Here’s a riddle for you: what do horses, fish fingers, the ocean, sandwiches and ex-lovers all have in common? Any ideas? No? Not to worry. Yve Blake is in town to shed some light on the mystery. Returning to the Soho Theatre later this week with her one-woman show, THEN – a madcap foray into past lives and personal histories – the Sydney-born theatre maker invites strangers to contribute their own individual stories, whether they are whacky, wonderful or just plain weird.
On second thoughts, describing THEN as a one-woman show isn’t entirely accurate. Described by Blake as “a kind of hyperactive visual bonanza”, THEN is inhabited by the stories of strangers told across various cities worldwide. These serve as building blocks for the performance. By unspooling these various tales – from the fish-finger to the horse related – Blake weaves them into a glorious tapestry of storytelling and song: “I really like to take stories of self-doubt, really cringey, awkward stories, because we’re all full of them, and put those on stage and celebrate them.” The performance itself is ever-evolving through the applications of Blake’s very own WhoWereWe website: an online museum that serves as a portal for users to share their trials and tribulations under the cover of anonymity: “It’s great to give people anonymity in order to express themselves. I was really lucky, because I got some brilliant stuff and I don’t think I would have if people had to give their name. I got brilliant school photos, cringy facebook photos and shots of things people had found in their room that they’d hoarded.”
Whilst Blake admits to experiencing her fair share of trolls (“creative trolls”, in her estimation) she explains how THEN would not be the show it is without the internet. It’s possible to view THEN as part of a more expansive, cross-platform project where technology, the artist and audiences are united in both digital and physical space. For Blake, the desire to explore different versions of ourselves, past and present, by allowing audiences to co-generate the show’s content through their submissions was a fascinating prospect: “I came up with a really broad question: Who do you feel you used to be? Which is huge. But I though that if I underpin all the questions on the website with that then I will be able to find out how people write their own histories. Are you kind to yourself? Are you mean? Do you look back fondly on yourself? That to me is fascinating.”
THEN thrives in the space where performance, visual-art and live music intersect; through a heady fusion of live storytelling, digital animation and original songs, Blake and her team have sought to craft a highly sensory and richly theatrical experience. But as Blake explains, undertaking the task of generating these elements together has been a challenge, no where more so than in the creation of the music: “I had zero musical experience before this show so I had to learn to use a program called Ableton Live. I was really lucky to work with Alex Groves (Musical Director). I’d come up with the lyrics and harmonies, before handing them over to Alex and asking ‘what are these notes and what are we going to do with them’? I’m lucky to have pulled it off, let me tell you!”
THEN is just the latest in a string of performances that seek to foreground audiences in a way that opens up new possibilities for performance. For Yve, this interest in drawing upon the experiences of total strangers reconfigures the audience as co-creators in the overall project. Actively engaged, instead of passively resigned: “As a teenager, nine times out of ten I would sit in the theatre and feel bored. I kept going back because I feel there is something really important and kind of sacred about seeing ourselves in the words of others”. In Blake’s work, those words belong as much to the people decking out the stalls as they do to the artist, with the audience becoming collaborators in the panoply of anecdote, images and scenarios that fill the stage.
As Blake explains, this jaunt down memory lane doesn’t mean languishing in the past, but rather celebrating our lives in all their past and present versions: “I think its quite fun to look back on your teenage years and think about who you were: I was a precocious little keeno! I didn’t want to make a show about me and pose what my life is going to be like going forward. That’s dumb, it’s futile. No one knows what’s coming. But we can look at the past, and that can be fun.”
THEN is at Soho Theatre from 8 – 13 July. For more information and tickets visit Soho Theatre’s website.