What happens when you put live performance, live video feed and a live audience into the same room, then add a few bottles of bubbly, a vacuum cleaner and a muffled rendition of ‘I’m not in love’? RealTime’s Fiona McGregor said, “I didn’t want to leave.” Urszula Dawkins asked Thrashing Without Looking’s creators about the show they call “a textured and disorienting journey through loneliness, frenzy, banality and cliché”, in hope of predicting the unpredictable…
Thrashing Without Looking is a highly experiential piece – how did you all come together to create it, and why?
Lara Thoms: We are all interested in elements of exchange and liveness in art and wanted to test what this can be in a performative context.
Martyn Coutts: The show uses video goggles, which deliver video directly to your eyes from close range, so the idea of having an audience who experience the work mediated via their eyes and live through the rest of their body became a touchstone for what we wanted to look at. Of course, this idea leads to notions of how we view media, disconnection, and the excitement of an experience that is tailored just for you.
Willoh S. Weiland: We had all made work together but in separate collaborations, exploring different modes of audience interactivity [and] the possibility for technology to transform the experience of the audience.
Elizabeth Dunn: I came on board first up with some useful equipment (live cinema without a video camera is quite tricky) and extra hands to help out with rehearsals. I really didn’t know much about the history of the work. At the end of the [Sydney development], after 20 hours driving and 60 hours inside a big black box to develop an experimental transformative live cinema joyride, they didn’t really have any other option but to induct me as a real Battlehead (the disgusting term we use in private as our group name).
Can you describe the creative process? What actually happened in (and out of) the rehearsal space?
Lara: We think about karaoke video clips and do push-ups in the morning. We also constantly wonder how it will work ‘with the audience’; there are whiteboards and ‘scores’.
Willoh: We start with an idea or a question such as ‘the collective behaviour of crowds’, ‘how do you give an audience agency?’, ‘how do you represent or emulate loneliness in a room full of people?’; we brainstorm images, methods, situations, text that could assist or solve the question and then apply it to the construct we have chosen for the audience to engage in the work.
Martyn: We are constantly drafting and redrafting the score of the work, interrogating the meanings of the signs and symbols. Dramaturgy is not just about the linear progression of the work but there is also techo-turgy, experience dramaturgy, even prop dramaturgy (LOL).
Liz: The creative process is fluid and it’s a very democratic process for airing ideas/options and decision-making. There is a general consensus on some things: Lara feels very strongly about no wigs, no boas, and Willoh does not allow umbrellas or suitcases. We all feel okay about this.
Tristan Meecham: The creative process involves lots of talking at each other and then getting excited and shouting at each other. The next day we look at our ideas and start again. Our challenge has been to find a balance where people are interested in a mild form of ‘participation’ and trust our little goggle ride.
What were each of you hoping to explore individually in Thrashing Without Looking?
Martyn: I am interested in the disorientation and confusion of an audience in this context, and how to build an experiential journey that sits outside of known contexts – it is not quite theatre, not quite film and not quite participatory performance.
Liz: The work is really exciting to experience as an audience and the video goggles enable a great synaesthesia. It’s really about getting closer and closer to total brain control. (Actually, I’m really interested in the psychological aspect of it. This is probably helped along by my psychiatrist flatmate.)
Lara: I am interested in pushing what performance and cinema can be, and to give audiences a transformative experience that sits in between gratification and emptiness.
Willoh: …how the screen transforms the meaning and authenticity of an image and how different states of being such as humour and rage are evoked through the simplest means. Also, I want to make work that is fun. I think fun is something you remember.
How would you describe the show to a potential audience member?
Willoh: A hot date.
Martyn: A fun ride that will be tailored just for you.
Tristan: A theme park ride with champs on arrival.
Lara: It’s best to go in without too much expectation, and enjoy something that is immersive and unusual.
Liz: Loosen up.
Alan: It’s all happening now, it’s being created by the people around you, including you. It will feel weird to begin with but it’s a lot of fun.
Martyn Coutts, Elizabeth Dunn, Tristan Meecham, Lara Thoms, Willoh S. Weiland
Thrashing Without Looking
Arts House, NORTH MELBOURNE TOWN HALL
Wednesday 3 to Sunday 7 August