Posts Tagged ‘counterpilot

08
Dec
18

Crunch Time

 

Crunch Time

Metro Arts & Counterpilot

TAFE South Brisbane Norman Price Theatre

December 5 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

In a dark chamber at the Norman Price Theatre, South Brisbane TAFE, seven diners including myself are seated at a table. The surface undulates with a virtual table cloth, projected from technology above. Waiters stand at attention against dark walls, and director Nathan Sibthorpe sits at a computer console nearby. Some diners have come together, however mostly we’re strangers, and we attempt awkward introductions and polite chit-chat as we wait.

 

The Good The Bad and The Ugly by Morricone underscores a sudden flurry of animated activity on the table. The pre-recorded voice of Lauren Jackson explains the rules of the game. We’re given tokens; a ‘tick in a box’ – a branded icon of Crunch Time created on a 3D printer. The projector throws selections upon the table, and we place our tokens on our respective choices, the system then calculating our consensus. We’re told the majority have voted for sparkling water. We then vote similarly on red wine, white wine, or beer.

 

Images of a commercial kitchen appear in virtual plates on the table, and we’re introduced to the guest, and self-confessed mediocre cook, Fiona Ward, a manager with Queensland Performing Arts Centre. She tells us that she’s eight metres away in a kitchen ready to prepare our meals. While charming and impromptu, she reads as if unrehearsed, from either cue cards or teleprompt off-camera. Her dialogue, deliberately scripted and superficial, as if to reference the banal discourse of Australian TV cooking shows such as Huey’s Cooking Adventures, and Good Chef Bad Chef.

 

We vote on the ingredients for a starter, ultimately settling on egg, rice paper rolls, corn, coriander and soy sauce. Ingredients are then submitted to the kitchen for a sort of mystery box test for Ward, (who has helpers) while, Jackson’s voice-over coldly asks us at random about our food experiences, expectations, favourite foods, and allergies. We’re then presented with our dishes, and dine on the creations of our democratic making. The structure is then repeated over five courses.

 

Uniquely immersive and as an interactive dining experience, this is a slick, digital confluence of a board game, a game show, and a reality cooking show. As a participant it’s not hard to imagine the concept’s possibilities if applied to broader domestic, and consumer products like a restaurant, or a home entertainment system.

 

Execution of the sound engineering and multi-media technology are of the highest order, extremely clever and genuinely exciting to engage with. Participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening. However, as there were no conventional narrative or dramatic elements, the content and strength of the show is reliant, in part, on the diner’s social skills and interactions to fill gaps. With Jackson’s pre-recorded voice over, and Ward’s teleprompter live-feed, diners turn inward to escape the game’s digital isolation and superficial, consumer cultural aspects.

 

Subsequent dishes, again democratically elected by us, included a pumpkin and coconut cream mash with paprika chickpeas and carrot, seasoned beef strips with rosemary and couscous, a deconstructed Hawaiian pizza, and a Kahlua, liquorice and ice cream thickshake. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a fantastic sound system of eclectic music: Jazz, Beethoven’s 9th, Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor, Verdi’s’ Requiem.

 

The food is lacklustre, and no offence to Ward; we know she’s chosen for political reasons. The program blurb says each performance has nominated a particular individual from a sphere of political or artistic influence to play cook. However, for this reason she is underutilised, relegated to the kitchen, reading meaninglessly from cue cards, and preparing our meals without political contribution. Given the old maxim one should never discuss politics at the dinner table, I concede this was avoided at risk of being divisive and unfun. Nevertheless, here we are, at a show which purports to be premised on dining and the politics of modern democracy. Neither of which are boldly executed.   

 

The main character here is the technology, and Crunch Time feels like a pilot concept with the capability of sitting within a much greater dramatic idea. Rather than a conventional show, it’s more a vehicle showcasing the potential of the interactive technology, which was truly mesmerising. However, with some better plotting, and dramaturgy, the structure could be lifted from its monotonous and predictable repetition, in which participants are busied answering arbitrary questions about capsicum or dill.

 

Going over two hours, the experience could’ve been shorter with fewer courses, and with more activities that facilitated interaction and debate. While the show’s underpinning influences may have been political tribalism and the disillusion of democracy, those concepts were seemingly absent.

 

In his program note, Director, Nathan Sibthorpe describes the catalyst for Crunch Time, “…we saw general populations vote for Trump, Brexit and the return of One Nation. I was deeply shocked by all three. I couldn’t find anyone in my immediate community who supported these ideologies!”

