“Face Your Fears”
There is something in the tag line for the BAC’s newest festival, the first of it’s kind – the one-on-one festival. Host to a series of international performers the audience are invited to attend encounters with only yourself and the performer/creator. Audience interaction to the extreme you might say.. where there is no one else to hide behind, to feel safe with – you are facing this performance alone.
It is a challenging night, and a challenging festival, perhaps this will become the BAC’s newest slogan, where they rarely do anything but challenge the notion of theatre. I’m greatful that such a place exists to challenge convention and form within theatre, but I also can’t help but to see a flaw in the BAC’s work, or at least in ‘one-on-one encounters’.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love their approach to delivering cutting edge and off the wall theatre, yet so much of it relies upon you as an audience member. There is only so many times I can question myself, can look internally at myself whilst a performer stares into my eyes, without needing a real theatrical narrative or actually witnessing theatre that is more than short sharp bursts of 5 minutes at a time – and ideally with some other audience members.
What happened to the Grand Narrative?
Naturally it comes down to the individual, but there has to be something beyond the fact that you are just part of a minature scaled down performance, there has to be something more than “I am the only audience member so the action has to evolve around me as an individual.” It needs to make you actually stop and wonder for a moment – is this real? Or is it just a performance? Where are the boundaries between a spectator and an active spectator who becomes a performer themselves?
The fault also lies with myself – I attend theatre far too often that I become numb to theatrical devices, and seemed to have developed a high expectation from all forms of theatre. Thankfully, there are certain artists working within the one-on-one festival that do offer challenging and rewarding performances that look beyond the simple one-on-one reactionary use of intimate theatre.
For example, Ray Lee: Electric is a performance piece that really tests your willingness to engage with electricity, which is effectively highly dangerous and should not be played around with. We are encouraged to discuss our knowledge of it, before actually feeling what an electrical current feels like to pass through two bodies. It’s simple and whilst you are in safe hands, there is a nagging question of, “how safe is this?”. Only when I am encouraged to experience the charge going through my body alone, from my hand, through my body and out the other hand that I experience an odd sensation. I loose control over my hands. They distort and twist. My hands are glued to the metal holders and are suddenly alien to me. As the charge is increased it becomes painful and I ask for it to be stopped. Is this a small fraction of what it is actually like to be electrocuted? Is this what it feels like to die on the electric chair? It’s chilling, and plays a thin line between informative about something we take for granted, and a performers pleasure in for the briefest of moments being in control of another human being.
My night may not have gotten any more dangerous but it did include dying and laying in a coffin whilst I reflected on life. A charming and oddly self-reflecting encounter with Villanella and Hanneke Paauwe called Rendez-Vous. My first time in a coffin and hopefully the last, although I do have photographic proof that I once died, given to me at the end of the performance.
I had a truly uplifting experience with Abigail Conway in her piece, On Dancefloors where I found myself reliving too many a night in some small darkened room listening to music and pretending to dance oozing sex appeal – and failing. It is a fleeting moment, shared and dismissed as she dances the night away, and we are left to join the festival once more. I wonder if Abigail is still dancing now…?
Emma Rice‘s delightful fairy-tale of The Princess and the Pea couldn’t help but to put a smile on my face, especially as I’m secretly a very big fan of her work with Kneehigh. Although as my first encounter of the night, I do wish that I had relaxed a little more, but when faced between taking an apple (“No! Who takes apples from a stranger?!” Rice reminds me) or a biscuit (“Go on, everyone loves a biscuit” Rice informs) there is a slight fear that who knows what would have happened if you had grabbed the apple, or if you’d refused the biscuit. Rice’s in-touch with her use of fairy-tales in her work proves once again that she is a true story-teller at heart.
There were other encounters, and other non-encounters (The Door To No Where) throughout the evening, some I won’t forget for a while, and others that I have experienced similar moments before. What you do take from the BAC’s 1-On-1 Festival is a sheer delight in the unknown. In adventure. I might have explained the above, and you might find you have such a different experience to me. I do wish however I could push the boundaries between performance and audience more… maybe Adrian Howells‘ bathing of an audience member might have pushed that.. next time, next time.
The One-On-One Festival is running at the BAC until 18th July. Tickets can be brought through their website, although call the box office if you want to plan your experiences.