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12 Shows: A Project From 2023

At the end of 2022, I wrote A Plan For 2023.


In it, I made a simple statement: that I had lost my youthful habit of regular experimental shows, given the effort+risk-to-reward ratio, and wanted to recover it.


One show per month.


(I also mentioned that there would be ways for people to donate to support this stream of work, which never happened.)


So, of the original list of tests, what ended up being made?


You can, of course, click the titles to read more about each show and the reflections from it.



Originally ‘Show For A Cow’, the animal in question was changed for convenience.


The experiment in question allowed room for an interesting test of an edge case in Peter Brook’s definition of theatre: what if the audience was non-human, and unaware of what theatre was? What would hold their attention? For how long?


I genuinely believe that this has changed my attitude towards making work, simply because an audience of sheep force greater adaptation to their tastes if one wants to hold their interest.



The ‘monthly’ plan rapidly died.


12-Handed Monopoly, however, was the first great success of a show for human audiences. More LARP than theatre, it allowed me to experiment with horizontal mechanics, asymmetry, and shows about blatant fun.


I was also pleased to run it again in December, and see a very diferent outcome.



Or: the one during which I was nearly hit by a truck.


This initiated a strand of experimentation that explored what the minimum requirement for performance was, given a lack of clear signifiers that a performance was happening.


In the end, I do not think this counts as performance more than ceremony or technical exercise.



In what ended up being the start of something quite exciting, I playtested Paradise Craved, a small show about a fallen angel lost in the city.


It was interactive, it was emotional, it was intimate.


Because of this playtest, it also ended up being the root of my residency at Theatre Deli later in 2023.



I decided to celebrate my birthday with a LARP I’ve had in a drawer for a while, inviting people to stick together their own funeral traditions, whether by performing rituals, readings, songs, or otherwise.


It ended up being a remarkably moving experience; I hadn’t expected such a thoughtful response to it from my guests.


I stand by one conclusion in the above-linked blog, however: it remains mine, shared with those who were there.


It is acceptable to have live theatre that is only between us who were there.



Originally, the plan was to read L’Morte d’Arthur.


At a good pace, that would take 30 hours; an amount of time that I was unwilling to invest, especially as the year grew colder and places-to-sit-in-public-for-thirty-hours became scarce.


Furthermore, spending time with Paradise Lost was important to me as I prepared for my Theatre Deli residency.


The exercise proved interesting in what it exposed about potential environments where the poem would have been read, compared to other forms of epic poem. I am also interested in how different modes of audience response might shape the experience: does it change if you can cry out approval, or take a turn reading it?



An experiment that had not been planned at the start of the year, A Scary Place To Exist was an effort at interactive horror, in collaboration with Vic Sautter.


It was a delightfully unsettling piece for the audience, and an interesting test of mechanics where what the audience could change changed nothing substantive in the piece. The end could not be changed; doom was inevitable.


The audience rebelled, which was an encouraging reaction. While I’m not sure I’d want to revive the show, it was pleasing to experiment with determinism in a form defined by audience agency.



I am delighted to say that this farce was funny.


Again, it was not part of the original plan, but through some willing volunteers, and reflections on the structures of Fiasco-type games, I was able to make an interactive show where the audience were experiencing something funny, and everything responded to the theme of levity.


Like Paradise Craved, definitely one I’d want to bring back. Not least because I’m quite pleased to re-assert my funny bones.



An experiment that, like Sit In Silence, See What Happens, did not succeed in creating a show. The observers did not perceive what I was doing (presenting an NPC-type character aware of its situation) as a show to watch.


This then proved a useful experiment to lever open what the bargain is between audience and performance; what must be offered, and what must be received?



As the year’s end approached, I continued to go off-piste, trying to follow-up on some of the experiments earlier in the year.


This experiment, performing unequivocally for people who had not opted-in, leaned into the earlier idea of the bargain made between audience and performance. What does a performance offer its audience?


In particular, it made space to consider how an audience is invited in, and the contrast between street performance and many other more celebrated forms when asking people to watch.



I think the plan for this show had been to create some sort of communal rite for dark moments, both literally and metaphorically.


It ended up, however, leading to a reflection on belief more than on how to offer something for those dark moments: how should we approach work rooted in belief systems we do not share?


Perhaps another year I will make a shared rite for midwinter. Or maybe not.



A final experiment, on New Year’s Eve, was livestreaming for the first time.


There’s no record of it, except my blog; I made sure of that.


