Integrated audience & international citizen

John Bailey: Angharad Wynne-Jones, Arts House Season 2

 Hydra Poesis, PROMPTER, Jule Japhet Chiari, Brendan Ewing (on computer monitor), Allison Wyper (USA), Marcela Fuentes (Argentina), courtesy the artists

Hydra Poesis, PROMPTER, Jule Japhet Chiari, Brendan Ewing (on computer monitor), Allison Wyper (USA), Marcela Fuentes (Argentina), courtesy the artists

Keeping abreast of the vanguard of performing arts must be akin to trying to catch some mythical beast that keeps changing form. Arts House in North Melbourne might primarily be a live performance venue but in recent years alone that brief has swollen to include film and new media, interactive sculpture, sound art and installation. “The classifications are only as useful as you want to make them, and they should always be imploding and exploding,” says Arts House creative producer Angharad Wynne-Jones.

“Rather than be definitive about the form I think it’s really about the experience that we’re looking to create, an opportunity for the audience member to engage extremely strongly with a performative experience. That sense of event and adventure is what we’re looking for, really.”

In recent years this quest has seen Arts House help launch the hugely rewarding biennial festival of contemporary dance, Dance Massive, and plans are underway to create a similar festival of live art in 2014 (if successful, the two festivals will alternate yearly). The very notion of a live art festival would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, but its possibility is testament to the kind of work that Arts House has consistently introduced to audiences, and the willingness of those audiences to come back for more.

Arts House’s second season for 2013 is as diverse as expected. This year Wynne-Jones has been looking “up and around” and many of the entries arrive from outside Victoria. Several have enjoyed seasons interstate: Belvoir and Roslyn Oades’ I’m Your Man and Branch Nebula, Matt Prest and Clare Britton’s Whelping Box, for instance (both NSW), while Hydrapoesis’ PROMPTER hails from Perth.

Others have played elsewhere but have further evolved since premiering. The Hanging of Jean Lee, Andrée Greenwell, Jordie Albiston and Abe Pogos’ song cycle based on the last woman to be subjected to capital punishment in Melbourne, has been presented in concert form in Sydney, while ILBIJERRI, Belvoir and version 1.0’s Beautiful One Day has grown from its original incarnation up north. “So much work in Australia gets its one go,” says Wynne-Jones, but this doesn’t allow for the fact that the most urgent contemporary work can change as rapidly as the climate to which it responds.

The new season also features a number of world premieres. Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox will be presenting A Small Prometheus as part of the Melbourne Festival, the work combining contemporary dance with flame and sound experiments. “(Fox) is making kinetic sculptures that are moved by flame,” says Wynne-Jones, “(employing the) principle of heat moving a kinetic sculpture and then, at the same time, the soundwaves extinguishing some of that flame. So Fox’s is an extremely conceptual investigation into those kinds of physical laws. And then Stephanie will be interpreting and colliding with some of that information with her five amazing dancers.”

Side Pony, The Confidence Man

Side Pony, The Confidence Man

Side Pony, The Confidence Man

Side Pony’s The Confidence Man is harder to describe. Writer-director Zoe Pepper calls it an “interactive audio work” in which a drama is played out by audience members equipped with headsets and dressed in gigantic hand-crafted masks. It’s an attempt to create an interactive work that still doesn’t dispense with the complexities of storytelling in favour of gadgetry.

“It feels like it’s very much on-trend to create interdisciplinary, interactive work,” says Pepper. “I’d seen a lot of work that was more about the technology than it was about the story, so I wanted to make a work in that style but to focus on the elements that are key to my other work, which is still driven by plot. And to create a style of audience interaction that gave the audience member an anonymity and permission to play, without any humiliation.”

“Zoe Pepper’s a really great director and writer,” says Wynne-Jones, “and she’ll be crafting something fairly extraordinary. There’s more and more interest in that notion of co-authoring a work with an audience, and certainly Confidence Man takes that to the nth degree.”

Every experience of The Confidence Man will differ. The audience members playing out the tale will each hear different audio, while a separate audience sitting outside of the playing space will be able to toggle between channels as they choose which of the scenes being presented simultaneously most piques their interest: “They effectively create their own story by choosing what they want to watch and what to omit,” says Pepper.

If replacing actors with audience members seems a risky proposition, Hydrapoesis’ PROMPTER will negotiate the equally dangerous territory of technology—as a crisis plays out on stage, artists from around the world will be streaming their own responses live as a kind of online chorus.

This work revolves around the ubiquitous teleprompter as a symbol of our age. A journalist accidentally finding himself in the middle of a fictional island as a disaster takes place must cover the event as it unfolds behind him by reading the words his producers back home provide. “So rather than reporting with his own eyes he literally has his back to the event the whole time,” says director Sam Fox, “and it’s that instantaneous reporting phenomenon where no one actually knows what’s happening and the producers are on the phones and the internet trying to find out what’s going down, and feeding him this stream of data.”

The work explores the double bind of empathy in a connected age: “Projecting yourself onto events and indulging in events far away,” says Fox. “In the central narrative we’re looking at the nature of stories and journalism and not having time, where we’ve accelerated to the point where we really can’t get faster than we are now, unless you’re getting predictive. But in the broader narrative we’re looking at what it means to be an international citizen, how we should be responding to international events, from an empathetic and political standpoint. And then I suppose there’s this implied question of acting on your local politics rather than the international, and whether they’re in conflict or not.”

Wynne-Jones is excited by the riskiness of both works. Of PROMPTER, she says “you can be scared of it or not, can’t you? [Sam Fox has] a number of strategies that will be integrating the fuck-ups as well, so it’s not designed to be seamless, but in the way that our experience of media is sometimes glitchy and [we get] only half the story.”

Full details on Arts House’s 2013 Season 2 are at artshouse.com.au.

RealTime issue #116 Aug-Sept 2013 pg. 38

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

19 August 2013