Thursday, 7 October 2010

Here's one I wrote earlier

I just found this in a notebook when I was sorting out my life and I thought it was interesting enough to type up. Especially post-Wherever I Lay My Hat and a certain amount of audience 'participation'.

I am not interested in performances that pretend I am not there. Nor do I want audience participation in the traditional sense. What I enjoy is more of a 'dare' than a demand. Companies/artists who pose a question, who suggest an action... In Reckless Sleepers Spanish Train Mole says something along the lines of "if at any point you feel unsafe, raise your hand and we will comfort you". Do they mean that? What would happen if 30mins later I raised my hand? Would I be ruining their performance? Would they follow through or simply ignore me? They have the power but I could challenge it and the offer is tantalising... The control is yours for the taking, if only you dare to. But being a consciencious audience member, sensative to the needs of both company and fellow audience members I do nothing beyond my basic requirement. I laugh appropriately, I linger on the more poignant moments but I don't raise my hand. I feel like a coward.

These are the moments I love in theatre these days. The points where I am asked to reach out to a performer, to share a moment with another human being and step beyond a passive role. Not that I like being asked to jump through hoops or make a show of myself. I hate all that panto crap. Humilliation is not the name of the game. Uninvited Guests on more than one occasion have asked individuals to express a sentiment for another member of the audience. Asking us to reach out, not just to them, but to the people around us as if to remind us that we are not alone. This touches on one of the fundamental reasons for my love of theatre, gigs, attending a dance class. I am a herd animal. I need the shared experience. I want to belong. But in those situations we are rarely asked to acknowledge one another, the focus is usually on a third party - a company, band or teacher.

So what is so stimulating and attractive about making contact? And why does is scare, even repel some people so much? After one Uninvited Guests performance I actually heard someone say "There should have been a notice up warning people there was audience participation". Was there? Was there really audience participation? Or were we just being asked to ackowledge each other and actively listen rather than sit back and expect to be entertained?

I don't know about other people but I always find that the more I put into watching a show, the more I enjoy it. My biggest problem about technicians such as Goat Island, Deer Park and Bodies in Flight is that I left the theatre feeling that I might as well not have been there. They would have managed just as well without me. However shows like Susan and Darren by Quarantine & Company Fierce would be pointless, utterly pointless playing to an empty room (as, I believe, Wherever I Lay My Hat would). Not audience participation as such, just a step beyond the safety of that fourth wall. An offer extended. "Let me place you in my environment, then you will see that this is real." Perhaps some people just don't want 'real' in their theatres? It's too close in a studio? Too real?

Or perhaps I am a thrill seeker? I like the danger of not knowing exactly what my role is and how much they may ask of me. For me it is about connecting. Tell me your story. Talk to me. If you pretend I am not here, then why am I here?

To this day the memory of John Keats from Fecund telling Jill that the moment in icon, where Sarah went down on someone in the audience holding a lollipop (in reference to an earlier text about blow jobs told from the perspective of a child... which I still can't quite believe I wrote) while I filmed them squirming, was "hardcore" still makes me smile. We weren't trying to hurt or scare anyone. We wouldn't have called it 'audience participation'. For us it was a vehicle to solidify one of our characters - "This is what she is like" - and also to make the audience complicit in the affair of our central character. The accusation was that they wanted it too. They were just as bad as he was. Hardcore? I'm not so sure but we wore the badge proudly for a while.

Wherever I Lay My Hat is a little more evolved and a little less confrontational but the blurred line is there from the moment the audience step over the Welcome mat and are greeted by us. This is not audience participation but then you are not our audience. You are our guests. You are here with us and you are welcome.