Theatre Critic and Journalist

LIFT Blog: We The People

LIFT Blog: We The People

Published on LIFT Blog, July 2010

The People, Johanna told us in the midst of Thursday night’s revolution, are called Tim. They’ve come from Elephant & Castle.

Had she enquired, she might have been able to tell us that The People write plays; quite formally innovative plays at that. She might have told us that The People’s plays have won awards. Or that the reason that The People were in Elephant & Castle was that their latest work-in-progress was being performed in an uninhabited shop in a run-down shopping centre as part of a Royal Court scheme to reach new audiences.

The People, in other words, are very much onside. The People are one of us.

Gob Squad’s Revolution Now!, for those that didn’t see it, attempts to incite a real world revolution – even if only in a single person – from within the theatre. It tries to affect the world beyond the performance itself. It does that by broadcasting a call to arms via a single television placed outside and attempting to persuade a member of the public to act on our behalf by launching a conspicuously bourgeois Molotov cocktail (a Moet-ov cocktail, perhaps?) at the building.

Looking around the audience on Thursday night, there were an awful lot of familiar faces. Of those cooped up in the ICA that evening, a significant proportion are actively involved in theatre, performance and/or live art. Around the stalls were dotted practitioners and producers, curators, critics and commentators.

That our newest recruit, the one person outside moved into action, should be Tim Crouch is an irony not easily missed. It’s all too straightforward to stretch Gob Squad’s piece into a metaphor for a whole wave of performance. After all, isn’t this kind of work deliberately and self-consciously forward-thinking? Who then is this ‘revolution’ reaching? Is it playing into a bubble? For all our talk about ‘the audience’, are we just talking about one another?

Personally, I was reminded of two things. Firstly, my previous visit to the ICA for Some of the Futures (part of the Futures and Past weekend concocted by Tim Ethcells and Ant Hampton), during which I was awarded Best Audience Member 2010 in Kim Noble’s performance lecture. Secondly, a Peachy Coochy at the Riverside in 2008 given by Lois Kieden (who was herself amongst Thursday’s audience), in which she presented twenty photographs of audiences and identified individuals therein according to their artistic practices, positions and achievements. Though she couldn’t have pointed me out, I spotted myself and my own company in one shot taken at that year’s Spill Festival.

Of course, all this is not to discourage artists from watching each other’s work. That’s hugely important, of course. Nor is it unaware of the near-impossibility of actually identifying or counting the ‘anonymous public’ attendees. Rather it is to raise a few questions: Is any of this problematic? If not, why not? If so, what’s to be done?

Photograph: Gob Squad

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