Hello, Theatre

Last Sunday night I presented a brief performance in Tamarama Rock Surfer’s regular scratch night ‘Cut and Paste’. In the spirit of the evening, my performance was an experiment. I was interested in the kind of theatre I saw in Belgium last year and was certain that this show had to be focused on the experience of the audience. The result was a very awkward ten minutes in the theatre. I forced unwilling audience members to do things they didn’t want to do. I was surprised how easy it is to manipulate people when you assume authority. 

I lured people onstage with a packet of Iced Vovo’s. This image came from research into Africa witch doctors who kidnap small children using lollies and biscuits to attract them. I wanted to experiment with the experience of being a part of the audience and then being singled out. I am very interested in the phenomena of diffused responsibility that occurs when people are in a group. Among other things, audiences gather together to be anonymous and private in a public space. I was quick to destroy this expectation and wield my automatic authority as a person speaking on stage.

The theatre seems to rob people of their own sense of agency. I think this directly relates to the hyper reality of the space (in a non-digital sense). Anything can happen there and it isn’t illegal. We accept that different rules apply. Its why business people seem so uncomfortable watching shows, they know that they are on foreign turf, where authority is automatically taken away from them.

The show is about fear. I set up the show by admitting there will be audience interaction, and if the audience member is anything like me, this immediately puts them on edge. I want to create an atmosphere where the general ‘administration of fear’ that can be located in our contemporary and social life is emulated in the theatre. I want to see how people react to unjust authority and how they negotiate personal responsibility in a group.

I realise now that there is an important distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear is the anticipation of pain, but anxiety seems to be anticipation of something much less specific.

Ultimately I think the show could have a very strong and irresistible thematic interest in mass individualisation and the uneasiness we have sharing space. Paul Virilio notes that the ‘here and now’ of previous human experience is quickly being eroded by the mythic quality of instantaneous communication. Historically, qualities of omnipotence were limited to deities. Now we seem to transcend human capacity on a daily basis and the world is shrinking. Progress is is becoming a religion and we are outgrowing our world.

Countering this perspective, people still choose to come to the theatre. Not all of the population, but a sizeable number. We still group together, and this is no small thing. It shows that unity is possible. It is fleeting and chaotic, but unity is possible should we need to call upon it.

The next step in developing this show would is to see how far I can push my authority onto the audience. I noted just how fearful I was of the performance and this too, should be looked at. The fear I had was of a loss of control, of being on stage with no guarantee of a satisfying dramatic arc. In an age where so much personal expression is vetted and curated in status updates and, well, blog entries, this is no small victory. I smell a new project, one where the audience is the main source of interest, where the show is about whatever the audience bring into the theatre. That and Iced Vovos, obviously.


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