|Clare Britton, Matt Prest, Hole in the Wall|
image Clare Britton, Matt Prest, James Brown
These days, in contemporary performance and live art, “experiential” suggests that an audience will be more than engaged onlookers, becoming an actively creative component in the making of a show. In his report on the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver (p2), Alex Ferguson describes a swathe of productions in that festival engaging intimately with audiences: “The role of the spectator has been shifted from decipherer-of-meaning to co-creator of the theatrical event. Another way to put it is to say that interpretation has been subordinated to encounter, and that it is in the energy of the encounter that meaning is created, rather than having meaning encoded in the event beforehand by the artist.” Increasingly artists ask their audiences to follow rules, solve problems or make art, while others offer immmersive experiences that require willing physical submission, like enduring sensory deprivation. Of course, there is a long history of works that have mobilised audiences to create their effect (including, memorably, those of Sydney’s Gravity Feed) but the current moment is seeing such approaches multiply and rapidly diversify.
Prest explains that Hole in the Wall is “a continuation of The Tent”, his previous work, in which “the tent provided a focus for the audience experience.” The audience entered, sipped soup and absorbed a laterally-told tale, with puppets and film, about a curious male relationship. The Tent fused an engaging low-key realism with theatrical magic yielding a strange otherworldliness—a hint of the metaphysical. It appeared at the Next Wave Festival and Performance Space’s LiveWorks in 2008 and, fortuitously as you’ll see, in 2009 at Campbelltown Arts Centre.
For Hole in the Wall, Prest tells me, the artists have built “four rooms—four large boxes, domestic in feel, with loud wallpaper and trimmings like skirting boards. They’re stiflingly domestic but without clear function. They could be a bedroom, a study or a cupboard, but there’s no furniture.” Each room will house nine members of the audience, viewing the performance happening outside through a window or a wall that opens out. The rooms are on wheels, are moved by the audience and can become two rooms or one as they join up and Hole in the Wall, says Prest, then becomes “more about an overarching space. Each disorienting move reveals and reframes fragments in a suburban love story.” From within these rooms, through windows or open walls, the audience witness “the psychological, emotional world of a couple seeking the beauty of perfection—the home which will be everything they want—and the destructiveness in the lengths they might go to get there.”
Although drawing on the lives of Prest and Britton as a couple, the work is not autobiographical: “it’s more than ourselves,” says Prest, “but the tricky themes are pertinent to us.” Although there is text (written by Halcyon Mcleod, one of Britton’s partners in the performance group My Darling Patricia)—”monologues, dialogue, scenes”—Prest sees the emphasis in the show as being on the physical and the visual. “Physical as in presence: the delicacy with which the performer enters the space and negotiates with the audience.” He explains that much of the show has been developed on the floor, working with Melbourne-based director Hallie Shellam. Also involved in the show are multidisciplinary visual artist Danny Egger and sound designer and composer James Brown who is also working with Prest and Britton on the animated film which will be part of Hole in the Wall—”a puppet couple in naive looking stop-motion influenced by [Czech animator] Jan Svankmajer.”
Prest pays tribute to Campbelltown Arts Centre for its investment in Hole in the Wall (after it had hosted The Tent) with a four-week residency when the show was just an idea, at which early stage no government funding body would likely support it. Then Campbelltown Arts Centre, Performance Space and Next Wave Festival 2010 joined forces to co-commission Hole in the Wall with the financial assistance of an Opportunities for Young and Emerging Artists (OYEA) Initiative grant from the Australia Council. This means that Hole in the Wall will appear successively at Campbelltown Arts Centre, Next Wave 2010 in Melbourne, and Performance Space at CarriageWorks in Sydney, a wonderful opportunity for a new venture, not least one based on an intriguing performative and thematic premise.
Matt Prest, Clare Britton and collaborators, Hole in the Wall, Campbelltown Arts Centre, April 22-24, school performances April 21, 23; www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au; Next Wave 2010, dates TBA, http://inside.nextwave.org.au; Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, May 26-29, http://performancespace.com.au
Originally published in the March 29, 2010 online edition.
RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. 34
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com