Monday, 10 July 2017

Party Dramaturgy: Stephen O'Connell @ Edfringe 2017

Audience members become party guests at immersive new show PARTYGAME

From the company who brought smash hit Dance Marathon in 2011 where audience members became dance contestants, PARTY GAME is part dance, part theatre, party immersive party experience as audience members who visit the Traverse help host a surprise party

Before they know it they're in the full swing of something that runs out of control. With live music, 'games', dancing and more a poignant story unfolds that looks at loves and losses. 

What was the inspiration for this performance? 

While touring Dance Marathon we were invited by William Galinsky then the artistic director of the Cork MidSummer Festival to visit an island in the southern most tip of Ireland called Cape Clear.   We were immediately struck by its isolation and haunting beauty and decided then and there to return.  A year later we began working on a sites specific piece on Cape Clear Island in collaboration with a young Cork based company called Hammergrin who’s work we had seen and adored the previous year.  

We brought back to Canada with us the seeds of the ideas we generated with Hammergrin during our Cape Clear trip and decided to continue working on the piece as part of a summer residency Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. 

A sites specific iteration of the piece called, It Comes In Waves was commissioned and presented in conjunction with the Pan American Games in Toronto.   In that particular workshop the audience had to paddle across Lake Ontario in warrior canoes to arrive at the location of the site.

Because our work is devised and immersive we tend to prototype it over a number of years with regularly scheduled public showing to integrate feedback from the participants.

PARTY GAME in Edinburgh will be the premier of the work that has been several years in development.

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

Absolutely. Live performance has become even more resonate and necessary in the digital age.   To be even more specific, immersive live performance has become more resonate and imperative.   

Younger audiences have grown up in a nonlinear digital world.  They process and discard information and ideas at an accelerated rate.  Meaningful discussion happens when people take the time to share the same physical space.  The impact of that exchange is greater the closer you get to one another.  When you turn up the lights and acknowledge that we are all sharing the same space.

How did you go about gathering the team for it? 

The project was initially conceived and developed by the 4 core members of bluemouth (Ciara Adams, Stephen O’Connell, Lucy Simic and Richard Windeyer) and we had a our first public presentation of the
material as part of a workshop at the SummerWork Theatre Festival in Toronto.  

It was at that point we discovered that we have taken the piece as far as we could and that needed help moving the piece forward to completion.  

In the 20 year history of bleumouth inc. we had never invited someone from the outside to coming in and direct or write for the company.  Everything we had created up to that time had been collectively created.

But we recognized the needs of the piece and wanted to challenge ourselves by testing the collective model we had been developing over the years, 

It was at that point we approached Jennifer Tarver the artistic director of Necessary Angel to help direct and the Governor General Award winning playwright Jordan Tannahill to help us finish writing the script.  We had admired both of their work for years and felt their sensibility and vision was compatible to the group and the content of the piece. 

How did you become interested in making performance? 

As is often the case a number of us went to university together.  As college friends we wanted to create the kinds of experiences that we wanted to have, but were not see reflected in the theatre around us at the time.

At some point we all found ourselves living and making theatre for other people in Toronto.   A close friend of ours was running a curated fringe festival called SummerWorks and asked us if we knew any companies that made bilingual work.  We said we could do that and then created our first group show called CEASEFIRE in response to sectarian violence and nationalism in regions like Quebec, Ireland and Bosnia.

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

Our shows are decidedly collectively created.  Which means we employ no hierarchy.  Everyone has equal say.  It doesn’t matter if ti is your first day in studio or if you have been working with the company for 10 years.  We truly believe that great ideas can come from anyone.   

It is our responsibility to listen and give equal consideration to everyone.  This can make for a significantly longer creative process, but facilitates as vision that is unequivocally greater than the sum of its part.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

All of our shows are different.  That is probably because the group is constantly changing.  Although the core members of the collective have generally remained the same, we are constantly inviting new associate artists into our creative process.  PARTY GAME for example is quite different DANCE MARATHON.  

There are certainly some aesthetic and formal similarities.  Both show incorporate dance, music, text, video and engage directly with an ambulatory audience.  However PARTY GAME is certainly the most narrative piece of theatre we have created to date. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We are really hoping to discover a way more directly including the voice of the viewer in the fabric of the piece and hopefully in a meaningful and integrated manner.  We come to realize that if you are going to ask your audience a question during the performance you certainly better be prepared to allow the time and space for them to genuinely answer.  Otherwise it’s just bullshit or a theatrical trope.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? 

PARTY GAME from bluemouth inc. on Vimeo.
We have found it very useful to give the audience a very specific and real task to perform.  For example asking them to complete as contestants in a dance competition or the help set up the decorations for a surprise party.  

Audiences, particularly Edinburgh audiences are quite sophisticated. They can immediately see through the façade of the illusion. They are certainly willing to suspend their disbelief, but their role as a spectator or participant must be fully considered and not superficial.

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