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A HIGHLY-ALTERNATIVE UNIQUE EXPERIENCE ENTIRELY RELIANT ON PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2013
THE WAILING CHAMBER
The Mourners

at Aotea Centre at THE EDGEŽ, Auckland
From 15 Feb 2013 to 23 Feb 2013
[2 hrs]

Reviewed by Charlotte Everett, 16 Feb 2013


Aotea Square on a summer's Friday. A scattering of people laze about on their lunch breaks; groups of young people and families wander the square seeking some sort of amusement.

They're in luck. Midday strikes, and the Mourners are preparing to free the people of their grief and suffering. Only, they're not quite the Mourners yet… they're still setting up. 

Fifteen minutes later, and the Wailing Chamber is fully assembled. The Mourners, in their floor-length colourful garments are inside the chamber, hidden from sight – no doubt conducting a solemn ceremony to expiate the sadness possessing the inhabitants of Aotea Square.

The Mourners exit the Wailing Chamber with an air of wisdom and compassion about them, a kind of beauty as the four of them glide around the square playing their melody to enchant passers-by into their presence. They approach the people – us – in the square, encouraging us with their soothing voices to share any grief or sadness with them.

Like any spiritual missionary (of sorts) I suppose it's unsurprising that the majority of people approached quickly reject the Mourners' offer to be released from their grief. When a Mourner approaches me, I make the decision to embrace the opportunity, and when instructed to do so, write down my grief on the piece of paper given to me, fold it, and place it through a slot at the back of the Wailing Chamber. I'm advised that shortly they will be conducting a ceremony inside the chamber to transform my grief into joy, and I'm invited to attend.

The ceremony involves those of us who have shared our grief with the Wailing Chamber to stand either side of a tiny casket and then, as pall bearers, follow the Cardinal around the square in a procession, before entering the (very small and cramped) Wailing Chamber to consult the All Seeing Ocular Oracle who is going to preside over the Ritual of Grievance Transformation.  The casket is opened, and we're presented with its contents: tiny veils to catch our tears. One of the Mourners then reads out each of our individual sadness to the Oracle for its verdict.

All of a sudden, I'm alarmed. What I've shared is quite personal. When items of grief such as “Guns” and “I want to find my love” are shared, and the Oracle determines the level of melodramatic wailing we should collectively adopt in the claustrophobic space, I'm dreading how my grief will be treated by the Oracle once it is my turn.

The Mourners open my grief, read it, and presumably recognising the seriousness of my particular sadness, they ask me to read it out myself. I'm not really sure if that was better than one of them reading it or not, but I appreciate the respect shown. 

Once all griefs have been read, it is time for the Oracle to shed a giant tear. One member of the congregation is presented with a sharp stick, and asked to pierce the tear (a balloon filled with water) hanging from the bottom of the Oracle. Water explodes at our feet, and it is over.

The Mourners claim that their objective is to transform grief into joy, and –whatever any members of the congregation may think of this unusual experience as they go about their day – based on my own euphoric feeling of joy and the wide smiles of other participants, I can confidently assert that at the very least, they have achieved this objective.

Whatever the subject of grief, it's hard not to give it a bit of perspective and really exist in the present moment when the expression given is one of collectively vocalising high drama while cramped together in a tiny tent.

The ‘mourning cycle' only takes around 15 minutes to complete – but the idea of The Wailing Chamber is that the cycle is repeated many times over a 2-hour period, each time with a fresh congregation to share their grief. Keen to observe a second cycle, I hang around for another 40 minutes, but sadly no further ceremony is conducted while I watch.

A problem with The Wailing Chamber is that it is entirely reliant on participation from the public, so much so that unless at least a few willing participants appear at the same time, no ceremonies are conducted. Perhaps The Wailing Chamber would thrive better on weekend days, when Aotea Square is more heavily populated with casual visitors, rather than weekday workers with limited time on their lunch breaks.

A highly-alternative experience, and a unique approach to the subject of grief.
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Comments

Simon Taylor posted 16 Feb 2013, 10:45 AM
 

thanks for telling me about this, Charlotte. I love that you never ask the question, Is this theatre?