ELICITS AN EXCEPTIONAL RANGE OF EMOTIONAL RESPONSES
NZ Fringe Festival 2013|
FOR YOUR FUTURE GUIDANCE
presented by Binge Culture
at Thistle Hall, Wellington
From 20 Feb 2013 to 24 Feb 2013
Reviewed by James McKinnon, 21 Feb 2013
The second of Binge Culture's three 2013 Fringe productions, For Your Future Guidance, reflects their commitment to creating daring, unpredictable performances that challenge conventional distinctions between ‘real' and ‘staged' performance.
FYFG fuses a universal concern, anxiety about the future, with a familiar pop culture trope, the self-help seminar, with Joel Baxendale in the role of the charismatic guru who promises to help us find inner peace. But where most pieces of this type resolve into satirical investigations of the smarmy veneer masking the hypocritical nature of most self-anointed gurus (e.g. Albert Brooks as Brad Goodman in Bart's Inner Child), Baxendale isn't channelling Anthony Robbins. Like everything Bunge Culture does, this performance rests on authenticity.
Equally typical of Binge Culture's work – and I would argue, atypical of theatre in general – this performance puts enormous faith in its audience by trusting them to make the show work. One cannot rest easy in one's seat at a Binge Culture show, and this one is no exception: you WILL leave your seat. Many times. And you WILL speak. You will forget that you usually cringe at ‘audience participation' and find yourself helping Joel remember the lyrics to a Pink Floyd song.
You may even be compelled to share (anonymously) the darkest regrets about your past, or your current anxieties about the future. But not in the corny way that bad comedy acts and magicians drag reluctant volunteers on to the stage. In fact, the remarkable thing about this show is how it effortlessly persuades everyone present to become a single community, not a group of private spectators silently observing a group of public performers.
Binge Culture's artists have a formidable repertory of tactics for making their audience feel at ease while simultaneously taking them out of the comfort zone of conventional theatre and into more exciting places. It's worth asking: how do they do it?
To start with, there is no stage separating ‘us' from ‘them': you arrive at Thistle Hall to find an open space with a bar (hurray!). While you chat with people you know over beer and samosas, the performance space gradually takes shape around you (you may even find yourself helping to set it up without really thinking about it), but it's never more than a few semi-circular rows of chairs.
By the time Joel focuses the audience's attention, you will have already started to feel like you're among friends, not one of a group of strangers, and in a safe space (since after all, you helped set it up). Also, the absence of stage lighting (which typically separates performers and spectators into lit and unlit areas) reinforces the sense that everyone present is part of a collective venture.
The participatory elements are voluntary and collective; it is clear from the outset that the purpose is never to isolate and mock an individual, so spectators quickly become comfortable with the risks Joel asks them to take. As a result, the spectators make significant contributions, and every performance will be a unique and unpredictable reflection on how we cope with our fears about The Future, from the personal (“Will I ever have a boyfriend?”) to the global (“What will happen when the sea levels rise?”).
Relying on the audience in this way has its risks: most people (even those who seem eager to volunteer) are not great at speaking in public, even if all they need to do is read words off a screen or piece of paper, and while awkwardness can be a good source of frisson, meek inaudibility is not. In addition, the manner with which Joel creates the easy-going, relaxed atmosphere can make the show seem a bit unfocused and lacking in direction at times (probably also a consequence of the first performance).
But the laid-back pace does not prevent the performance from eliciting an exceptional range of emotional responses, from joy to awkwardness to a brief, exhilarating moment of terror, and if I spent some time wondering where it was all leading to, my questions were ultimately satisfied.
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