Proximity And Connection

[Saturday 28 July] I’ve just been to see Slung Low‘s final part of the Converging Paths project called Story Book. It was a promenade performance and took place at Pickering Castle (which midges aside is a gorgeous venue for a piece of site specific performance) and I am left thinking, unsurprisingly, about audience interactions.

You see we were each given headphones and a receiver so we could hear the backing track and the performers clearly in am outdoor space. I understand that this is a very practical solution to roaming work where the audience may not always have the best vantage point but means they don’t quite miss out on the action. Having the words spoken directly in their ear creates a certain sense of intimacy with the performers – they are all speaking directly to you. It also allows the company to control the audiences environment so that the only information they receive is what is fed to them.

I experienced something very similar once at Latitude Festival and it made a little more sense there in that context. We were intentional voyeurs, viewing at a distance without interacting in any way, dipping in and out of the stories of other ‘festival goers’. And while it made sense to me I found the whole experience rather cold. It was sort of like watching an outdoor television show.

As a technique, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like how it isolates me from my fellow audience members. I feel penned in to my own body and my own little cocoon. Even though I know others are having the same experience as me I feel restricted and cut off which, while it doesn’t really detract from my experience of the story, does go against one of the fundamental reasons why I go to live events. I spend enough time in my own head. I go to the theatre to be amongst other people. To feel a part of something bigger than myself rather than a passive spectator. I can do that at home. Perhaps I could reach out to others but I am wary because of the headphones. I might speak too loudly and embarrass myself. Of course, you say, this is a performance, why would you be talking? That is the festival context though isn’t it? We are free, free from seating, walls and the ‘normal’ theatre etiquette aren’t we? The rules are muddled here. I am not sure of my place and so I am doubly cautious.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Story Book at all, just that it confirmed for me what I place most importance on in performance work and the bearing this has on my own practice and I wanted to unpick that a little.

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