Monday, May 30, 2011

Idiots on Horses

Ok so this is another ridiculously late post (May was all consuming!)  I saw this hilarious show back in the beginning of May at the Barbican, I definitely want to see more from the absurdly creative group Told by an Idiot.

I don't think I've ever seen anything so absurd before. There's a whole lotta WTH is happening here? We Have Hitchcock, Acrobats, Louis IVX, a department store, monkeys, bugs bunny, the Alps, dogs lit on fire, and bombs. The quintet ensemble masterfully switch from scene to scene, character to character. Although I must admit I was a bit lost in the beginning (I went into it not knowing anything about the play nor the company), once they got past the multiple story lines set-up I was able to follow along.

The interweaving story lines become darker and darker throughout but the charm and characterizations keep it funny - well, absurd really. It's only later does one realize the implications of laughing at extremism. My favorite sequence follows a family of acrobats traveling through the Alps to France on the request of Louis IVX. They find a crevasse and after chopping down a tree the family one by one cross over. Sadly, one of the members falls to his death. Cue melodramatic music:  A passing around of his hat as they all mourn his death with great over-emphasis. It's hysterical. Which is horrible. A wind storm comes and they struggle - with pure comedic eagerness - up the Alps. Unfortunately, one is blown off the mountain. Cue melodramatic music:  A passing around of her hat as they all mourn her death with great over-emphasis. Again, it's hysterical. Which, again, is horrible.

As amusing as the performances are, the dark comedy and suspense melodrama hybrid never quite reaches its full potency - partly due to the sketch comedic structure. They are working with a highly charged topic of the dangers of extremism (under the motto Enlightenment by Demonstration) and I don't think they quite succeeded in delivering that message. That being said, the sheer bravado of the ensemble is enough to keep you engaged. Watching them, I kept thinking to myself, "I want to play with them!"

This show is another example of contemporary society's preoccupation with apocalyptic anxieties. We are our own worst enemies. The Enlightenment by Demonstration conceit shows us that sometimes there's no stopping our self destructive actions.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I'm Suspected to have superpowers but I obviously don't know how to use them.

I participated in Suspected with Fire Hazard Games back in April and am barely getting round to posting it (whoops).

24 April 2011

Two days before the event I was sent an email with my instructions → meet Sunday at 11am at Jubilee Gardens. Attached was a link to download a number sheet and wear at the testing grounds, a map of the area, and an mp3 to be played at exactly 11:15am on Sunday when Big Ben chimes. The government will be testing our superpowers – mine is mindreading. My codename: Horse.

A day before the event I received a cryptic email:

they're being too nice. years of suppression and now suddenly we’re getting awards? we think it might be a trap. best to play along for now. keep your eyes open. jackson will contact you. don’t talk. delete this message #fhsuspected

On the day I made sure I had everything I needed: number sheets – check; map – check; mp3 – check. I even brought duct tape because you never know when duct tape might come in handy. I arrived at Jubilee Gardens early and saw other “citizens” gathering, putting on their number plates and anxiously waiting for the clock to strike 11:15am. When the time came we all went silent and listened to the Citizen Education Officer instructions on our mp3 players. Due to our special powers, the government is testing our abilities to see how they function. We’re given individual cryptic clues and the hunt for codes on the South Bank begins.

To be honest, I felt really daft considering I chose intuition and throughout most of the event I had no idea what was happening. I’d figure out a clue, go to the place and then not find it (later I found out that some people were removing codes, but more on that later) and even if I figured out a clue, the next clue would be given before I had time to write down the pervious clue. (I also didn’t realize that I was supposed to be texting in clues along the way – whoops). I also had no idea how my mindreading super power came into play. And just when I was figuring things out, the test was over (30-minutes simply wasn’t enough). We all met up at the final meeting point and the director of the test came out to speak to us. Then one of the guards shouted and people pulled out nerf guns and shot the director. We were then told to disperse back into society.

Now, there was a lot happening at this event. I was totally clueless, but nonetheless still enjoyed the experience and love the concept (I just have loads of notes to make it better). I also spoke with participants after the event and many of them had a similar experience to mine and yet they all said they would like to do it again and wanted to try similar events. One guy I spoke to said he did it because he wanted a thrill, to experience something outside of everyday life. His girlfriend met up with him after the event and I asked her why she didn’t play. Simply put, she had no interest in participating in events like Suspected. She did say, however, that she loves art and going to theatre and cultural events, preferring to be a spectator and not a participant. Having these two perspectives are important in addressing my dissertation. I know why I like to play pretend (as an actor/performer and in everyday life) so I’m intrigued as to why those whose lives aren’t enmeshed in performance would like to participate in a pervasive game like this.

As I mentioned above, some of the game was ruined by the fact that some people removed codes so the rest of us could no longer play, thus giving them the advantage. Although deception was implied in the format, the code removers were not playing by the rules (to be fair, the rules were never clearly defined). According to Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens in contests and games it is essential that everyone play by the rules or else it ruins it for everyone else. So those of us who no longer had access to the codes were frustrated and confused as it hindered our ability to play and denying us the chance to get more clues to other codes.

