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SMS Circus

Leah Mercer

Darcy Grant, This Text Has Legs Darcy Grant, This Text Has Legs
photo Natalie Warner
Circa’s latest work This Text Has Legs blends contemporary circus, improvisation, music and multimedia. The audience is invited to leave their mobile phones on and their text messages are projected onto a screen and incorporated into the performance. This evokes the rare feeling that what happens on stage is at least partly in your hands.

Fumbling in the dark for your mobile, you break one of theatre’s traditional taboos to be rewarded by the temporary thrill of seeing your tiny private message projected onto the screen for all to see. This level of mild titillation is what initially grabs your attention. You want to know who wrote "2moro i will be reborn as a chicken", or "CSI Toowoomba cow abduction unit." There is also the constant question of the degree to which the performers’ actions are responses to the SMS messages.

More than anything, this is a performance that thrives on accumulation. At first it seems like nothing more than a highly skilled Viewpoints exercise, an interesting use of time, space and gesture. Initially this is purely mechanical, as if the audience is watching a warm-up. What becomes clear is that this is also the audience’s warm-up period. The first 20 minutes or so was a texting rehearsal, and as we got better so did the performance.

It’s a show in which the performers’ actions–the usual expertly executed circus tricks (juggling, jumping through hoops, skipping on a unicycle, doing the splits on a tightrope)–are secondary to what the audience does. When the SMS "is the other lady only part time?" appeared on the screen, "the other lady" (Rockie Stone) moved more centrally into the action. Her series of ‘Strong Woman’ stunts prompted another SMS: "I bet she could kick your ass part time." From this point the to-ing and fro-ing between audience members, and between audience and performers accelerated until after a particularly stunning trick it culminated with the message "part timer you rock my world."

The set piece was what I’ll call the ‘Patrick Swayze’ episode. It began after a particular trick when the SMS "i saw that in dirty dancing" led to a running gag centred around the movie. How this unfolded demonstrated the possibilities of improvised interaction. Suddenly the soundtrack is Swayze’s She’s Like the Wind, one of the performers is quoting from the movie and an SMS is asking "whatever happened to patrick swayze?" For an audience rarely authorised to exercise their creative muscles, the power of making narrative choices (or not) dawns on them slowly. It only really became clear after the event when, considering all these moments together, a predominately whimsical performance experience now seems more lively and lucid than it did at the time.

It’s both a revolutionary way to enrich the connection between audience and performance and a revolutionary way to order beer, like the smart arse who texted, "may i have another boags please?" And that’s just it; you’re at the mercy of the audience, they can raise or lower the tone, or most likely keep it hovering somewhere in between.

Circa, This Text Has Legs, artistic director Yaron Lifschitz; performers Darcy Grant, Chelsea McGuffin, David Sampford, Rockie Stone; composers Zane Trow, Lawrence English; Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, March 22-26

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 35

© Leah Mercer; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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