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Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel
photo Nick Mangafas
Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel
photo Nick Mangafas
Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel Tour Guide, Linz, Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel
photo Nick Mangafas
AFTER SUCCESFUL PERFORMANCES OF FOOD COURT FOR THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE LUMINOUS SEASON AND RECEIVING A KIT DENTON FELLOWSHIP—FOR COURAGEOUS WRITING—FOR A WORK IN DEVELOPMENT, GANESH VS THE THIRD REICH, GEELONG-BASED BACK TO BACK THEATRE HAVE FURTHERED THEIR VENTURES IN INNOVATIVE PERFORMANCE WITH TOUR GUIDE. THE NEW OUTDOOR WORK HAS BEEN CREATED IN COLLABORATION WITH AUSTRIAN GROUPS MALARIA, SOUNDSO THEATER AND SCHRÄGE VÄGEL AND PERFORMED AS PART OF LINZ’S THEATERLUST.

The performance took place in a public park, with neither sets, nor lighting nor costumes. Tour Guide explores body language as much as the content of its German and English scripts. The audience was reminded that in such public places, while unable to hear the words of others, we may be able to observe the emotions in private conversations, sense the aggression of one person standing over another, decipher the pursed lips of disappointment, or empathise with the embarrassed fidgeting of rejection.

The audience here was wired more deeply into such intense personal drama via headphones, a technique used by Back to Back in their internationally popular Small Metal Objects. The audio guide took us on a voyeuristic journey into a series of intimate moments, many of which were painfully or comically awkward. The script is based on four short stories, expanding in scope from the personal to the societal; firstly an intimate dialogue about sex, then friends giving advice on infidelity in marriage, next a community intervention into a drug deal, and finally a layered narrative on representations of disability in the media.

A little girl searching the park for her lost guinea pig interweaves the four stories. Her role is also to usher the audience to the action as the direction from which the dialogues come is not always obvious. Used more explicitly, this technique would be sufficient but, for many of us, it takes a little while to sink in, by which time, some of the performance has already passed. But by the second act, we are in the swing of it. From inside a car, a man explains to his friend that his wife wants a divorce. His friend advises that, like a plant, a marriage has to be tended. He takes this to his wife, but in his nervousness, misquotes, “I want to love you, like a plant.”

The next scene introduces a more criminal scandal. The little girl approaches a man in a wheelchair and asks, “Have you seen my guinea pig?” The man turns out to be dealing drugs and tricks the little girl into becoming his mule. Discovering the incident, the girl’s sister rallies the park community to set things straight. This is a magical scene. As we see them unite to gang up on the bully, we realise that we have mistaken most of the actors, scattered on park benches for bystanders. Whether we have seen them as people with disabilities or simply as separate individuals going about their daily lives, they now demand to be recognised as performers. Even a dog, also part of the large cast, joins in barking excitedly, and the drug dealer wheels off.

In the last act, we watch several takes of filming a scene in a movie in which a young man with Down’s syndrome has arranged a blind date with a woman by sending a photo of someone else: “a 35 year old man with blond wavy hair who likes going to the theatre, fine dining and walking in the Alps.” When she becomes angry, he then claims to be Michael Jackson. “Michael Jackson is dead”, she cries. He is persistent. “Okay, yes, I’ll be honest. I am James Bond. You have beautiful hands and a beautiful body. You are my Bond girl. Please be my girlfriend.” And somehow, we have been guided back to the beginning of the tour, a desperate man pleading to be loved.

Like Back to Back’s home town of Geelong, the city of Linz is no stranger to the challenge of generating significant work outside the usual cultural epicentres—neither city has more than 200,000 inhabitants. Tour Guide has moments of awkward intercultural collaboration; the Australian and Austrian performers don’t always seem to be on the same page and some English dialogue is simultaneously translated as it is performed. But it shows that local stories can resonate on an international level.

The lost guinea pig is never found, but in meeting so many people, I have almost forgotten that anyway. I am just happy to be part of the guinea pig audience for this project, which will be continued in 2010 and undoubtedly join the list of Back to Back’s success stories.


Back to Back Theatre with Malaria, SOundSO Theater & Schräge Vägel, Tour Guide, Theatrelust, Linz, Austria, Aug 10-11

RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg. 42

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

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