My partners in crime in Interacive Media at Goldsmiths mostly seem to be allergic to the word theatre. Everyone except the Baroness Von Heron who is in a wild love affair with Judy Garland, so go figure. I think that many of them they see the gimmick light flashing on Broadway whenever I bring this up…I guess they are revolted by the idea of it in a similar vein to myself and other artforms that uses gimmick tactics. With that said, yes the theatre is just as guilty for employing these tactics as any other. However, I think that there is a lot to learn from the theatre. As someone interested in creating processes rather than products, I think I am a performer by default. Where I find the theatre particularly interesting for participatory practices is where performances question the role of the audience. London, especially, has many interesting companies that have moved out of the theatre and into other avenues and venues. One site that comes to mind is the Shunt Vaults. This is a site for performance and art installation. In fact, the founders consider themselves curators rather than dramaturgs. So maybe even contemporary performers are starting to be allergic to theatre. Places like shunt (which began as a site specific theatre venue) is where I think the future lies in terms of practicing processual artforms, especially for the psychogeographically inclined.
Now I want to discuss a few of my theatrical encounters over the past few months and what I have learned from them in terms of being a person with a vested interest in participatory art practice. As Bill Shakespeare once said, life is a stage, and this is exactly why performance art might have some good insight for interactive projects no matter what stage they may leap from.
MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
When I first started thinking about the snark hunt I went to the Masque of the Red Death, produced by Punchdrunk. I found this project hugely inspiring as it materialized many thoughts I had pertaining to the snark project. Soon after I saw the performance I began working as a steward for the production. This was not the average steward job as it required that I dress in a cloak, black mask, and top hat. Immersive theatre turns the whole stage/backstage distinction on its head. Being able to take part in immersive theatre, and a relatively successful one at that, helped me better understand my role in my own work as an interactive mediator.
The performance took place over about 30 rooms in the Battersea Arts Centre, where different narrations inspired by the work of Edgar Allen Poe, were performed in two loops over the entirety of the building. I learned from the Co-Director that music helped synchronize the performance that, as it happens, was all over the place. I could relate to this through my experimentation with editing and documentation. Music greatly guides me through choreographing, if you will, the clips into a continuity. This is especially helpful when dealing with non-linear narrative structures. What was special to me about thinking about my editing work in relation to theatre was how I might think in spatial terms about narrative. This also has interesting implications for issues in documentation. The impossibility of the camera to capture the experience of narrative theatre is fascinating more me as an editor that wishes to push the limits of cinematic capability. However, key to the success of this show was that the audience was masked. This masking cut perception to the cinematic gaze, a gaze that was not confined to the walls of the cinema.
The masks also allowed for audience members to find more freedom in movement through anonymity. In fact, many found so much freedom they began to really push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. One time where I was watching over Pluto the cat in the seance room I was tackled by a huge man because I was trying to guard the Victorian wonderland that was the set from being polluted by the image of the office in the next room.
None the less, masking the audience was a very sensible decision. I think masking is key to creating participatory artforms. Again why I think theatre can inform those of us working outside the theatre is that it allows us to see the world for the role playing of daily life. These roles are scripted through ritual and to interrupt these rituals can cause embarassment to the participant. Therefore the role of the mask is very helpful. This need not be an actual mask but something that might relax the constraints of daily identity. This allows for the actor to become more playful and investigative.
One thing I was very surprised to find in conversation with the co-director of the producution was that psychogeography was not something they had thought about in creating the production. Perhaps I had superimposed my own research, but still many things in the setting alluded to the history of psychogeogeographic practice. Perhaps this is due to the recreaton of Poe’s man in the crowd and his obsession with the flaneur. I have come across many comparisons of flaneury and the cinematic gaze. It is interesting that the mask could perform as a facilitator of this sort of gaze turning the audience member into the wandering silent observer, a flaneur. The gaze is something that strikes a chord with psychogeography and situationism. Situationism is one that experiments with the spectacle put what happens when we play with the gaze? I think thinking of media as masks should be very fertile ground and crucial to the documentation of snark dancing.
THE GOLDBUG HUNT
What really made the MOTRD a special experience for me was the Goldbug hunt that, as it turned out, was a separate production from Punchdrunk. It stll remains a mystery to me who exactly is responsible for these hunts but I know that rabbit is key. This is interesting as before the snark became a key feature of my own hunts, I was thinking of using the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland as a symbol of invitation. The Matrix also comes to mind.
Anyways, I found out about the hunt by following instructions from the woman that led us into the entrance of the play. She told us to seek Benoit in the Palais Royale if we dared. I went to Benoit who gave me a note instructing me to go to the Opium Den at half 8 to see what I found and then report on the blog they had set up. Here you can find my report to the goldbug website. I cannot go into full detail about the hunt as it was a very impressive project. However the blog serves as pretty good documentation- gotta love the blog! This blog enabled a community of very curious hunters to crack codes in order to reenter the play and discover more clues. In the end everyone involved (about 80-100) were invited to excavate the treasure from the BAC basement. This Rabbit whatever it is, is very very good. However I think their success was hugely about being able to work in the fantastic world that Punchdrunk had created. This I think is key to Caroline and I’s problem for the snark hunt. We do not know which world to set it in. I think site specific work is good food for thought. Dealing with the city as a whole is a project far too ambitious for the time being but one |I am still willing to consider in the future.
FUTURE PROJECTS, DISCUSSION?
I am still thinking about the snark hunt and how we could contextualize it to make it work?
Also I am thinking about a project where the masking happens behind the camera or the screen?? Something that can point out the mediations that shape behaviour and experience.
Also Sherlock Holmes fever! I have been seeing treasure hunts everywhere. Turns out that idea was not so original after all. However, I am still thinking of how media ecologies can be used to solve a mystery or create a mysterious setting.
Last but not least….The blog! The goldbug hunt would have been impossible without blogging, what other clever projects can blogging provide….I am thinking of gaze play implementing the blog…