Y? – Ranae Shadler and Collaborators

Y?

Y? – Melbourne Fringe REVIEW

Tuesday 30th October, 2014

There were six tribes set up as six competing tables in a trivia night like set up. Each tribe represented a social stereotype: Feminists, Bogans, Queers, Professionals, Hipsters, and Internationals. The deviser Renae Shadler, leads the evening playing hostess and political advisor to the competition and participatory performance piece.

 

Every audience member contributes to their team through various games, competitions and conversations. Using a hybrid of digital media and old-school ontology we participated in: pen on paper word search, YouTube montage, iPhone snap chat, brainstorming and audience participation. Each activity helped to unravel the crux and core of this performance piece, questioning the logic behind identity politics and social stereotypes, and the language and mediums we use to reinforce and perpetuate them.

 

What I found particularly impressionable was reflecting on the way that these new, Gen Y mediums of communication are so integrated in our daily lives. Throughout the performance we were asked to understand and use the language and interface of YouTube, Facebook, Instragram and Twitter. Platforms and jargon which five years ago would have been confusing and incomprehensible were totally understood, by everybody. It really showed how Gen Y and their social platforms are genuinely a part of a very real cultural and communication shift.

 

Layered on top of these underlying communication and social strategies was the enigma of the piece, which was about discussing and breaking down stereotypes.

While the games were aimed at exploring and laying bare how these social stereotypes and prejudices are generated and perpetuated by our language and representation through these social platforms (YouTube, Facebook, etc). The piece also left a sense of hope for how these mediums could potentially be used as a way to break down and break through those stereotypes, as means of inclusiveness, of balance, and equality.

 

I really enjoyed the value and foundations of Shadler’s Y? The conversation about social mediums and stereotypes was important, relevant, and completely applicable. The presentation was fun – the giant beach balls at the end provided one of those rare opportunities to just, simply, play. More detail to technical elements would have highlighted further the implicit nature of this technology in our lives. There was lacking a crispness in the audio and visual, but this is easily forgiven in a Fringe context.

 

Some of the performers, the leaders of the tribes, were more confident in their stereotyped identities than others. Some seemed to, from the outset, belong to several identity groups. A more stylised, deliberate caricature of these ‘leaders’ at the beginning would have given more impact as they begin to unravel into individuals as the show progresses, when we meet them, work with them, and begin to hear their stories. For me, it was this element – hearing the performers stories – which bought real power to the piece and which separated it from a theatricalised trivia night into a piece of impressive performance art.

Y?

Tuesday 30th September – Saturday 4th October 2014

Fringe Club – North Melbourne town Hall

Melbourne Fringe Festival

 

Promenade Theatre

Just-Us

Just Us – Polytropic Productions

Just Us – Melbourne Fringe REVIEW

Friday September 19, 2014

Promenade. The word suggests a kind of passing by, pleasurable viewing. Like a stroll along the beachfront, or watching pretty girls in pure dresses twirling. On Friday September 19 I viewed Polytropic Production’s promenade theatre performance, Just Us. Directed by Mitch Jones, Just Us played at The Substation as a part of the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Attending this performance I gained an improved respect and awe for promenade and immersive performance and its capabilities. However, it also prompted me to question the limitations of a spectator’s experience, and the boundaries of my own site-specific and immersive theatre work.

 

At The Substation, the arrival process was similar to airport security. Bags checked, metal detected, take this form (pictured below), follow instructions, see the ‘friendly’ (read intimidating) uniformed staff if you have any hesitations. Do not hesitate.

 

The audience milled in the foyer, where it was difficult to distinguish where audience ended and spectacle began. Performers entered and loitered, subject to the same security and control processes as us plebs. Their main distinction was the raise in their voice and seriousness of their stare: the spectators were the only ones smiling – because of uncertainty as much as humour. “Do you understand what promenade theatre is?” demanded a security guard of me while I was looking about for clues. I was smiling to manage that awkwardness you feel when exposed and confronted by the authorities, even though certain of your innocence.

“It’s, like a roving performance, right?”

“Well, yes…You have to walk around. Curiosity is the key.” And with that cryptic resolution I was ushered off with the rest by a very likeable secretary character, who lead us into the space, and reminded us all that curiosity is the key.

 

Our adequate curiosity was met with a dreamscape office environment. Memories of Centrelink hit home hard. Smoke clouds and a maze of white walls, people with purpose passed us as we explored the cubicles: documentation, prosecutor and attorney offices, certification. We spread out, trying to fill out our ‘forms’, watching scenes unfold as we stumbled across them. We found acrobats hanging over desks – their foot, a foot in front of our faces – and impressive caricatures juggling documentation amid spinning balls, toppling mountains of paperwork and balancing stationary. The metaphor of the justice system as a circus was strong and left a remarkable impact on the audience who were required to not only view, but also participate, in the chaos.

 

A bell rang and we were marched single file into the courtroom where we watched the proceedings of cases we had been introduced to in our promenade experience. The judge threw misogynistic quips at the female prosecutor amid clowning interludes from circus performers. Meanwhile, A mother and her son fought for a fair go; An academic attempted to undermine the authorities; A young humanitarian urged for justice, for democracy, for equality, for freedom of speech, and, mirroring her words, a young female acrobat twisted in the ropes that would eventually hang the humanitarian.

 

A powerful presentation of a relevant and important premise, Just Us reflected the true and ugly qualities of our justice system, and evoked a streamline thought process of critical engagement from the audience. However, I cannot help but wonder if the powers of promenade theatre are limited by targeting a particular spectator type. This kind of immersive, participatory theatre requires not only curiosity, but courage, confrontation, and a generally extraverted or outgoing individual. Those with more confidence would gain an undoubtedly improved and different experience to those who kept to the shadows, who wondered but did not engage with the world they were given. In this environment the narrative was progressed by role-play, confrontation, and engagement with others. Through performer/audience relations we met and understood characters and their stories. Spectators with less confidence may have missed out on the experience others more boisterous and playful were privy to.

 

In Mitch Jones’ Just Us, I was engaged and entertained, and his imagined world that we were invited to explore was flawless and so incredibly appropriate to the enigma and heart of his production. However, as I am not naturally as outwardly bubbly and open as some of my friends, I did have to work for my engaged experience – and this isn’t always something I want from theatre. Always, I want to be intellectually stimulated, entertained and changed. Sometimes, I want that to happen effortlessly.

 

This makes me reflect on my own work and has encouraged me to play the spectator more in considering the artistic choices I make when attempting to generate ground-breaking immersive theatre experiences. How do I make something that is applicable and enjoyable to people of all walks of life, and more so, to non-traditional theatre goers? How do I entertain in a way that I trick people into venturing outside of their comfort zone, and experiencing a different and otherwise inaccessible perspective? I hope that it is through an immersive and engaged theatre experience, and until now, I was certain it was. Is holding up the mirror enough? Or is allowing the audience to step into the reflection better?

 

Just Us - Polytropic Productions - Form

Just Us – Polytropic Productions – Form

Reviewed by Nina Barry-Macaulay – September 2014