Saturday, 28 July 2018

Onstage Dramaturgy: Bron Batten @ Edfringe 2018


WINNER- Adelaide Fringe Touring Award, Melbourne Fringe 2016
NOMINATED- Best Performance, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016
NOMINATED- Best Theatre Perth Fringe World 2017
NOMINATED- Outstanding Performer, New Zealand Fringe Festival 2017
NOMINATED- Best Performer & Innovation in Audience Participation, Green Room Awards 2017
SOLD OUT- Darwin Festival 2017

Watch as artist Bron Batten goes on actual first dates- live onstage!

Take a risk this Edinburgh Fringe and you could see true love bloom- or witness a slow-motion car crash right before your very eyes... Featuring a different person each night, Onstage Dating pushes the boundaries of audience participation right to the edge- and then a little bit further!
This hilarious, poignant and award-winning show has toured all over the UK (Soho Theatre), Australia and New Zealand, thrilling audiences with its unique insight into the world of online dating.

Onstage Dating is a brand new take on the battle of the sexes. In the current climate of #Metoo and Times Up, Onstage Dating playfully demands that men behave better- and then gives them the opportunity to try.

Witness the excitement, power, terror and heartbreak of the modern dating experience up close, as Bron Batten gleefully destroys the rituals of contemporary romance.

I'm a critic, right, and a terrible personal life is just part of the job. How bad can your bad dates be to actually shock me out of my jaded complacency?

Well it's funny you should mention that, because I've actually had a couple of critics who were there to review the show volunteer to come onstage and date me. A particularly memorable night in Auckland saw the journalist reveal his true identity halfway through the show- to my abject horror and the audience's absolute delight. But he gave me a fantastic review so all was forgiven.
The bad dates I've experienced were really in 'research' phase of the show- my onstage dates have been overwhelmingly lovely! 

I actually went on over 60 internet dates whilst making the show on residence in France, London and Lithuania, so I've had my fair share of weird experiences. There was a man in Paris whose opening conversation was dedicated to describing the symptoms of his irritable bowel syndrome. There was a man whose profile picture must have been taken in the mid-1970's, a man who'd had both bird flu and swine flu and a sweet Irish man who turned out to be a member of a religious cult. I could definitely go on.

Wait: I am a man. I've got all the power thanks to patriarchy. I bet your dates have revealed a few of those hidden structures that made my bad dates easier... have you learnt anything from your bad dates?

Whilst touring Onstage Dating around Australia and New Zealand last year, one thing I learnt is the subtle way that the show uses dating as means to explore gender and power structures. Because you have to sign up before the show to come onstage (I don't pick people out of the audience don't worry!) that tends to mean a certain type of extroverted person will volunteer. 

Onstage Dating is very much my show and therefore my space, but I'm inviting a volunteer- predominately a male person- to come and be my guest onstage for an hour. It's amazing how there ensues a kind of almost subconscious battle for ownership of the space and the small but myriad ways my dates will often try to assert themselves to readdress the power balance.

Because I've performed the show over 55 times now I've got a lot of material I can fall back on if a situation arises, but sometimes I still get caught off guard. There was a show in Adelaide where my date deliberately thrust and hit me in the face with his crotch whilst we were playing Twister, a move which was unseen by the audience, meant only for me. I was unsure how to react to that gesture and found I was quite stunned- but later on I made fun of his ridiculous socks so I felt I regained some ground.

To me it's a fascinating other layer to the work and something that I'm definitely aware of whilst performing it. The thing is, the ultimate outcome for me is a show where I sort of step back and by the end my date becomes the star. They're my favourite nights. So yes, I'll totally give up the space for someone, in fact I prefer it- but not if they come and try to take it by force!

How serious are the dates going to be? Do you think you'll find the love of your life in August this year?

The content of the show is built around questions from Arthur Aron's famous 36 questions psychology study, a study which proposes there are a series of specific questions a couple can answer together to accelerate the 'falling-in-love' process. The questions start off as quite innocuous and benign, eg. 'Who would you invite to dinner out of anyone in the world?' or 'Would you like to be famous and if so, how?'. But as the show goes on the questions get more serious as they become about ambition, memory, emotions and family. In that way the dates can also get quite serious- I've had people tell me about divorces, the illness of a parent or grandparent and deaths in their family. Whilst there's (a lot) of humour in the show, these moments where someone opens up to me and the audience are really special and very vulnerable.

And hey, it's always been a two birds, one stone scenario! If I met someone through the show it would definitely be a great meeting story- and I have had two second dates with people from the show. But given how disastrous they both were I think it's probably best to keep my personal and professional life separate from now on!

What kind of approach did you take to making the work, and how does it relate to other things you have made?

The approach to Onstage Dating started with the task- that is, get someone from the audience to go on a date with me. There are really three 'dates' or activities in the show- we start off with a drink, then play Twister then things get a little bit more, shall we say... Intimate! I talk a bit about animal mating behaviour, as well as human courtship throughout history so that gets woven into the action as well.

I've been creating shows over the past seven years with non-artists as performance collaborators. I made and toured a show with my elderly parents called Sweet Child of Mine which was about their opinions about art and what they think I do for a living. My Dad and I performed Sweet Child of Mine all over Australia, New Zealand and the USA and a version came to Edinburgh in 2016.

I also made works with a qualified hypnotist as well as curating shows which allow other artists to perform with their fathers, so it's definitely been an area of fascination. I really love watching non-actors onstage and the unique performance quality this creates, especially alongside a trained artist or performer. That happens in Onstage Dating as well- ultimately my dates are much more interesting than I am!

Apart from the lucky person on stage, what do you expect the audience to experience?

The audience for Onstage Dating really becomes like the third person on the date- they end up very emotionally involved! It's an exciting show to watch because the audience could be witnessing the moment that two people fall in love. I've had people in the past tell me that they've watched the show on the edge of their seats- literally!

Apart from that people can expect lots of laughs, warm and fuzzy feelings and the potential for spine-crushing awkwardness. And because a different person volunteers every night, each show will be totally different- so multiple viewings are encouraged!Onstage Dating by Bron Batten from B Batten on Vimeo.
Created and Performed by Bron Batten
Outside Eye Direction by Gary Abrahams
Sound Design by Edward Gould

Dates: 2nd of August - 26th of August (no show Monday the 13th)
Times: 9.20pm (60 minutes)

Venue: White Belly, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1EE, UK
Price: £6.50 preview, weekday £9 conc /£10 full, weekend £10 / £11.00

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