses (See video sequence 3), she carried umbrellas, she became one of the celebrities depicted in her own A Play Called Not And Now as her face was distorted alongside Charlie Chaplin's and Anita Loos's (see video sequence 4). The figure seemed to haunt the performance space, recalling Stein, Toklas and their world but never fully inhabiting it.

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Sequence 4

Distorted images of Stein's milieu

The presence of a single performer shifted the relationship of the spectators to the performance significantly. Instead of observing an interacting, self-contained pair who might relate to Stein and Toklas despite their differences from the two figures, the single figure raised more complex questions around identity. At this point in the process, questions around interaction with the audience became urgent. A single-performer presentation does not necessarily require audience interaction, but a one-person show traditionally relies on at least an acknowledgement of the audience and often direct address. Removing one of two performers from a theatrical presentation leaves the single remaining performer insecure, bereft and unanchored particularly when that performer will not speak or adopt a formal theatrical style. Ultimately the audience became the anchor for the performer, not replacing the second cast member but assisting the performer to enjoy her playful and temporary habitation of the performance environment. Rather than fully acknowledging the presence of the audience throughout the event, Sarah made occasional teasing nods in their direction, smiling at them knowingly, using them to help with changes of clothing and daring them to challenge her smoking and drinking.

The performer looks directly at the audience

The performer looks directly at the audience

 

Text and voice: the continuous present.

The 'Continuous Present'

When I began writing I was always writing about beginning again and again. In The Making of Americans I was making a continuous present a continuous beginning again and again, the way they do in making automobiles or anything, each one has to be begun, but now everything having been begun nothing had to be begun again. (Stein Everybody's Autobiography p.151)

Stein treats words as material objects (like cars on a production line), with repeating processes carried out at each stage and new assemblages continually starting. In writing, this has the effect of forcing, stretching or exhausting the referentiality of language. She encourages her readers to experience 'the continuous present' in part via a disruption of story chronology and narrative sequence. In his examination of Stein's prose, David Lodge (Lodge, 1977: 148) states: 'As readers we are continually tantalized by a story that is always promised but never actually materializes and teased into attending to another kind of movement that is not progressive in the same way as a story.' Like stream of consciousness, the significance of a 'continuous present' is that it is a reaction to the idea that perception and experience are deadened by habit, signification and ideology, and that some kind of revelatory and revolutionary refashioning of subjectivity can be glimpsed by deforming language.

The performance was a means to determine whether Stein's 'continuous present' and her experimentation with temporality in narrative and language could be transposed, perhaps enhanced, by embodied performance. In her essay on theatre, 'Plays', Stein discusses how hearing and seeing, as opposed to reading, become more 'mixed … when anything really exciting is really happening.'

And now is the thing seen or the thing heard the thing that makes most of its impression upon you at the theatre, and does as the scene on the theatre proceeds does the hearing take the place of seeing as perhaps it does when something real is being most exciting, or does seeing take the place of hearing as it perhaps does when anything real is happening or does the mixture get to be more mixed seeing and hearing as perhaps it does when anything really exciting is really happening. ('Plays' in Last Operas and Plays pp xxxiv - xxxv)

The notions that theatre 'happens' in the moment, and that vision and sound might be confused with each other, or work together as well as be distinct from each other, contributed to decisions not to prioritize vision or sound, nor to control the audience's attention, but to allow the voices and performer, projection and setting to work similarly, either as a synthesis, in parallel or in distinction. Stein's interests in theatre and cinema are aspects of this, since each medium requires decisions about how events and emotions are represented by point of view and sound, and are externalized temporally and spatially for a spectator.

For example in A Play Called Not And Now, repeated phrases in indirect speech rather than dialogue are used to describe rather than prescribe a repeating detail of performance:

Then one who looks like Dashiell Hammett looks at the one that looks like Picasso and both together look at the one that looks like Charlie Chaplin and the three of them then look at the one that looks like Lord Berners, and then they all say, we do not look like any other one and they did not and do not. And they say they say all together we will look at the women and then each one of them says each one as he sees each one another one, at which one. They all answer as they look as if they did look like them. (Stein, 1995: 123)

In my project the separation of voice and body, and locating the spoken material within a framework of echoing, haunting sounds denaturalized the language, suggesting that the voice was internal to the thought process, moment to moment. Repetition in the performance represented the flow of consciousness and temporality, foregrounding both linear sequence and recursive circularity.

