ON off

ON off







ON off

Devised and performed in by Charlie Morrissey and developed in association with The Nightingale Theatre and with support from Basement Arts South East.

ON off is composed with a simple score: when the performer says “ON”, the lights come and when  he says “OFF”, the lights go off.

The piece is an exploration of the act of making and performing theatre/dance, and of what is revealed through that act – that it is in itself  a very human endeavour – and that through it our humanity can be revealed.

The performance occupies a space somewhere between theatre and dance and works with set material and improvisation.

“This piece grew out of an interesting process for me. I wanted to make something on my own, with no collaborators and with no outside funding.

I had been working for a long time in groups and just wanted to see what I would do if left to my own devices, with no other collaborators telling what they thought and where the process didn’t begin either in response to a commissioner or by writing an arts council application.”

“In On Off, Charlie Morrissey celebrates his contact to the materials that surrounds him: a cardboard box and an electric bulb, which appears to be a wonderful laterna magica. At lightning speed blackouts are throwing highlights on the abruptly, seemingly improvised status quo of the performer – a funny, clever metaphor for the human existence, and for that a perfectly smart finish of the festival.”

Eva-Elisabeth Fischer, Süddeutsche Zeitung, at Tanzwerkstatt Europa in Munich 10. August 2015


I performed a very short solo as part of a mixed night of performances for Movement 12’s launch in 2007. For the performance, I worked with a very simple score – when I said “on”, the lights came on, and when I said “off”, the lights went off. I played with this as a simple improvisation with set elements and it really intrigued me. There was something both direct and complex in the idea and I decided to continue with it as the basis for a more extended solo.

I performed a very short version of it a second time and Scott Smith pointed out to me that it was a Tuning Score, which had not occurred to me at all – rather dim wittted of me actually considering all the work I’d been doing with those scores. It also made total sense that I would be working in that way. The process of working with the score really became all about organising myself for saying “on” or “off”, and to my perception of what was happening from outside and inside.

In February of 2008, Lisa Nelson came to Brighton to and I invited her to come into the studio with me while I played with the score.

She had a video camera and everytime I called “off” she would cover the lens and then uncover it again when I said “on”.

We worked for a few days like this. It was fantastic for me – It produced such interesting and crazy results in relation to what i thought was happening – my sense of seeing and being seen, of what was revealed and hidden – all highlighted the more because the lights were not actually going off – that was just happening in my imagination.

Sometimes Lisa would make here own decisions, and reverse my calls – open the lens when I said off or just change the rhythm so that things wre more jagged. We would watch the footage afterwards. It was interesting to see me struggling to know what was happening and to see me having ideas – it was so clear to see my process – how I would think of sometthing or how something would grow in my body – how confused I would get and how dyslexic I could be about whether I was on or off.

Once I started working on it on my own again I began to get lost. Having the external aspect – the light actually going on and off or the person outside being my on and off made the whole thing abstract. I worked for a while – but it all became about ideas and that made it less interesting and engaging for me. I think I became lonely in the studio also.

One day, as I was getting ready to go to the studio, I decided to grab a box of things from around my flat – some things that I could play with in the studio – I picked up a red shirt, some formal shoes, two tin robots, a cable with a light socket on one end and a plug on the other – so that I could have a portable means of making the light turn on and off – and a cardboard box to put all these things in.

I went to the studio with my box of things and began the day by playing with the objects – moving them in imagined darkness and then stepping back and looking at them in the light. This was instantly engaging – I was no longer alone in the studio, and was being stimulated, becoming curious about the process again – seeing myself as another object at times. Working with the light bulb – switching it on and off also provided me with a means of really feeling what it was like to switch between light and dark.

I was making something and constructing meaning out of what I was making – all from this collection of ill fitting objects and from my own actions placed in the space like objects to be seen.

I invited a couple of people in to switch lights on and off for me also, which made the whole process more interesting for me – it gave me something external to respond to. An environment was created just through the presence and absence of light – and through the presence of a witness.” (to be continued)

Charlie Morrissey 2010

Initially created in 2007, and performed in different guises and variations at The Nightingale Theatre, Brighton.  Vibrate Dance Festival, Ireland, Roehampton – Surrey, Ellen Terry Theatre at Coventry University, The Point in Eastleigh, the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, Electric Lodge in Los Angeles; Tallin in Estonia; Dartington Arts in Devon; Tanzwerkstatt Europa in Munich; Leeds Beckett University, Leeds

Ramsay Burt writes about this work and This thing that we do with Charlie and Katye Coe on his blog