Posts Tagged ‘the reality event

25
May
15

The Reality Event: Suicide

The Reality Event: Suicide

The Suicide Ensemble

Bean Cafe

May 12 – 17 2015 

Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris

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SUICIDE forms the other half of THE REALITY EVENT – a double bill of work directed by Daniel Gough and devised by The Suicide Ensemble for Anywhere Theatre Festival. Performed alongside GAME, SUICIDE is an infamously controversial and provocative piece. As I made my way to Bean Café I tried to free myself of any expectations, but lurking in the back of my mind were stories I had heard about previous developments of SUICIDE – stories of audience members stopping the performance midway and people leaving the room in tears. This aside, I could not imagine anything that could possibly elicit such a strong reaction from me. I was proven wrong.

 

 

Like GAME, SUICIDE has a simple premise:

Five performers. Five simulated suicides.

 

 

The audience votes for who should die and how they should die. Despite its set-up, we are told from the very beginning that this performance is not about suicide. Instead it is a self-referential interrogation of where reality and construction meet in the context of theatre, art and more broadly, life. It is an open work that places the audience’s response at its centre.

 

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Over the course of an hour, I witnessed each performer take their life using bleach, pills, tape, a gun and a knife. Before the performance had even begun, masked individuals slowly revealed each fatal instrument from a leather bag. This magnetic moment carried enough gravitas to set the tone for the rest of the performance.

 

Once again, the performers (including the masked “minions”) could not be faulted in their commitment to the performance.

 

Each individual stood openly before the audience and inflicted imagined pain upon himself or herself without reason or resistance.

 

Each suicide took place systematically – there was a set up, act and deconstruction (For example, the effect of bleach on the stomach lining was described in vivid detail). This emphasis on the physical act rather than commentary on suicide reinforced that the performance was not aboutsuicide. In saying this, I argue that not only is it impossible for SUICIDE to avoid the issue of suicide itself, it is also necessary in their interrogation of reality vs. construction which takes place on two levels.

 

The first level exists where reality and construction are blurred on stage. For example, performer Remi was asked by the audience to commit suicide by placing tape over her mouth, nose and eyes. Before Remi was “pronounced dead” and wrapped up in a tarpaulin, she clapped her hands (strapped behind her back) several times. The tape was ripped from her face and both Remi and the audience took a deep breath. In this moment, I became confused as to whether this moment was an accident (reality) or pre-planned (construction). I also became aware of the very real risk inherent within the performance.

 

The second level exists where reality and construction are blurred in the mind of the audience. Here, what is being shown on stage meets the experiences, knowledge and ideas of each audience member. It wasn’t until the final suicide, where performer Esther stabbed herself in the stomach, that my own personal life experience and what I saw on stage fused together. Hearing her scream with pain, I felt sick to the stomach and unexpectedly began to cry. At this point too, several audience members got up and left.

 

I don’t think I have ever been so viscerally and emotionally affected by a performance before.

 

To feel something so strong in an age of widespread desensitization is quite remarkable. We are surrounded by death in movies, on the news and on the Internet, but how do we respond?

 

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This is only one of the questions raised by SUICIDE. It is a dense, multi-layered and thought provoking work, inciting plenty of post-show discussion and debate. For me, one of the most important questions SUICIDE raises is the ethics of performance: is it ethical to simulate death on stage, causing distress to the audience? Is it ethical to place performers at risk physically? I cannot answer these questions, but I must admit the performance didn’t sit well with me. And maybe that’s the point. As director Daniel Gough said at the end of the performance, it is these feelings of uneasiness that we should be left to consider.

 

Still, I am considering not only the performance but also my response to the performance. I believe the work has certainly realized its intent, but at what expense? I am intrigued and fascinated by the central idea of reality vs. construction, but wonder if there is some other vehicle that could be used to explore this idea.

 

Unfortunately the Anywhere Theatre Festival season of THE REALITY EVENT has now ended, however, The Suicide Ensemble is definitely a group to watch. The work they are making is important, unique and unapologetic. It’s work for the audience, which I believe relies on an ongoing discussion between artist and audience about its place in a broader context.

 

14
May
15

The Reality Event: GAME

 

The Reality Event: GAME

The Suicide Ensemble

Bean Cafe

May 12 – 17 2015

 

Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris

 

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GAME represents one half of THE REALITY EVENT – a double bill of work directed by Daniel Gough and devised by The Suicide Ensemble for Anywhere Theatre Festival. The premise of THE REALITY EVENT is simple, and the result chaotic…

 

“This is theatre for the people. Two performances: SUICIDE and GAME. Each plays a part in finding out what your world is really made of. We’ve made something big. But it’s time to burn it down. Come be destructive with us.”

 

It had been a long time since I’d been this excited for a performance.

 

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As I walked through a dark alleyway on my way to the venue, performers donned in rubbish bags greeted me and directed me to the entrance of Bean Cafe. I knew I was in for a gritty night. The underground café, while small, proved to be an inviting and energetic space – the perfect venue for an “underground” performance. Back in the alleyway, the hosts laid down the rules, the performers were introduced, and inside, the game began. Over the next hour, five performers, supported by their team of audience members, battled it out for the title of winner. I witnessed as balloons were popped with a large rubber object, eggs were thrown at dancing performers and a mix of yoghurt, spam and gherkins was hesitantly consumed.

 

At this stage you may be having trouble imagining all of this, and that’s because GAME is a work that needs to be experienced.

 

It’s important to acknowledge that its origins lie in the tradition of performance art more than theatre, with clear influences from international companies such as Gob Squad. GAME has no characters, no set and no script. And without you (the audience), it would not exist.

 

This emphasis on audience participation and improvisation means that not only will each performance be different, but each audience member’s response to the performance will be different. I get the sense that this individual response is what GAME is all about.

 

For me, GAME was a playful experience made possible by the vibrant energy and personality of each of the performers. Their commitment was admirable, and their sense of fun infectious. The whole performance felt like an echo of my generation – the type of perverse thing that I’d watch on YouTube with my friends and laugh. While physical audience participation was relatively minimal, I felt engaged and involved throughout, cheering for “Team Pavle” from the sidelines.

 

As the game progressed and the tasks became more cringe-worthy, I found it difficult to watch. But still, I couldn’t look away. What did this say about me? About my generation? These were interesting questions but I’m not sure they were the ones The Suicide Ensemble was asking. In fact, for all its moments of brilliant fun and dark play, I felt the intention of GAME was unclear. I left the performance questioning the significance of my response in light of their intent: what was the point of this game?

 

There is no denying that the audience has been considered when creating GAME, however; this type of work, which relies so heavily on the audience’s involvement can reveal a gap between intent and reception in performance. As the ensemble itself says, “In truth, we’re never sure how it’s going to go…because you aren’t there yet.” While GAME is a well-considered and carefully structured piece, I feel there is potential for it to be developed further, incorporating audience feedback from this first development.

 

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GAME has the potential to ask more, to push the boundaries further and to include the audience more completely. But in this underground cafe are the beginnings of a new work that is young, fresh and ambitious.

 

It’s fun. It’s rebellious, and most importantly it’s the type of work you really don’t want to just hear about second hand.