Speaking the text

(see the audio track and recording of Stein's own voice)

A major issue for the performance was how to develop an appropriate presentational style for the vocal material to reflect Stein's technique of 'beginning again and again', in which she reverts to the same moment or action repeatedly with minimal variation.

For me Stein's fragmented but syncopated, obscure but rhythmic language is more accessible and the stream of consciousness more eloquent when read aloud or heard. The 'continuous present' as the reworking of phrases and revisiting of moments time and time again, from slightly different perspectives, is expressed in the rhythm and repetition of the language but also crucially in the pace and modulation of expression. The performers struggled with the language initially because they tried to convey its sense, expecting that eventually a breakthrough in understanding would occur. Once this failed, I suggested other strategies of experimentation with different speeds, additional repetition of words and fragmentation of phrasing. The key to finding a mode of expression was to listen to Stein herself reading extracts from her own work. The flatness of her expression, the constant speed and the emotionless delivery of the language focus attention on its materiality rather than its meaning. She paid close attention to the detail of the specific phrase being spoken and not to how moments connect to each other or relate to the broader narrative context. This became a kind of blueprint for the voicescape of the performance, which aimed to suggest the immanence of each moment as a 'present'.

Writing the continuous present

 

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Sequence 2

Example of writing and the 'continuous present'

Since writing was such a major element of Stein's life, presenting the act of writing in the performance was important, and took place in three ways. The performer engaged in the act of writing on the floor, on the desk and on the blackboard (see video sequence 2). The performer interrupted, corrected and rephrased her writing as she chalked on the floor, for example, shifting and inserting words. On the blackboard, phrases were deleted to create patterns and images from the act of marking the surface. Pre-recorded images of writing were projected on screens.

These performance decisions connected to the set design in which the writing-desk was covered with piles of completed and incomplete letters, and was flanked by piles of books. One typewriter was on the desk and another alongside, while pages of writing were suspended above as if frozen in mid-air while flying up off the desk. Among the projections on the screens was a hand repeatedly writing text. Writing was represented as a practice and a process, but not a linear one. Stage action, design and parts of the spoken text represented writing as continuous, physical and a means of replaying and revisiting moments, or 'beginning again and again' in Stein's terms.

The writing desk

The writing desk

 

writing on the floor

Writing on the floor 

 

 

The writing on the blackboard

The writing on the blackboard

 

 

A projection of writing on a screen

A projection of writing on a screen

 

 

Selected Bibliography

Stein's Work

Stein, Gertrude, Picasso, New York: Dover Publications, 1984

Stein, Gertrude, Lectures in America: Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1985

Stein, Gertrude, Operas and Plays, New York: Sation Hill Press, 1987.

Stein Gertrude, Geography and Plays, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

Stein, Gertrude, Last Operas and Plays, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Stein, Gertrude, The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, Normal; London: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995

Stein, Gertrude, Everybody's Autobiography, New York: Doubleday, 1996

Stein, Gertrude, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Harmondsworth: Penguin Modern Classics, 2001.

Stein, Gertrude, Three lives & Tender buttons, New York: Signet Classic, 2003.

Toklas, Alice, B. The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, New York: Harper and Row 1984.

Other texts referred to 

Bonds, Laura and Conners, Shawn,,eds. Literary Cubism: Geography and Plays. Selected Works of Gertrude Stein El Paso: Norte Press, 2011.

Lodge, David, The modes of modern writing: metaphor, metonymy, and the typology of modern literature, London: Edward Arnold, 1977.

 

Performance Text

Counting her dresses and other plays…

 

The text was taken from five plays by Gertrude Stein:

I Like It To Be A Play - A Play

Counting Her Dresses - A Play

Captain Walter Arnold - A Play

A Play Called Not And Now - A Play

For The Country Entirely - A Play In Letters

I LIKE IT TO BE A PLAY

A PLAY

I liked it to be a play and so cleverly spoken.

Americans are very clever.

So are others.

Yes indeed.

And all men are brave.

Scene I.

Satisfy.

I like to satisfy them.

