Monday, July 18, 2011

From 'The Man in the Suit'

This writing is a personal reflection on 'community' and some implications of a single review in the light of a recent project I've collaborated on...


On the 10th of July 2011 Jack Gray published his review on theatreview of Sean Curham's latest performance construct 'Are You Scared of Me'. In the thread that followed an unusual polylogue has emerged - unusual in that vitriol is by and large absent from the tone of the arguments, conjecture, and responses. Instead what has accumulated is a deeply engaged, largely informed, honest and generous cluster of communiques. These writings have formed a fluidly mutating context for Sean's latest work, throwing new light, angles, and reflections on the event itself, raising worthwhile questions, and pinging its possible implications. 


Val Smith called for responses to the review and/or the emergent issues raised in the thread from the performers in the show. I'm answering that call on my blog rather than on on theatreview primarily because I am deeply critical of the efficacy of that particular forum as a healthy ecology  to learn in. 


Jack's writing wasn't the thing that really interested me (although I admit to being distracted by the careless omission of both mine and Mike Holland's names from the review). That aside I became very interested in a question thrown out there by Raewyn Whyte in which she expressed coming away from Sean's show wondering "whether this show manages to create for the audience a sense of community that lasts longer than the show itself.." Beautiful question. 


As a performer I see in amongst the audiences I perform for - friends, family, members of the communities to which I purport to belong to, mixed in with a whole bunch of other people I don't actually know. But from my perspective a random grouping of spectators isn't a community, its a gathered crowd. 


A gathered crowd can be a container for commonalities among the individuals its made up of. People are all looking at the same event having varied experiences and thoughts with potentially convergent linkages and divergent breakages with / to the people next to them and the performers themselves. The event itself may have a strong focus on ideas of community, or at least be informed by notions of community as Sean's did. 


But here's the thing, I reckon that the stuff that makes a community function and grow is the socialising. Its a mix of the hanging out together and the shared activities and the conversations that makes the glue. A performance can help activate all of that but its in the opinion of this artist that a theatre or dance performance or an exhibition isn't the most effective place to create community even if it is an interesting place for the choreographer / artist to investigate that very thing. At best it can affirm community and/or excite that community. 


I loved Sean's work and I also feel that it was deeply conventional in the sense that, via its format it could only fail to create a sense of shared community among the groups and individuals that formed its gathered crowds. All that said though, I learned things from reading the thread on Jack's review. What held my attention was the accumulated collective response, the incomplete mosaic of view points enervating further conceptual, imaginative,  and emotional connections. And even though I don't trust the platform named 'theatreview' overall, in this particular thread I perceive a morphing entity of shared meaning fed by individuals with something to say. And that thing may actually be something that is "a sense of community that lasts longer than the show itself.."