Thursday, 1 June 2017

Binge Dramaturgy: Joel Baxendale @ Edfringe 2017


Performance alchemists Binge Culture are a New Zealand based group of artists who are working to renew theatre for the information age by giving spectators real stakes in their experiences.

Binge Culture are bringing a suite of three shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017: Ancient Shrines and Half Truths, Whales and Break Up (We Need To Talk).

What if you could step through a ‘digital looking glass’ and encounter your city as if for the first time? Binge Culture’s Ancient Shrines and Half Truths is an immersive outdoor audio-based theatrical experience which invites the audience to explore a seemingly innocuous urban area as a privileged outsider.

Based on a simple user-triggered app interface participants take the role of travellers seeking to ‘belong everywhere’, exploring a park and pursuing authentic experiences (before they become too popular). Each traveller carries an audio device through which they are guided by a cultural insider. Real world elements, binaural soundscapes, actors, and objects installed around town intersect with the narration to blur the line between fiction and reality.

In development for two years and premiering in Edinburgh, this show is a truly unique experience - a cross between En Route, Sleep No More and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The adventure starts at Summerhall, but who knows where your journey will take you.

The second offering from Binge Culture is Whales, a community-building street performance which enlists the help of bystanders. Each year, around 300 dolphins and whales are stranded on New Zealand’s shores, which brings entire communities out onto the beach in question to keep them cool, wet, and when the tide returns, help send them back into the sea.

Binge Culture’s Whales will see a pod of local volunteers migrating through the inner-city streets of Edinburgh, and beach at George Square Gardens. Under the guidance of the Binge Culture Response Team, audience and bystanders will be tasked with saving the whales.

Break Up (We Need to Talk) is five hours of desperation, negotiation and emotional blackmail, improvised non-stop by five performers playing two characters having one very difficult conversation. Dressed in banana suits, the durational aspect of the performance soon takes its toll, with the consequence of exhaustion and miscommunication lending itself to hilarious and often unnervingly real moments of frustration and relationship manoeuvring.

Spectators can come and go from this event throughout the evening – or stay until everything is worked through, and are invited to live tweet commentary to #bingebreakup.

Those who can’t make it to the theatre can follow the anguish on Twitter. Break Up first premiered in NZ Fringe 2014.

Venue: Summerhall. Meet in the Courtyard. Prices: £8-£11
Dates: 2-27 August Time: 15.15 & 18.15 Duration: 60mins

Venue: Assembly George Square Theatre Prices: FREE
Dates: 5&6, 12&13, 19&20 August Time: 12.30pm Duration: 45mins

Venue: Summerhall Basement Prices: £8-£10

Dates: Monday 7, 14 & 21 August Time: 18.00pm

Ancient Shrines and Half Truths

What was the inspiration for this performance?

AirBnB is a big inspiration for the show. Their
slogan ‘Belong Anywhere’ encapsulates the sense of entitlement supposedly woke global travellers tend to exhibit. 

This idea that you deserve to be able consume someone else’s culture with impunity with total disregard for how this impacts actual locals and as opposed to the 5 minute locals these travellers love to imagine themselves as.

So it’s a show about the commodification of authentic experiences and of the desire to consume these experiences before they become too popular or touristy. But it’s also a celebration of independent travel, of looking under the surface of a city and finding the minuscule and bizarre details that really make places what they are. So it’s a gentle satire of good intentions being captured by capitalism and consumerism that owes a lot to Hitchhikers Guide and Discworld series in terms of its quietly absurdist subversive tone.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

It’s still the best space to be be surprised in - nothing beats live surprise. Performance can be incredibly visceral, so much information communicated through all the different senses, and enormous ideas can be grappled with in a relatively short space of time. 

Then there’s the social aspect that helps people to open up, the shared space that allow us to experience things more acutely. So absolutely it can be a great space for public discussion of ideas, and while it may be less widely distributed it’s certainly more concentrated. 

How did you become interested in making performance? 

We have very many influences. However, like many other groups we were originally inspired by the work of Forced Entertainment. 

Their sense of playfulness and anarchy are lovely, and use of non-narrative structures, eye-opening. Most importantly they inspired us to rethink the relationship with the audience. Once we started experimenting with this, we realised that there are really no limits to the ways you can give the audience real stakes in a performance. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show? 

Like all of our shows Ancient Shrines is devised, although this process is a little different because to put yourself in the place of the audience during an improvisation is to be bang smack in the middle of it. 

