Moving on from A Living Gallery in June, Alice Robinson Writes About Collaboration, Performance Anxiety and Non-Traditional Spaces for CrossArts…
For CrossArts Second Project, we had our objectives:
- Exhibit selected works and create an exhibition with elements of interaction
- Work with the theme of “life mimicking art”, and vice versa
- Create a performance using the form of a tour
Great. But, how would we perform in a gallery?
For Project Pygmalion in 2016, we took a more traditional approach to the stage show – By night the gallery became a sit-down theatre space, with each piece giving an individual response to the chosen theme.
But we had also taken time out in the day to experiment, our actors improvising – wholly improvising – a gallery tour in the daytime. By playing with the “rules” and restrictions of our CrossArts gallery, we examined how we are allowed to engage with art, and in what ways our experience is decided for us. (In one moment, my tour guide character would demand a visitor hand over a water bottle, before giving a talk on an installation while cramming brioche into her mouth: all under a sign reading
NO FOOD AND DRINK IN THE GALLERY SPACE.
The result was baffling, and quite rightly some felt like they didn’t get it. But what is that unattainable “it” which we all are supposed to covet? And who decides whether we get it or not?
“I look forward to this all day. Maybe that means my days aren’t exciting enough, I don’t know. But I do…”
Although the word “safe” is considered a dirty word in theatre, I’ve never personally wanted any of my audience to be unsafe: Especially in an immersive show such as the one we were creating – Art can already feel alienating enough! So we discussed this fear of “not getting it” on day one of rehearsal. We found that at some point, all of us had felt this way about art.
Soon, pieces were born out of our own frustrations and anxiety when encountering the art world, as well as honest interpretations of individual works:
“I love this. It’s like a sea I want to swim in.”
“I’m sorry but I’ve just got to say I hate it…Does no one else feel like this??”
We built a list of themes – “Milestones”, “Stages of Life”, “The Fear of Missing Out”, “Central Power Figures” – These were the things which came out, things we held inside us, waiting to be encouraged out.
Art in every form is a springboard for more discussion, a catalyst for creativity. Entertainment is one thing we all enjoy, but Art at its best is an unfinished conversation – And that can be entirely terrifying. Because where’s the closure that as a theatre-maker you want to provide? When we entered the OFF QUAY space at Ugly Duck, we began to find our answer.
“Please stick to the designated pathways when viewing the art works. It’S better for your own experience…”
OFF QUAY sits on the 8th Floor of a Modern Office Building in the Docklands of East India. As you enter the lobby via the exceptionally efficient lifts, you can either go left to the gallery space, or right, to a large open plan event space (with a few sporadic plant pots) and a series of meeting rooms. The complete emptiness of this space was oddly inspiring: what if this was our gallery?
What we ultimately created over a week of intensive rehearsal was an examination of our own artistic process, in the creation of the play itself. While the artists installed their works in the Gallery, we continued to create material inspired by their pieces and our process. The Tour Guide character returned with all her pomposity and confusing rules; with the addition of The Artist, and The Intern; representing those established in the Art World, and those Ignored: The ones who are told they don’t get it.
As the play unfolded, the audience were taken to each “exhibit” – a lit spot on a blank wall – as they were also introduced to the process behind what they were seeing. As the boundaries between life and the play blurred, they did for us too: In the final scene, as characters tried to work out the ending to their play, dialogue was taken directly from rehearsal: Ideas we had thrown around in earnest just days before:
“How about a dance party?”
“You want to do a dance party?”
“I didn’t say it had to be good.”
The result was at once funny, confusing, and therapeutic. Ultimately, the viewers were introduced to the Gallery via our own relationships with it, and our own weird and wonderful interpretations. Speaking with some CrossArts artists afterwards, we heard how the Gallery had become a different space to them after the journey we had taken them on: “Not a performance space exactly, but definitely alive.”
Looking around I saw audience members sharing experiences of what they had seen, interacting with the pieces with actors, dropping personas to talk about their interpretations, and I thankfully agreed…So next time?
It’s not certain what form the performance will take for Project Three, just as we don’t know yet what art we’ll be exhibiting or where we’ll be – Physically, emotionally, politically…We may experiment with an altogether different process, be inspired into another kind of collaboration.
“…Anyone got any ideas?
“We could just do it again”
“What, make them watch a bad play twice?”
“It’s not bad. It just…isn’t finished.”
Alice Robinson is an Actor, writer, and one of the founders of CrossArts. She also has a feminist podcast “Heroine Addicts” which celebrates female icons and heroes.