He likes purses.

You mean silver purses.

Yes gold purses.

Here they have other purses.

All of them are carried in a procession.

Every day.

Not all day.

The matyrs and red carnations.

You mean red geraniums.

No I mean red pinks.

Purses have that word.

Please me.

To please me.

Called me.

She expected a distress.

Daughters.

Or daughters.

The youngest as children

One's said.

Verdun.

We close.

Here.

Stables or motors.

Stables altogether.

Did we know anything about houses in Mallorca.

Scene II.

So you were pleased with me.

Scene III.

Able men. What do you intend to do today.

I have planned to telegraph for an answer,

Oh yes.

What have you said to them.

I said I was delighted with the photographs.

Scene IV.

Will you be sorry to leave Mallorca.

You mean the island.

The sun.

Or the people.

A great many people dislike the people.

Scene V.

Fifth Avenue in Spanish.

Fifth Avenue in Spanish.

Did you say water.

War water.

I have heard it said that a great many people expected another.

One another.

To be one another.

To be fought.

Do not say bright.

It is not a bright day.

Scene VI.

Have we gone so far indeed have we gone so far.

Scene VII.

Don't make a mistake and lose any leaves.

Classes.

Memory classes.

Don't go so far and lose any leaves.

We were really pleased with the leaves. We were really not pleased with the leaves.

I was very pleased with the leaves.

Scene VIII.

You were astonished by me.

All of us complain.

You were astonished by me.

Don't you understand trying.

Don't you understand trying to stammer.

No indeed I do not.

Scene IX.

Were you surprised to see that we were so far long. You mean in stages. No of course not in selections. What have you selected. Very good sponges. But they are expensive. They are not necessarily cheap. We feel that they ask an extraordinary price here. You have every reason to suppose so. We were quite sure of it. It is easily understood they are accustomed to trading. You mean barter. No I don't mean that I mean metal worker. Metal workers have new clothes. In Palma. Yes in Palma. I did not mean to mention that name. Why do you dislike the town. Not at all.

The rest of the day was spent in visiting.

Scene X.

The end of that little plate.

You mean you didn't like the pottery. The brown one you mean. No the yellow. Yes I liked it very much at first. It was too big. This is not the way to say that you will come again. But we don't want it.

Scene XI.

What did she say. She said that she could read Spanish because all the words that were real words resemble french.

I don't mean to say that I am vexed.

Oh no indeed you are not to be blamed.

Not at all

We are very careful to move together. For pleasure. For our pleasure. Oh yes indeed. We need you. More than ever. I am glad we are not cold. Not here. Believe me. Believe in me. I do.

 

FOR THE COUNTRY ENTIRELY

A PLAY IN LETTERS

 

1

Almond trees in the hill. We saw them to-day.

Dear Mrs. Steele.

I like to ask you questions. Do you believe that it is necessary to worship individuality. We do.

Mrs. Henry Watterson.

Of course I have heard.

Dear Sir. Of course I have heard.

They didn't leave the book.

Dear Sir.

They didn't leave the book.

Yes Yes.

I know what I hear. Yes sir.

Dear Sir.

I heard her hurrying.

We all did.

Good night.

Isabel Furness.

I like their names.

Anthony Rosello.

It's easy to name a street like that.

It is.

With a view

Of trees and a hill.

Yes sir.

Herbert.

Dear Herbert.

Come again.

William.

William Cook.

Chapter 2.

Dear Sir. A play.

A great many people ask me in misery.

Have they come.

Dear friends. Say what you have to say.

Dear Whitehead and Paul and Woolston and Thorne.

Why can't you accommodate yourselves and leave me alone. I don't mean to day or yesterday or by counting. Everybody cannot count. An avenue goes through a city and a street crosses it crosses the city. There is no use in pointing out associations. A great many people can read. Not women. Not in some countries. Not in some countries. Oh yes not in some countries.

Caesar.

Caesar isn't a name that is not used. I have known that a great many people have it.

Henry Caesar. A class full and teaching is difficult. They do not understand. Who does not understand. The Barcelonese.

Color. A country and a cup where they sell water.

Everybody sells water. In this country. Everybody sells water in this country. Is it a hot country. It is not and water is plentiful. Then I do not understand you. You need not question me.

