The following text is part of an email I sent to supervisor following the presentation of Cat & Mouse at Critical Animals on 5th October 2013. I’ve taken names out but left all the typos, for that sense of authenticity, ha.
[OUT LOUD TO EVERYONE]
This is a game.
In this game you can be a cat or a mouse – do you like to chase or be chased?
The rules of the game state that at any given time (x) people can be active and (y) must be passive. As an active participant – your only parameter is to stay within the green and to chase your curiosity.
As a passive participant – your constraints are to capture what is occurring around you, remain within the outer boundary and be ready to jump on when someone jumps out.
[In each individual’s ear]:
This is about your senses
Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch.
And your own awareness
Play with them.
Lets start with sight. Be ready.
[Out loud]: Game on.
So we set the room up so we had a green fur square surrounded by a calico ‘outer’ square covering the entire floor; there was a line of butcher’s paper on the walls which was used to record observations, discoveries but to also pose prompts for the other participants.
We also had instructions on the door outside for any latecomers – which we had a lot of. So when they came, they knocked on the door 3 times and either Jo or I went out to get them in costume, to read them the instructions, and then with eyes closed bring them into the space, whisper in their ear and let them explore.
From the audience we got a lot of positive responses. My personal favourite was catching up a participant, E, who came late. She told me that she immediately felt safe in the space despite everyone else being a complete stranger and that she really enjoyed it. S, had a really emotional response to the work – I think for her, I don’t think she released how much she needed some time to just ‘be’ and unwind – so rolling around on the floor and running around a room for a few hours was kind of perfect. D had a great time and was quite surprised, given he’s got a short attention span, that he didn’t get bored. We also had one participant who had no experience in anything like this at all and she seemed pretty uncomfortable at first, but the eye-contact exercise seemed to get rid of that straight away and she seemed to really enjoy the rest of it.
After that I heard a series of things, word-of-mouth from people who hadn’t been there but had heard things from other people. So, someone likened it to being ‘somewhere between a padded cell and a preschool’, for someone else it created a space ‘where you could fall instantly in love with a complete stranger’.
Also David, who ran a panel I was talking on with a Manila based theatre collective Sipat Laiwin, started asking if it was about creating a community and an alternative state of being. I think it was. It was definitely about creating a space to explore alternative knowledge bases – sensorial knowings that we tend to forget we have. And in terms of a community, I don’t think I was ever aiming to ‘connect’ people, but there was a conscious decision to create a connection between the participants to make them feel safe, the main point of using costumes. But I guess in hindsight, the work really is about attuning (or re-attuning), the participants to be responsive to what’s going on around them – and in many ways that is the energy in the room that’s a result of a particular social dynamic.
Fo us as the performers – it was so positive.
Chris and Ryan seemed fine. Chris seemed to really like the simplicity of it – that it wasn’t a new idea but that given the response, obviously this kind of space is needed. He suggested taking the work, as is, to other festivals, and had a few suggestions for what it would be like if we took it to another type of audience (ie non-artistic).
For Jo it wasn’t that great. She really felt the distraction of looking after the space – making sure there was water, letting someone know when they had to leave etc etc. But mainly she felt that there was over boisterous and attention-seeking and this distracted from the overall experience. So Jo’s questions were about how to diffuse that kind of behaviour in the space. Should we take the costumes away because it encourages people to loss themselves in a character.
For me, I could feel the differences in the experience and I wasn’t completely happy with this one. I was quite exhausted going into this, and I could feel my attention span was incredibly short – I never quite stayed with anything or really pushed through. I was chase a series of distractions and as a result didn’t really find anything. When I watched the footage back, that was incredibly obvious. But it was actually incredibly difficult to watch – I appears that I was quite a menace.
There is one particular section where my costume is tied to S’s, Chris has noticed that the situation might not be so great for everyone so he starts to step in. He drags D away, then Jo. Then he comes over to untie S and I. And I do everything that I can to stop him. This goes on for a while – and everyone else just watches. Ryan fidgets a bit, Jo walks over, walks away and stops watching. Eventually D intervenes – while Chris is fighting me off, D unties S and I. S runs around, celebrating her freedom – Ryan and Jo join her. Chris and I lay quite still on the ground. And its over.
When I spoke to Jo about this, she reminded me that the experience is probably very different to the footage – she’s correct. She also told me, that from memory, I wasn’t a menace at all, and that I’ve forgotten about the mood of the room that I was responding to. But for me, it highlighted that as much as we’re talking about creating a level playing field between us and them – its still slightly imbalanced. If I really was being a menace in this game situation that we’ve created, how do the participants know how and when they can intervene and stop me? This time round there didn’t seem to be any plan for that…
Also a quick note on terminology – because you were right when you said its not quite a performance or a workshop but both and also something else. I haven’t found a solution but I think there is something really important in the terminology of ‘action’, ‘behaviour’ and ‘game’ or ‘play’ (play as in game, not show).
In terms of how this fits into the research –
I’m pretty happy with how this piece is, it needs some tidying up but essentially I think it would be useful to take it around to a few places and see how each session feels and differs. Its taking the philosophy of the thesis and putting it into action and just letting it be what it is – no complicating it too much.
But I do think it’s a springboard for the next step. I think I’d like to try stretching it out – turning it into a durational cycle of actions between us performers, with the invitation for the audience to come in and out. So I’m thinking of adapting it for a gallery space and stretching it over a few weeks.