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sydney festival 2011 & wtf


it always feels like the first time

panther: gob squad, sydney festival & world theatre festival, brisbane

PANTHER is a performance collaboration between Madeleine Hodge and Sarah Rodigari.

Super Night Shot Super Night Shot
photo courtesy Gob Squad
“A 4-SCREEN VIDEO EVENT FILMED ONE HOUR BEFORE THE AUDIENCE ARRIVES, SUPER NIGHT SHOT CONTAINS NO CUTS OR EDITS AND IS PRODUCED WITH FOUR VIDEO CAMERAS BY FOUR PERFORMERS. STARTING OFF AT BASE CAMP (THE VENUE), ALL CAMERAS ARE SYNCHRONISED TO RECORD AT THE SAME TIME. THEN IN A MILITARY STYLE BRIEF, THE PERFORMERS DECLARE A ‘WAR ON ANONYMITY’ BEFORE TAKING TO THE CITY STREETS ON A SET OF MAGICAL ADVENTURES THAT CELEBRATE UNPLANNED MEETINGS WITH STRANGERS...THE FOUR ACTIVISTS THEN RETURN BACK TO BASE CAMP...THE VIDEOTAPES ARE THEN IMMEDIATELY PLAYED BACK SIDE BY SIDE IN SYNCH, BECOMING UNITED IN ONE WIDESCREEN EPIC.” WWW.GOBSQUAD.COM

The Berlin and Nottingham-based Gob Squad, who will present Super Night Shot at the 2011 Sydney Festival, are the perfect product of a post-mediatised world: a clever mix of party, audience activation, technology and a reflection of our times. Witty, ironic and comfortable with failure, Gob Squad have been inviting the audience into their search for “beauty, meaning and humanity amongst the glittering facades and dark corners of contemporary culture” (their words not ours) for some time now and have become very good at it. They have pioneered a style of live filmmaking that includes the audience in its creation.

The stakes seem high in the company’s work; creating a film in real time in front of their audience with a seemingly casual approach to the countless chance elements makes each moment of a performance feel like risky fun. There is a lot going on and it seems that at any moment it could all go horribly wrong. This element of risk is of course all part of the joy ride. In their performances Gob Squad turn a humorous light on to this idiosyncratic world of ours and while challenging popular assumptions and beliefs, they are kind and generous in their approach. As they extend their relationship to the audience, there is no singling out, no ridicule or any attempt to undermine our vulnerable presence in the work. They welcome us with open arms, introduce themselves, smile and hold our hands. Gob Squad entrust their show to us and for an evening we are part of the collective: and together there is nowhere to go but forward, towards the curtain call.

In Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), Gob Squad reconstructed a series of Warhol videos, some of which they had seen and others that they had only heard about. The work is filmed live and projected on three screens in the middle of the theatre. In RealTime 83 we wrote about our experience of participating in a performance of Kitchen, “The essence of Warhol’s time is not the essence of Gob Squad’s time. In their frustration, the performers stop the film, they walk out from behind the screen and one by one replace themselves with an audience member. The performance ends with Gob Squad in the audience. With us standing in their place, they can be a blank canvas; they can be whoever they want to be. Gob Squad are making a new film before our very eyes and it’s free of histories. They are capturing the essence of here, right now; live in front of a camera and with an audience.”

In a recent conversation, Gob Squad’s Sean Patten explained that the motivating principle behind their works is their interest in reality and randomness; the work they make is driven by a desire to remain responsive and alive to the possibilities of encounter with the audience. To see their work is to quite literally find oneself in it as the performance is constructed in real time, live, with you in the centre. They have “designed the holes into which the audience fit” and the experience is spellbinding.

The story goes that Sarah Thom and Sean Patten met at Nottingham University in 1992. They started off making short, funny dance performances at Glastonbury Festival, the main incentive for which was to secure a free ticket to the party. Joined by visiting artists Berit Stumpf and Johanna Freiborg from Giessen University in Germany at the end of their final year, they made their first professional work, House, in a council house in Nottingham and history was made. In the beginning there were four of them and they made small, funny works that appealed to festivals and challenged a world consumed by work and bad clothing. In the years that followed, performers/artists Simon Wills and Bastian Trost joined. They have collectively made shows for theatre, interventions on the streets and in galleries and have toured across four continents. It is surprising then (at least for us) that it has taken them this long to come to Australia.
Super Night Shot Super Night Shot
photo courtesy Gob Squad
The company now works with a core of six and a growing series of guest artists who orbit the company’s collective practices and serve to enrich the world of Gob Squad. It’s a fairly unique entity in the world of performance, working without a director or hierarchy, making decisions together about each part of the work. We asked Sean Patten how they had managed to make a collective work over their 18 years. He told us about one of their most recent works, Are you with us, which addresses the difficulties of working together. The members interview each other, asking the difficult and potentially dangerous questions that they wouldn’t dare ask in private, each taking it in turn to play the role of counsellor or life coach. The results, said Patten, are funny and surprisingly therapeutic.

In the world of big business there is an increasing interest in collaborative, networked approaches to corporate environments. In offices across the world, projects called In touch, Blue Sky and Horizons are taking shape, trying to understand how collective learning, sharing and non-competitive approaches might function in the workplace. In the fraught world of the corporation it will take a long time for change to really be felt across the culture of work. In this context Gob Squad’s example might be held up as a shining beacon for collective working practices in action. If life really is a series of tests of grace under pressure, then Gob Squad are model modern citizens.

Patten says that Gob Squad’s members all remain ideologically committed to the idea of group work, which is always going to be better than work they make on their own—they don’t want to be solo artists. “You have to be a bit of a communist in order to be in Gob Squad.” He uses the metaphor of marriage or family: resentments build up, arguments and heated discussions happen and it takes the sort of work you would put into any relationship, checking in, talking about things, not leaving things to remain difficult.

“We remain interested in the world, hungry to experience culture, politics, the news and television. We start each day of rehearsal with a discussion of the books we are reading, the films we are watching, exhibitions we see.” This cycle makes sense to them, they are both producers of culture and consumers of culture.

Although Gob Squad has performed Super Night Shot over 140 times in various parts of the world, it remains an unfinished work. Patten says “It is a great mix of things that are planned and things that randomly happen on the streets. So while we may have performed the show over 140 times, we never tire of it, it always feels like the first time.” And this is true of all of their work. Gob Squad are the pop stars of contemporary performance, their much anticipated better-late-than-never arrival on Australian soil can, for performance enthusiasts, be likened to the Beatles’ tour of Australia in 1964 or perhaps Abba in 1974. Super Night Shot is one performance not to be missed in the 2011 Sydney Festival, so buckle up, you’re in for a hell of a ride!

See “Gob Squad saves the world,” RT83, p34 for Panther’s account of their encounter with the company in Europe in 2008.


Gob Squad, Super Night Shot, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Jan 25-30, 9pm; presented by Sydney Festival, Performance Space and Sydney Opera House; www.sydneyfestival.org.au; ACMI, Melbourne Feb 3-5 www.acmi.net.au/; World Theatre Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse, Feb 10-12, www.brisbanepowerhouse.org

PANTHER is a performance collaboration between Madeleine Hodge and Sarah Rodigari.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 4

© Panther ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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