Dear girl.

Grandfathers can not make sacrifices for their children.

It is not expected of them and they are not sacrificed. A great many people are sacrificed.

Oh dear yes.

Helen.

CHAPTER 3.

Why do you play in letters.

Because we are English.

Is it an English custom.

It is not an American.

Oh yes I remember you did mention.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Eaton.

Can you recollect can you remember what day it was that we promised to go into the wind and not take shelter.

I cannot remember that we ever undertook to do that.

We are going in another direction.

To day.

And day after to morrow.

We often spell together.

We like latin.

How goes it.

Frederick and Harriet Beef.

Do be anxious about me.

We are not anxious about me.

No you were told to be so were you not.

We were not advised.

No indeed you were not.

Dear Mr. Colin Bell.

Do be gracious and come again.

Soon.

As soon as you like.

I do not know how to reply.

No you don't and I am so uneasy.

Not today.

No not at all.

Dear Sir.

Good night.

 

 

COUNTING HER DRESSES

A PLAY

Part I.

Act I.

When they did not see me.

I saw them again.

I did not like it.

Act II.

I count her dresses again.

Act III.

Can you draw a dress.

Act IV.

In a minute.

Part II.

Act I.

Believe in your mistake.

Act II.

Act quickly.

Act III.

Do not mind the tooth.

Act IV.

Do not be careless.

Part III.

Act I.

I am careful.

Act II.

Yes you are.

Act III.

And obedient.

Act IV.

Yes you are.

Act. V

And industrious.

Act. VI

Certainly.

Part IV.

Act I.

Come to sing and sit.

Act II.

Repeat it.

Act III.

I repeat it.

Part V.

Act I.

Can you speak quickly.

Act II.

Can you cough.

Act III.

Remember me to him.

Act IV.

Remember that I want a cloak.

Part VI.

Act I.

I know what I want to say. How do you do I forgive you everything and there is nothing to forgive.

Part VII.

Act I.

The dog. You mean pale.

Act II.

No we want dark brown.

Act III.

I am tired of blue.

Part VIII.

Act I.

Shall I wear my blue.

Act II.

Do.

Part IX.

Act I.

Thank you for the cow.

Thank you for the cow.

Act II.

Thank you very much.

Part X.

Act I.

Collecting her dresses.

Act II.

Shall you be annoyed.

Act III.

Not at all.

Part XI.

Act I.

Can you be thankful.

Act II.

For what.

Act III.

For me.

Part XII.

Act I.

I do not like this table

Act II.

I can understand that.

Act III.

A feather.

Act IV.

It weighs more than a feather.

Part XIII.

Act I.

It is not tiring to count dresses.

Part XIV.

Act I.

What is your belief.

Part XV.

Act I.

In exchange for a table.

Act II.

In exchange for or on a table.

Act III.

We were satisified.

Part XVI.

Act I.

Can you say you like negro sculpture.

Part XVII.

Act I.

The meaning of windows is air.

Act II.

And a door.

Act III.

A door should be closed.

Part XVIII.

Act I.

Can you manage it.

Act II.

You mean dresses.

Act III.

Do I mean dresses.

Part XIX.

Act I.

I mean one two three.

Part XX.

Act I.

Can you spell quickly.

Act II.

I can spell very quickly.

Act III.

So can my sister-in-law.

Act IV.

Can she.

Part XXI.

Act I.

Have you any way of sitting.

Act II.

You mean comfortably.

Act III.

Naturally.

Act IV.

I understand you.

Part XXII.

Act I.

Are you afraid.

Act II.

I am not any more afraid of water than they are.

Act III.

Do not be insolent.

Part XXIII.

Act I.

We need clothes.

Act II.

And wool.

Act III.

And gloves.

Act IV.

And waterproofs.

Part XXIV.

Act I.

Can you laugh at me.

Act II.

And then say.

Act III.

Married.

Act IV.

Yes.

Part XXV.

Act I.

Do you remember how he looked at clothes.

Act II.

Do you remember what he said about wishing.

Act III.

Do you remember all about it.

Part XXVI.

Act I.

Oh yes.

Act II.

You are stimulated.

Act III.

And amused.

Act IV.

We are.

Part XXVII.

Act I.

