The Dress

When thinking about the history of training exercises, I was led to reflect on how the nature of teaching through ‘generations’ of training can create a distance from the original intention of a practitioners work. In this musing about Stanislavski, I am offering a provocation about ownership and integrity. 

The Dress by Jamie Wheeler

In the UK, we sometimes call them ‘hand-me-downs’ – those outgrown items of clothing from an older sibling or cousin that are bequeathed to us when they have outlived their original use. Off they go to serve another age group. 

They are passed from generation to generation and can be adapted, taken in, trimmed, repaired and recoloured. Often what starts life as a loose shift dress intended to be practical and light becomes a stiff and starched shirt dress whose form should not be altered and whose collar is crisp and sharp. I wonder if all these changes might one day make the dress unwearable or unrecognisable?

The handwritten name label, once just a suggestion, is written over in indelible marker, attributed forever to an owner long since dead. They had moved on in later life, wearing different clothes, trying out new styles but everyone seems to remember this piece the most.

This piece is spoken about with great authority by people who didn’t actually see them wearing the dress. They knew someone who knew someone who tried the dress on and this makes them feel that the dress somehow belongs to them. They can speak about the dress. Are we sure we know who the dress belonged to?

When it’s back on its hanger and safely tucked away in the wardrobe amongst the other pieces, we can peek inside and ask ‘Whose memory are we honouring if we slip it on?’


The Dress - Jamie Wheeler

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