BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/02/2010 - 16/02/2010

NZ Fringe Festival 2010

Production Details

Vanja Draganic, a performer/devisor who Die Deutsche Bühne called “inspired and terrifying” (Schulte 2007), makes her New Zealand directorial debut in this exploration of the effects of power on ordinary people.  

The company of eight actors spent 6 days in a community hall in the rural Waikato town of Glen Murray working on the script under Draganic’s supervision. Half the actors were designated as guards and worked in shifts, while the other half were assigned the status of prisoner and agreed not to leave the Glen Murray Memorial Hall for any reason until the six days were up.

Their improvisation over this period was recorded and edited and Fractur is the result.

As the cast struggles, and frequently fails, to come to terms with power, or the loss of it, Fractur asks of it’s audience “would you have done better?”

Fractur is documentary theatre inspired by one of the most notorious psychological experiments in history. The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. His methods were used by Draganic to structure long form improvisations which then became the basis of the show.

Urban Vineyard is:
an independent theatre cooperative based in Hamilton, who have toured work throughout the Waikato and frequently as far away as Wellington. Previous works have been called “ambitious and imaginative” (Nexus 2003), “hard, fast and quick” (The Package 2004) and “an unexpected treat” (Waikato Times 2008). Although this is Urban Vineyards first attempt at documentary theatre, it has in recent years made a speciality out of similarly ambitious devised works. The pick-a-path murder mystery set in a circus, “Exit 2nd Banana” has, since its premiere, also been taken on a successful regional tour as well as being staged by the Napier Youth Theatre.

13 Feb – 16 Feb 8:00pm
BATS Theatre
1 Kent Terrace, Te Aro, Wellington
Full $16; Concession $13;
Fringe Addict Card Holder $12

Duration: 1 hour Ph: 802-4175

Unsettling experiment

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 16th Feb 2010

During 1971 a rather controversially experiment was undertaken by a Psychology Professor in America to explore human behaviour in a prison situation. It became known as the Stamford Experiment with similarities in later years to the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal.

Vanja Dragnic, newly arrived refugee and theatre director from Yugoslavia – who had experienced the dismantling of her country and the “fracturs” this caused in local communities – was fascinated by this experiment and decided to use it as the basis for an improvisational exercise with a group of actors. 

Taking 8 of them into a hall in the Waikato she divided them into 4 prisoners and 4 guards and let them experience the rigours of a prison environment. Fractur is a very truncated version – one hour – of those six days and how the collective ethos of each group soon reverts to the individual and how power and authority takes over along with using guile and cunning to survive. 

In-between we get statements from the actors as themselves, their ideas and aspirations as actors. As a play it works surprisingly well, the action very physical and the tension and power plays real and believable from the energised cast. However at times the creation of “reality” is at the expense of theatrical dynamics and lines become inaudible as they talk amongst themselves or all at once.

The printed programme also uses an intriguing device to reveal the actors and the quote from Pablo Picasso is rather telling, although it shouldn’t be read till after seeing the production.


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Compelling and challenging

Review by John Smythe 14th Feb 2010

The premise is that theatre director Vanja Draganic, a refugee from Bosnia, studied psychology in Hamburg and became interested in the ‘fracturs’ withing groups as exemplified in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which explores the effect of power of ordinary people. On emigrating to NZ she replicated the experiment with a group of keen young Hamilton actors, who spent six days in a community hall in the rural Waikato town of Glen Murray …

“Half the actors were designated as guards and worked in shifts, while the other half were assigned the status of prisoner and agreed not to leave the Glen Murray Memorial Hall for any reason until the six days were up. Their improvisation over this period was recorded and edited and Fractur is the result.”

Compacting those six days into an hour lets us off lightly and asks the actors to make sudden shifts into states that would have gestated more naturally. Mostly they achieve this to excellent dramatic effect.

More extraordinary is the proposition that they are replicating and revealing aspects of themselves they would never have known, let alone exposed, before this fateful weekend. That they are publicly ‘confessing’ in the greater interests of our understanding of ourselves and each other helps to allay any fears that long term damage has been done to their psyches – although the original experiment was very controversial in that regard.

The compacted action is punctuated with direct-address chats from the actors, contextualising how they got involved in the project and what their basic world view is, or was. Thus we come to relate to them as ‘ordinary people’ as we observe their reactions to the extraordinary circumstances. And we empathise enough to ask, “What would I do?”

The designated guards are Keith, the non-thespian, who sees telling people what to do as simply a job and does whatever it takes to make them obey; Ed (Edith), the lesbian, who is not averse to offering privileges for sexual favours; Barry, the warm-hearted nice guy who discovers his propensity for violence; Polly, who doesn’t like conflict and generates it in the very process of resisting it.

The ‘prisoners’ comprise the quiet observer – and highly judgemental – Michelle; John the would-be liberator, whose actions increase the suffering of others; independent Sal, who ‘dobs’ for personal advantage; Gray, the upbeat jokester who has an ulterior motive for getting and staying involved in the project.

Over-laying all this is their trust of Vanya and her process – speaking of which, the programme has a clear plastic overlay which blacks out some text. I recommend you don’t lift it until after you’ve seen the show, then meld your response by taking particular note of the quote from Pablo Picasso.

My only complaint is that we don’t get a strong sense of how time, tiredness and hunger impact their various states of mind; it all stays a bit crisp and clean cut. But for an absorbing hour that challenges us personally while raising all sorts of questions about the role of theatre and what means might justify which ends, Fractur is a compelling contribution to the Fringe.
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