BACKSTAGE CRACK DIARY PART DEUX: beyond the wall

08/10/2012 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

hello everyone,

As you may know we have recently returned from performing at the National Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle, part of the This Is Not Art program in a curated event alongside some of the country’s most experimental and prolific theatre artists. What a thrill!

The performance, titled ACHILLES AT HOME, entailed two eight hour durational installations (commonly described as ‘live art’) drawing from two texts. Chapter IX of Homer’s The Iliad, and the book Games For Actors and Non-Actors, authored by the great Augusto Boal in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. After creating the contained ‘world’ of Achilles’s domestic life we adapted Boal’s Forum Theatre to allow the audience to take on the key roles in the scene.

Bringing these two polar opposite approaches to text together was an attempt to utterly subvert the notion of audience as passive consumers of art. While it was certainly possible to walk straight past or peer through the giant glass window to observe; audiences were also encouraged to step into the scene, thus opening the door for specific engagement on the issues surrounding that particular element of text; where the great warrior Achilles chooses to abstain from battle. Throw the canon out the window and suddenly this situation becomes a foil for all manner of discussion. In preparation for the role we investigated the broad strokes of the hero’s rationale for deserting his army; but even this was not enough to prepare for some of the unexpected queries coming from the audience as they engaged with the performance.

The best part about this was that audiences could engage with the work on exactly the level they wanted to; ranging from the sublime (“This is what theatre looks like in the future” from a punter who then presented me with a Griffin 2013 Season Book) to the ridiculous (a live reading of Homer’s work made whilst battling the full fury of TEKKEN 5 on Playstation). The tone of the work would range from guest to guest, sometimes entering parody, at other times a much more serious engagement with the politics of war. One guest, playing Odysseus spent at least an hour in there trying to convince me to return to the field of battle.

Using the Socratic method we were able to engage and fend off difficult questions. Even the most banal comment could be turned into a broad questioning of societal values. “Why don’t you have any milk for your cereal?” asked a punter, upon spying my stash of Nutri-Grain placed carefully as a stopgap against hunger and a wry comment on the iconography of heroism in modern advertising (Iron Man Food)… what better way to enter into a discussion of sustainability and consumption. Why do we need to put milk on our cereal? Given the vast environmental toll caused by the cattle and dairy trade we would warrant that is a really good question. These kind of moments peppered the installation, such that regardless of what we intended to demonstrate the audience could take as much or as little away from the experience as they liked. Sometimes more than they intended…

A couple of days after the show we chatted to an educational psychologist who was observing one of the more intense sections when three people were all haranguing Achilles at once to take up arms. The issue of Briseis (Achilles wife) being kidnapped by Agamemnon is key to his refusal; and an audience member, playing Odysseus was furiously attempting to convince his friend to let it go. The psychologist related a moment when the audience, already in a dissociative state due to his ‘playing’ a role in the scene, suddenly retorted “not that I’m opposed to the concept of women being property!” At which point his head dropped down in a stark realisation of what he had said. We had no idea this was happening at the time but (along with a whole lot of educational jargon) the psychologist referred to this as the moment in which he came to terms with the idea that women are by no means property; a concept so anachronistic to the modern environment (is it?) that before this it had barely even occurred to him. Something about ‘adjacent learning paths’ and ‘conceptual leaps’ and ‘Welcome to the next phase in your life’.

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Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.

NOT THE 2013 MAINSTAGE PROGRAM SNEAK PEEK! UNSEX ME

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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