The people improvising have control over what you hear, but you have complete control over what you do physically, but you need to try to react ‘honestly’ but also be aware how other people might react. So figuring out what material to select is not at all straightforward, and of course there’s a lot of logistics around how we shape the experience. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

All our work interrogates the role the audience has to play, and we are always use humour to investigate serious subjects and try to be playful with that, so in those respects this show fits in completely (I think). In terms of form, Audio based work forms one of the strands of our work as a company. 

We also make shows for traditional theatre spaces (in, I guess, what you could call a post-dramatic style) as well outdoor and interactive performances. In some ways Ancient Shrines is actually a  meeting of these three strands.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 

We hope that the audience will be empowered by their sense of agency during the show, and then because of that feel more complicity as the show goes on. If people catch themselves doing daft things in public and laughing about it, then I’ll be happy.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We have been making ‘unauthorised audio tours’ for a few years, but these have always been ‘on the rails’ where the listener has to follow a set pathway. We were interested in making this form work in a way that gave people more agency. All the previous audio works have also been solo experiences, which have relied on creating an interesting juxtaposition between the audio and the space. 

We wanted to explore what live performers could add to mix. This necessitates making a show rather than a kind of site-specific podcast that people can do in their own time, which creates all sorts of possibilities for intersections between the audio content, the real world, performers, and between audience members themselves.


What was the inspiration for this performance?

We come from a country where whale strandings are unfortunately relatively frequent. I grew up in an area known for it, and was always struck by how the community came together in the most remarkable way to try and save another species. 

This action of the audience working together to save performers acting as stranded whales was originally the finale of another show about kiwi identity, called This Rugged Beauty. We turned it into a standalone show during the 2013 NZ Fringe festival because we thought there was more power in doing the performance for the general public and in a public space.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? This performance is not so much about discussion of ideas but about community building, in the context of an imagined crisis. People have a real lived experience, it’s praxis. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show? We source volunteer performers to act as the whales. We train them to do the show and teach them about whale strandings in workshops before the performances.

Does the show fit with your usual productions? Same focus on the audience experience. Different kind of show entirely. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience? We have always been surprised by the responses to this show. Children get so caught up in the fiction that they can’t distinguish between performers and real whales. Adults end up singing lullabies to calm people lying on the ground in wetsuits pretending to be whales. The ‘whales’ themselves often have profound experiences being cared for by strangers. I hope we will be able to create similar reactions in Edinburgh.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We have found that giving the audience clear tasks is the best way to get them to interact with a performance. Rather than ask them to play a role, we give them a real and important thing to do, which they feel equipped to fulfil. Creating a space that is familiar is important too, whether it’s a seminar or as in this case, an ‘emergency situation’, familiar spaces mean the audience intuitively know the rules and how to act accordingly, and so are much more at ease. Following these key premises we create performance in which the audience inadvertently and unselfconsciously become actors in the performance.

Break Up
What was the inspiration for this performance? The theatrical ‘game’ behind Break Up was originally conceived of as part of our second ever show called Animal Hour, where all the contestants and the band collectively broke up with the host of a game show. The inspiration for turning this game into it’s own durational show came from the story of a man who was an unintended witness to a couple’s very long break up on the roof of a building, of which he started tweeting highlights:

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

See above. Also this kind of one-thing, durational performance is excellent way to air all sorts of unfiltered ideas. The audience get to judge, and there are no prescribed morals, it’s a democratic forum.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show? It’s totally improvised over 5 or 6 hours so our rehearsals feel more like training. We try to focus on obeying the rules of the game, allowing those to carry the show, and then ranging wide within those restrictions.

Does the show fit with your usual productions? This is the only durational performance we have made, but it did come out of another show, so there’s obviously some synchronicity there. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience? Schadenfreude.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

In this performance we have tried to give the audience stakes by making it more like a spectator sport, encouraging them to watch for the tactics, cheering the good moves and booing the cheap shots. Tweeting their commentary and letting them come and go throughout adds to their autonomy and the feeling of an event.

Binge Culture was established in 2008, and is one of New Zealand’s leading performance experimentalists. Highlights include performing at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York, and working with local communities throughout New Zealand to perform as Whales. The Edinburgh contingent consists of Joel Baxendale, Fiona McNamara, Ralph Upton, Rachel Baker and Oliver Devlin.

No comments :

Post a Comment