But this series of work was meant to be made up of genuine risks for me; I felt that the last few had played it safe, and avoided anything more than strange looks, and perhaps I could have predicted the outcomes in advance. In contrast, livestreaming fills me with genuine nervousness.


Having done this, I have a much better sense of what I might like to do if I do any such again, and how to use the strange intimacy of inviting people into your home.


***


This has been a genuinely rewarding strand of work. Although other commitments (assisting on an opera for the first time in years; a residency at Theatre Deli; creating various pieces for commission; other pieces of work and living) led to a rather sporadic series of projects until the midwinter reduction in labour, this gave a constant set of goals.


I also feel that I learnt a lot by forcing myself to not merely philosophise, but do.


Some of these will become shows in their own right. Others will merely exist in memory, reminding me that there are other options, and they are worth testing every now and again.


And some have been honoured by sitting in other people’s memory; memories of playful funerals, sad games of chess, and the unfortunately incompetent Prince Leopold d’Oulton.


My thanks to everyone who attended one of these experiments.


***


There are shows that were mentioned and did not happen. In brief:


Dinner and a Show: did not happen because I attended Locksmith’s Dream, and they have a better chef and similar concept.


Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk more with said chef about telling stories through food, whether through representation (this food is a symbol representing [event]), worldbuilding (please savour this dish; the key ingredient came from a very long way away) or more direct means (this food is a bit overdone and covered in blood, because I had to fight off an assailant in the kitchen while making it).


Tennis Balls (& Other Physical Tasks): Bluntly, I lost interest in it as a piece. There are better people doing clownish Shakespeare. Were I given resources to do it in terms of space it might be fun, but more as an exercise than anything else.


Shit Hot Young Things: Unfortunately, putting on live music events takes much more effort than interactive immersive ones. I may well publish the manifesto and see if anyone picks it up, or try to find collaborators. I think it might be quite fun.


Eugene Onegin: Similarly, even presenting Eugene Onegin as a puppet show (or, as I later considered, Savitri) requires an above-reasonable amount of effort. Therefore I decided not to do it, at least for now. I would still really like to at some point, as there is a potential magic to creating work in this way.


***


So: having done a lot of experimenting, what can I conclude?


The first is quite an easy one: this has been good for me.


It has led to new strands of work, new working relationships, and new ideas to play with.


It has let me demonstrate my craft to people I admire, and share time with friends and admired colleagues.


It has also forced me out of my comfort zone. I describe myself as a multi-disciplinary artist, but it’s very easy to get stuck in a rut of one or two forms and themes. Here, I was able to try new things with an excuse that, even if it didn’t lead to new work, it was OK as a way to develop myself.


I’ll hope to keep that sentiment going forth; I’m pleased that I’ve got a few small (but paid!) shows to experiment with in the first part of 2024.


The second is a bit harder: there’s a very clear ratio here between operatic/musical experimentation and interactive immersive experimentation.


That’s partly because opera requires resources. People, rehearsal time, spaces with pianos, and so on.


It requires lead-in times. Composition, writing, practice, all before rehearsal. With the exception of A Scary Place To Exist, none of the above experiments had more than three hours’ rehearsal, plus a little writing time to sketch things out.


But it is partly because I feel like, despite getting commissions, assistant positions, and consultancy in the field in 2023, opera does not necessarily want me.


If it did, would it not offer me regular work? Would not one of my applications in 2023 for open opportunities have succeeded? Would there not have been more applications I am eligible for?


I have been loyal to opera. I have loved opera. I still do love opera, and sometimes I feel that it’s coming to the time to say goodbye for a while.


Not because I do not love it, but because the moment I think of the effort required to self-produce another show that will have a short run defined by subsidy, without the support needed to market and produce properly, and the terrible knowledge that most of my labour will be underpaid at best, I feel exhausted.


And at the moment, I struggle to see a path forwards in opera, whereas I really can in interactive theatre.


Interactive theatre feels like it wants me to develop and grow in the year ahead, and there’s clear spaces to do that.


I’m pleased to say that I’ve got at least two interesting operatic experiments in the year ahead.


I would say that anyone else who wants to do one should feel actively encouraged to get in touch.


The third (and for reasons of word count, final) is reassuring: that there are still ways to experiment and grow.


Since being a young artist, excited by everything as a novelty, I have noticed that I have more pre-conceived ideas.


You can read many of them on this blog.


This series of experiments has developed my toolset for experimenting, self-challenging, and developing.


It has reassured me that the community of makers I have around me will praise that.


So thank you, again.


Here’s to 2024.


Delightfully, the above blog has 2023 words (including title, but not this).

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