What can I say that I am fond of.

Act II.

I can see plenty of instances.

Act III.

Can you.

Part XXVIII.

Act I.

For that we will make an arrangement.

Act II.

You mean some drawings.

Act III.

Do I talk of art.

Act IV.

All numbers are beautiful to me.

Part XXIX.

Act I.

Of course they are.

Act II.

Thursday.

Act III.

We hope for Thursday.

Act IV.

So do we.

Part XXX.

Act I.

Was she angry.

Act II.

Whom do you mean was she angry.

Act III.

Was she angry with you.

Part XXXI.

Act I.

Reflect more.

Act II.

I do want a garden.

Act III.

Do you.

Act IV.

And clothes.

Act V.

I do not mention clothes.

Act VI.

No you didn't but I do.

Act VII.

Yes I know that.

Part XXXII.

Act I.

He is tiring.

Act II.

He is not tiring.

Act III.

No indeed.

Act IV.

I can count them.

Act V.

You do not misunderstand me.

Act VI.

I misunderstand no one.

Part XXXIII.

Act I.

Can you explain my wishes.

Act II.

In the morning.

Act III.

To me.

Act IV.

Yes in there.

Act V.

Then you do not explain.

Act VI.

I do not press for an answer.

Part XXXIV.

Act I.

Can you expect her today.

Act II.

We saw a dress.

Act III.

We saw a man.

Act IV.

Sarcasm.

Part XXXV.

Act I.

We can be proud of tomorrow.

Act II.

And the vests.

Act III.

And the doors.

Act IV.

I always remember the roads.

Part XXXVI.

Act I.

Can you speak English.

Act II.

In London.

Act III.

And here.

Act IV.

With me.

Part XXXVII.

Act I.

Count her dresses.

Act II.

Collect her dresses.

Act III.

Clean her dresses.

Act IV.

Have the system.

Part XXXVIII.

Act I.

She polished the table.

Act II.

Count her dresses again.

Act III.

When can you come.

Act IV.

When can you come.

Part XXXIX.

Act I.

Breathe for me.

Act II.

I can say that.

Act III.

It isn't funny.

Act IV.

In the meantime.

Part XL.

Act I.

Can you say.

Act II.

What.

Act III.

We have been told.

Act IV.

Oh read that.

Part XLI.

Act I.

I do not understand this home-coming.

Act II.

In the evening.

Act III.

Naturally.

Act IV.

We have decided.

Act V.

Indeed.

Act VI.

If you wish.

 


FOR THE COUNTRY ENTIRELY

A PLAY IN LETTERS

 

2

Act 2.

Here we come to act two.

Australian papers.

Canadian papers.

American papers.

Dear Miss Millicant.

Do not be insulting.

You know very well that we have not conscription.

Were you surprised.

In states.

Or in territories.

My dear Milly. I wish you would come and tell me about Rigoletto.

Oh yes handkerchiefs.

From Bonnets.

Good evening Mrs.

That is not well said.

Dear Gilbert. Remember me to your mother.

All the time.

Dear Mr. Lindo Webb.

I understand why you are not better liked. A great many people expect you to teach them English. You do so and very well. You might be married and have a wife and son. With these helping you to teach you could teach many more people English.

Then we can expect that you will change your place of residence.

We do not expect you to change your coat. No Englishman does. We understand that.

Young Bonnet.

We have been very much annoyed by the impertinence of Mr. Alfred Bonnet.

Little pieces of paper are suddenly burnt.

In believing a shoe maker you believe his father.

I do not believe his father.

Why because he does not dress well.

Dress well dress well.

Dear Mrs. Cook.

Have you any special wishes. Do you want to know about almond leaves and almond roots. Or do you refer to olive roots. Olive trees have large roots. I do not know about almond trees.

The rest of the time was spent in deploring the tempest.

 

Dear Mrs. Carlock.

I do not know the name. I have often been told that the easiest way to be believed is to examine every one. I have endeavoured to do so but without success. Some people believe that they will be killed. By this I mean that they delight in teaching.

Some teach very well. Some teach in the north. Do not stay away.

Sincerely yours and not carelessly.

Walter Winter.

How do you know my name. I speak three languages spanish french and english.

 

Dear Mr. Cook.

