Archive | April, 2010

The Forest Fringe Microfestival

Forest Fringe Travelling Sounds Library

Last night I finally got to see some of the work coming out of Andy Field’s Forest Fringe. The microfestival at BAC was a vibrant and buzzing combination of short experiences, fuller scripted pieces, sound work, music, installations and intimate performances. Some of the pieces were more ‘finished’, whilst others just setting out on their first period of R&D. The whole event fitted into the nooks and crannies of the BAC building, and filled the spaces in between with live music and discoveries aplenty – one highlight being the items of clothing dotted around, inviting you to take them in exchange for you’re an item of your own, and it story. Like any good festival, there was more than you could see in one night, and each attendee built their own experience.

Pieces I encountered included Search Party’s Growing Old With You, in its early stages of an R&D process investigating how our society is changing with its aging population. The issue was approached on a micro-level in a one to one experience that exposed the performer’s approach to their aging, before asking you to exchange your own story for a small birthday cake. Though this was the ‘newest’ work that I experienced, it was also the one that affected me in the rawest manner. I’m definitely going to be looking to hear about what it grows into.

Mamoru Iriguchi did the best sideways step in heels I’ve seen a man in a dress do, as he held your hand in the dark, asking you to investigate the house you share during a power cut, illuminated only by a head torch (projector affixed to a helmet, projecting a rich animation, which moved with you.)

Tania El Khourys Fuzzy asked an audience of up to 5 to act as her and her (absent) partner’s therapist. The piece felt like it was erring on an interesting clash of cultures as seen through the relationship of a Lebanese woman and a man from the Midlands. Though the performance perhaps felt like it was playing to a larger crowd, how we adjust to more intimate performance styles (does a more expressionist approach alienate in a useful or destructive way in intimate performance?) is definitely something that bears investigation.

Charlotte Jarvis’ video installation All American Hero wafted the smell of cold Chinese takeaway and stale popcorn towards you as you slumped on a sofa, watching the video diaries of the world’s first All American Hero. Something between X Factor and the Million Dollar Man, it felt all too plausible.

Throughout the night, I dipped in and out of the Travelling Sounds Library (pictured), which featured the work of Blast Theory, Unlimited Theatre, Duncan Speakman (and more). The library invited you to settle onto a sofa, open up a book, and discover an mp3 player and headphones containing a selection of several phonic experiences lasting from 2-40 minutes. Kaleidoscope by Abigail Conway was a particular highlight for me, a piece that asked if you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

Finally, I investigated the Waiting Room, where you were able to peruse the emails that scored the process of putting the festival together. Stressed, funny, and often personal, this view into the ‘back channel’ of the event gave the whole evening the feeling of ‘opening up’ rather than ‘presenting’, which fitted perfectly with the fringe ethic.

What if…

Screen Watching

You may have spotted a brief rant by me on Twitter the other day (1, 2, 3) in response to this article on the effect of the internet and other digital technology on theatre audiences. The article itself is balanced, reasoned, and puts forward a point I very much agree with:

… ultimately, we should avoid looking at the net as either intrinsically good or bad. Rather, we should see it as a tool, and like all tools, it is only as good as the person or people using it. (source)

The piece was responding to criticism of how the “constant feedback demanded by interactive technology can, in effect, become like a “giant focus group” that challenges “the autonomy of the artist”.” (ibid) and that “these digital and virtual connections, [… are] not particularly human.” (ibid) by which the artist being quoted means not of interest or destructive to theatre/artists.

There is a misconception, I believe, that technology is driving us apart. In fact (and as I put more thoroughly in the paper I recently delivered at the recent TaPRA postgrad symposium) I believe we are living in an era that is coming to be defined by the removal of the interface. Of the removal of the sanctioning of knowledge and of the mediatisation of our relationship with the information and entertainment we consume.

Likewise with 100% of 6-10 year olds gaming (Source (PDF)), and as a nation our spending 30% more on video games than on the consumption of film, we are also now a generation of people becoming much more used to being closer more embedded in its stories. This is political as well as social, adverts and didactic politics are also able to embed themselves in the player or person at the centre of these stories, and less perceptively so, so we also need tools to allow us to interrogate that embeddedness. Theatre, is a powerfully political form, it embodies the question what if. The question that has been so evolutionarily important to us, and the question which is the basis of all politics. For theatre to preserve it’s political power/relevance (see The Player as Poltical for more) I believe it needs to be wading into Technoculture, examining how it is changing the way we live, and who we are.

After all, how is anyone who wishes to make theatre about people who live now able to do so without acknowledging that way that we are mediated and the ways that we communicate are integral to the way we live? If Michiko Kakutani is able to admit that his audiences have changed, perhaps he should consider who it is that we make our art for, about.

Acknowledging technology in your art doesn’t have to mean using it. It can, and powerfully so, but it can also be about understanding living in technoculture, about how you open up your processes, how you market your work, the processes by which you make it, and the way you approach the telling of it.

Let me introduce you to the future. We’ve always had it. It’s always been perceived to be degrading us somehow. By all means sign off on your own obsolescence, but know this: to investigate our digital technoculture is necessary. To discount its cultural relevance is at best ignorant, at worst, dangerous.

It’s time to stop having this conversation about if it’s right that theatre should embrace digital technology/technoculture, and instead start looking about how it’s being done. If you are scared of it, if you believe it is degrading how we live, that is exactly why you should be examining it.

Blog posts like this are just as guilty of continuing this conversation. So this will be the last I write on the matter for a while – of course it’s always necessary to reexamine your assumptions – but for the next few posts I do RE the arts, I’m going to stop talking about how and why the arts and tech should/can work together, and instead talk about the tools and ways they’re being used. If we should be looking at digital technology “as a tool, and like all tools, it is only as good as the person or people using it” (source) it’s time for me to stop blogging about why, and start looking at who and how.