Thrashing Without Looking
Perth Institute of Performing Arts
When the boundaries between performing artists and their audience come down, the mix can be unpredictable and a little intimidating.
The assumed contract – you perform, I observe and applaud (or otherwise) – is broken when you are in close contact, and even one-on-one, with the performer. What is my contribution to all this meant to be? Who will now give their approval? Am I to judge myself?
This year we've seen a number of shows that cross that barrier. The Perth International Arts Festival had the immersive solo audience promenade of Oraculos and the Gob Squad's giddy gallop through Northbridge, Super Night Shot. The Fringe had the Blue Room's intimate epic, Proximity, and the intricate, boisterous, audience participation whodunit Pollyanna. Now PICA and Mobile States have brought us the Melbourne-based ensemble Aphids, and its sensory party piece Trashing Without Looking.
The proposition is simple. The production's creator/performers Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Thoms, Martyn Coutts, Tristan Meecham and Wiloh S. Weiland take the 12 audience members individually into the performance space, which is set up like a cross between a bar and a film studio. The first four are given a "menu" of performance possibilities – songs, situations, film shots – to choose from; the remaining eight (me included) are fitted with video goggles, so we can only see images selected by the first four and filmed by the crew. There's much play on the senses: a close up image of a flower is accompanied by a burst of scent; Lionel Richie sings "Hello" and an unseen person dances with you cheek-to-cheek. The music, part of Alan Nguyen's rich, enveloping sound design, is mainly from the schmaltzy heart of Karaokeland – Seal's Kiss From a Rose; Annie Lennox's version of Whiter Shade of Pale.
Much of the time, the live image in your goggles is of the audience – and that, of course, means you. No-one's making you jump through hoops or make an exhibition of yourself – the whole affair has a disarming and supportive gentleness for which I was truly grateful – but you're still uneasily aware that you've left that cozy place in the dark where all you have to do is watch and clap.
Thrashing Without Looking ends on Saturday.