How do you do. Do you mean that you are able to stay.

The rest of the afternoon.

I do understand a red nose.

Not today.

No not to-day. You see the explanation is this.

We will not be pleased altogether.

Mrs. Cook I ask of you do not come again.

Do you mean it.

I cannot understand Mary Rose Palmer.

I can understand explaining things to one another.

We were there and the almond flowers turned to almond leaves.

 

Dear Mr. Cook.

Come again.

Sincerely yours

Daisy Clement.

 


CAPTAIN WALTER ARNOLD

A PLAY

Do you mean to please me.

I do.

Do you have any doubt of the value of food and water.

I have not.

Can you recollect any example of easy repetition.

I can and I can mention it. I can explain how by twice repeating you change the meaning you actually change the meaning. This makes it more interesting. If we attach it to a person we make for realization.

Do you really mean you have no preferences.

I can not visualise the condition.

By that time I am free to say that we have made offers of finding the right name for everything.

Do you know that you are careful.

Do you see the state of your purse.

Have you been told that I will give you more if you ask for it.

Or do you not care to receive a favor.

Certainly you wish to be helped.

Let me help you.

Do not refuse me.

You can regulate your expenditure.

It is unreasonable.

Not because you do it.

Not because you do not do it.

Standard pieces.

Eating and drinking.

Can you forget Minerva.

I make the mistake.

I mean Monica.

Can you forget Monica.

Or Polybe.

Act II.

A dazzling dress. We dazzle together.

 


FOR THE COUNTRY ENTIRELY

A PLAY IN LETTERS

 

3

Scene 3.

Dear Sir.

Extra dresses.

Oh yes.

See here. Extra gloves.

I do not like the word gloves it has a combination of letters in it that displeases me.

Since when.

Since this evening.

I do not understand your objection.

It is easy to understand if I explain.

Dear Genevieve. Do say where you heard them speak of the decision they had come to not to have masked balls.

I didn't say. They always have masked balls.

Oh so they do.

Yes indeed they do.

 


A PLAY CALLED NOT AND NOW

1936

Characters

A man who looks like Dashiell Hammett

A man who looks like Picasso

A man who looks like Charlie Chaplin

A man who looks like Lord Berners

and a man who looks like David Green.

Women

A woman who looks like Anita Loos

A woman who looks like Gertrude Atherton

A woman who looks like Lady Diana Grey

A woman who looks like Katharine Cornell

A woman who looks like Daisy Fellowes

A woman who looks like Mrs. Andrew Greene

These are the characters and this is what they do.

A man who looks like Doctor Gidon and some one who looks like each one of the other characters.

The play will now begin.

The difference between not and now. That is what makes any one look like some one. All the characters are there and the one that looks like Doctor Gidon is the one that says what has just been said only it is not what Doctor Gidon would say but is said by the one that is like him.

The characters are now all in order.

They move and speak.

Act I.

The ones who look like Dashiell Hammett Picasso Charlie Chaplin and Lord Berners stand around.

They hesitate about making witty remarks to each other but they do do it just the same.

This is what they say.

The one who looks like Dashiell Hammett looks at the one that looks like Picasso and both together look at the one that looks like Charlie Chaplin and the three of them then look at the one that looks like Lord Berners, and then they all say, we do not look like any other one and they did not and do not. And they say they say all together we will look at the women and then each one of them says each one as he sees each one another one, at which one.

They all answer as they look as if they did look like them.

Yes they say one says yes. Then one says if you say yes and I do not say yes will he say yes.

The one that looked like Dashiell Hammett said he was saying yes. The one that looked like Picasso said yes he did say he had been to say yes and the one who looked like Charlie Chaplin said if not no one had not said not yes and the one who looked like Lord Berners said yes, yes he said yes. And then they all looked at the women. None of them who looked like Anita Loos or Gertrude Atherton or Lady Diana Grey or Katharine Cornell or Daisy Fellowes said yes.

They all turned around and they saw the ones that looked like Anita Loos Gertrude Atherton Lady Diana Grey Katharine Cornell Daisy Fellowes Mrs. Andrew Greene, and then as they looked the curtain fell not between but so that no one could see any of them.

Curtain.

Act III.

A mysterious assemblage of women.

Three boys who look like men.