With pervasive games like this, it appears a proper understanding of one’s role in the game is essential. I need to know why I’m running around the Southbank looking like an idiot searching for codes and running away from people wearing berets (guards). That being said, it was funny seeing the reactions of passersby react at a bunch of people wearing numbers, diligently listening to iPods and looking around desperately with such earnest.

Although this particular game needs more development, the fact that so many people stayed after the event to discuss ways of making it better with the organizers strikes up an interesting aspect of pervasive games: it brings together a community. We were all actively coming together to express our opinions and genuinely wanted to help create a better event. How many times do you do that when you walk out of the theatre? I dare argue that because these events are participatory we feel like we have the right to engage in the creation of the event. After all, participatory events like this rely on the participants – those playing need to do just that: play. And we were all hungry for more.

More. That’s something that keeps cropping up with me. I want more participation, more interaction, more risk, more thrill. I wonder if my wanting more will ever be satiated or if my wanting more will ever go too far. I also wonder why I want more – why I’m actively seeking out risk and deviance, and why I’m never completely satisfied. Will I ever resort to actual crime to get my fix? Could it ever go that far?

Monday, May 9, 2011

From Playful to Sadistic: A Deviant Lecture Series by A.L. Steed

The Department of Sociology at Queen Mary, University of London is proud to present the first part of a 12 part lecture series on Deviance and Criminology by PhD research fellow A.L. Steed.

This lecture is a brief introduction on deviance and criminology and the beginning of Miss Steed’s research in answering the question criminologists have been asking themselves for years:  ‘What are people trying to accomplish when they commit a crime and why are they trying to accomplish it?’

Please join us for the first lecture on Sunday 15 May at 6:00pm in the Mason Lecture Hall. (Here is a map of the Queen Mary campus, the Mason Lecture Hall is located in the Francis Bancroft building, number 26 on the map.

A.L. Steed (BA Psychology, MA Cultural Anthropology) is a visiting research fellow for the Department of Sociology at Queen Mary University of London. She is currently undergoing her PhD  investigating the relationship between human experience and human ontology in trying to understand and effectively deconstruct criminal and deviant behaviour. Her focus is on creativity and play and their impact on human behaviour especially with regards to criminality. A.L. has written for numerous publications such as American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Mundane Behavior and Deviant Behavior.

Disclaimer:  This is a part of the MA Theatre and Performance Independent Practical Project festival Lines of Thought.

A couple of questions with Kindle's Jess Mackinnon

I was able to ask Jess Mackinnon from Kindle Theatre a couple of questions about Eat Your Heart Out as I was writing my Contemporary theatre and performance essay on a phenomenal and semiotic reading of theatrical food. See Mackinnon's response to my inquiry on why they work with food below.

Why Food...

Because we have always been interested in rituals which bring people together... in communion. For us this is the point of theatre, and we do not often have that experience when we go to the theatre ourselves. Religion does it well... though none of us are religious. One of our earlier pieces In My Father's House borrowed directly from the Eucharist.

As friends we have found that food brings us together. We like cooking and eating and drinking too much. Food is a useful and interesting way of bringing people together, and supplies a variety of conventions that we can manipulate to tell a story... for example the toast, the decision not to eat a certain thing, the passing of the salt. In Eat Your Heart Out for example the fact that there is no vegetarian option is extremely important. It is two fingers up to the dinner party convention where all tastes are catered for, and is a provocation for the audience and a source of dinner party discussion... some people were genuinely angry, some understood the narrative significance, some vegetarians thought sod it and ate the meat.

Communion's aim is to bring humans as close together as possible, to challenge our singular, and so ultimately lonely experience. Food is the closest you can get inside another human being other than sex and we can't have sex with our audience. Though we have done another experiment where twenty Athenian youths kissed our audience, feeding them lemon posset- via the lips- in the process.

We are interested in creating peripatetic worlds and wanted to experiment with how we could tell a story through taste and smell.

Why did Kindle put together this event?

This particular event was put together because we were invited to be part of the festival and it is exciting and useful to be part of such festivals if we want to tour, and so survive in an increasingly difficult environment. The show itself has taken a number of forms, from studio show to large scale walk through installation. We put it on because we wanted to tell a story that would be interesting for an audience. We wanted to experiment with direct story-telling and with food and dining. We try to think of every new piece as an opportunity to test something and if it goes horribly wrong then at least we know. As much as possible we want to avoid being formulaic with our work though we have a style because of the consistency of the core team making and performing the work - we have our approach. We wanted to serve food that would challenge the audience. In one version the meat is served directly out of the carcass of the queen. We wanted to ask questions about how people behave at the end of the world. About the luxury of dietry choice (a couple of us are ex-vegetarians so it's not a criticism... only a question). About our capacity to look after number one. When we started making this show two years ago the fear of apocalypse felt extremely relevant... the climate change debate was particularly rampant... less so now. The grotesque campery that we have hopefully reached, means that the politics are an undercurrent rather than a polemic. Perhaps we can be more subversive by creating work which is fundamentally entertaining but sneaks in a definate argument.. or provocation is perhaps a better word.