 

At one point during the evening, a diner confessed to having a dairy intolerance, even sharing her medication as proof. Nevertheless, the group, unempathetic to her appeals, voted for cheddar. What does this say about democracy? About us? Sibthorpe opines, “…democracy demands that we listen to the people that we don’t know. It demands we cooperate. Try to understand. At the end of the day, we’re all eating at the same table and we all have to eat!”

 

While foreshadowing a change in the way we understand theatre, Crunch Time is a terrific concept show. While seemingly dishing up consumer friendly fluff, it poses a foreboding conundrum about the underpinning narcissism lurking behind the veil of democracy.

18
Nov
17

Spectate

 

SPECTATE

Counterpilot

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

November 7 – 8 2017

 

Reviewed by Amelia Walker

 

 

When you purchase a ticket to see a show, perhaps taking a friend or loved one along on a well-deserved night out, do you imagine that you’ve escaped the responsibilities of your day-to-day life?

 

Does a 90-minute production help you feel as if you’ve broken out of the shackles, the bars, or the straightjacket that locks you inside the monotony of a regular life?

 

Do you feel any guilt for your viewership?

 

Brisbane-based innovators of theatre, Counterpilot, have brought together elements of live performance, technology, and the flare of illusion in order create their trans media work, Spectate. Houdini, struggling through his final performance, is at the heart of the work, with intercutting flashes of his personal life, layers of commentary, and contemporary references framing his story.

Houdini may be known for creating spectacles of illusionary and wondrous feats, but Spectate unravels the mystery and reveals the trick: behind the smoke and mirrors is a man. A human man. And just like his audience, that man isn’t sure what to believe in either.

Counterpilot didn’t make the regular theatrical attempt to perfectly represent the narrative’s location through their set, saving the real ‘how did they do that’ reaction for their use of technology. This choice deflected focus from noticing how beautifully a costume was sewn, or how realistic a window appeared to be, and instead allowing me to observe the impressive nature of constructing a show like Spectate.

This use of technology has ensured that audiences not just consider what they are seeing, but evaluate why they are seeing it at all. Wearing headphones for the majority of the show, audiences are enrolled in layers of inner-dialogue from regular theatregoer characters. These people whose inner-thoughts I was privy to, had a life that could be physically interacted with. But whilst I could hear the coughs in the soundscape, and even text with an old friend of one of the characters, the show is an unusually isolating experience.

Journeying through the life of Houdini (Toby Martin) was a compelling look at how this man was at odds with his ability to create illusions but inability to believe in anything without evidence. However, this narrative didn’t capture me the way the inner-dialogue characters managed to. What kept me invested in the outcomes of Houdini’s performances was the evaluation of the role of an audience member escaping their regular life, who is ironically frustrated when the man regaled for his ability to escape, fails to deliver the magic.

The impressive optical illusions mainly constructed by Martin & Cameron Clark, in role as a stage technician, were all built onstage in plain view. Counterpilot weren’t trying to pull wool over eyes; they instead had me wonder why people wanted to be fooled in such a way in the first place. Where was the joy in seeing something you know is a trick?

 

I came to think that perhaps it is only human to want to escape a world where science leaves no room for doubt, no room for magic, and where the limitations of life can be despairing. This appeared to be the point of focussing on Houdini’s escape story; his obsession with dismantling faith with evidence only led him to despair.

 

Martin’s performance humanised a sensationalised man, and his depiction of surmounting stress was done subtly and effectively, rather than falling back on the descriptions delivered by the inner-dialogue character to carry the meaning. This wasn’t always the case with the illusions themselves, as the headset had to lead my experience of being discontent with the illusions Houdini was performing. The thread of the breakdown could have been woven into the set design so as to support Martin’s growing fatigue, but in all other facets the work dematerialised wondrously.

The project ambitiously interweaves live and pre-recorded sound and visuals throughout the on-stage performance not only to tell the story, but to point at what the artists are doing. Referencing the creation of theatre and the act of deciding to be an audience member may appear to be a message just for the arts community, but I would argue there’s a larger appeal.

 

 

Spectate suggests that it is not just an artist’s vice to want to escape the reality of life, but a human endeavour. Whether it be picking up a book, or watching TV, or creating art, we will find a way to leave behind our responsibilities, even at the cost of someone else’s’ safety and sanity. Perhaps we should feel guilty for this. Perhaps we shouldn’t ask a man who’s clearly swept up in his own issues to perform death-defying stunts so that we don’t have to think of the bills we have to pay later, or our work colleague we hate.

 

Although perhaps we can’t help ourselves.

 

I want more, and with Counterpilot’s promising body of work, I will certainly be looking to fill that desire.