The mysterious assemblage of women did not look like Gertrude Atherton and Anita Loos Lady Diana Grey Katharine Cornell and Daisy Fellowes, they did not look at all like them not at all, they did not look like a mysterious assemblage of women, they were a mysterious assemblage of women and they all were in their ordinary clothes and sitting down in chairs under a shelter in the Luxembourg gardens, there were no men or children with them and what they were doing, they were talking not much but some. They were not at all like Anita Loos and Lady Diana Grey and Gertrude Atherton and Katharine Cornell and Daisy Fellowes not any of them were like any one of them but they were a mysterious assemblage of women.

The boys who looked like men.

The three boys who looked like men did not look like Charlie Chaplin or like Picasso or like Lord Berners or like Dashiell Hammett they did not look like any one of them the three boys who looked like men nor like all of them.

Scene I

The three boys who looked like men were not very near the mysterious assemblage of women.

Scene II

The one who looked like Doctor Gidon was not there either nor was the one who looked like David Greene nor the one who looked like Mrs. Andrew Greene.

Scene IV

The one who looked like Mrs. Andrew Greene.

But she had a piece of what she had.

And she said she ate it if she did.

And if she did she ate it with her mouth

And with it she was welcome here at once.

The one who was like Dr. Gidon.

There is no use in saying money is not so.

It is.

The only difference between man and monkey

Is what money makes.

If there is no money then like anything

They eat what they have.

But money is not so.

It is kept.

That is what it is.

And nothing is kept except what money is.

So you see money is so.

That is what the one who is like Dr. Gidon has to say.

And the one who is like Dashiell Hammett what has he to say about money.

He says money I have money

He says money when I have no money.

He says when I have no money

He says money yes money

And what is the one who is like Picasso what is he to do when he sees money all the way through.

He is to do what he does.

Hold it hoe it

Hold it and hold it.

Have it and not have it.

But he knows where money goes

And so also as money goes

He does not go oh no.

Where is money to go

Money can not go and say so.

Therefor money is always best

And best is butter than butter

And without money there is no butter.

And so there always is money.

There were ones who did look like Anita Loos and Mrs. Andrew Greene and Gertrude Atherton and Katherine Cornell and Lady Diana Grey and Daisy Fellowes and as all of them were seen by all them who were looking at them they were not any of them looking at any one of them because all of them who looked like Picasso and who looked like Lord Berners and who looked like Charlie Chaplin and who looked like Dashiell Hammett and who looked like Doctor Gidon and who looked like David Greene looked at them looked at the women looked at the women who looked like the ones they looked like but each one of them was not seen by the men looking nor was any one of the men looking looking at them but all of them all the men who looked like the ones they looked like were looking at the women who were looking like the women the ones the women did look like and that was what was happening.

Curtain.

 

FOR THE COUNTRY ENTIRELY

A PLAY IN LETTERS

 

4

Act 5.

Scene I.

This is the last time we will use seasoning.

You mean you like it better cold.

No don't be foolish.

Dear Sir. Is there much wisdom in searching for asphodels.

Not if you already know what they are.

We do know now.

Then there is no use in trying to accustom yourself to their beauty. But we don't find it beautiful. I too have failed to find beauty in them.

This is not surprising as they do not grow prettily.

They were a great disappointment to us.

 

Scene 2.

We all are able to see I don't care a bit about Lena. We are all able to say I don't care a bit about Lena.

Dear Mrs. Landor. How can you cease to be troubled about the rest of the winter. How can you cease to be troubled about the rest of the summer and the beginning of the winter.

 

Dear Sir. Every evening the snow falls. Red. Yes and so do the asphodels. Asphodel isn't red. I know it looks so.

Dear friend. Can you give me any pleasure.

Yesterday afternoon was a holiday. You mean a festival. I mean a day of the country.

Do you mean that you understand the country.

No indeed.

Scene 3.

Dear friends. Have patience.

Scene 4.

This has ended very well.

You mean meeting one another.

Yes and asking us to remain here.

You mean that a great many people were troubled.

Not a great many people.

Some are very happy.

So are others.

We all have wishes.

Expressed wishes.

Dear Sir. Will you come again and eat ham.

Not in this country.

Fish.

Not in this country.