University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Swansea
Unknown Pleasure’s Symposium and 3rd year final show ‘Ignorance’
Townhill Campus and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea.
As a graduate from the performing arts course in Swansea, I was invited along to a symposium with the final project title, Unknown Pleasures. My encounter with the project was a practical exploration in the marketing and events management field the year before for the children’s show Skellig
Unknown Pleasures is a final project idea for the last year students of the course originally designed by Volcano Theatre Company. The concept of the project is to team up with a Welsh based practitioner to create an explorative piece, in joint venture with the Taliesin Arts Centre. The pieces have ranged from site specific, to campus based and this year, based at the centre itself.
The symposium took a look at many research factors that are being divulged in the performing arts industry. Papers from academics such as Dr Sarah Evans, a lecturer at University of Wales, Trinity Saint David on a women’s based event and the engagement of the participants and the facilitators duty and effort to overcome this; Martin Johnson, also a lecturer at UWTSD on the educational system and the challenges this faces for being a creative practitioner; Jason Benson, another lecturer at UWTSD on his PhD of disturbance in theatre, based on Volcano theatre company and it’s ability to seek individual freedom of expression and Kris Darby from Liverpool Hope on technology based performances explored in schools. We were also treated to talks from Mess up the Mess and Theatr Fforwm Cymru on their projects and endeavours in the community, Zoe Jarvis on the community aspect of my Swansea based project, Creative Bubble of which I conceived and continue working on from over a year ago and the director Gerard Tyler on the production of Ignorance.
These speakers all gave interesting and very creative outlooks on different subjects, raising many questions, rhetorical and answerable as well as, personally, gave inspiration to myself as a performer.
This was accompanied by two performances by academics, Declan Patrick from Liverpool Hope and Daniel Hunt from University of Lincoln. Both very different performances; Patrick showed the desire and pain that dancers experience and the concept of the desired and desiring body of the student. Using contemporary dance moves, contrasted with a vulnerability his balance, Patrick opened himself as a performer, questioning the student/teacher relationship in the creative world and how vulnerable this should be. Using only a chair and his own body, the minimalistic nature of this performance was interesting in the sense that nothing was needed – Patrick was the performance, the props and the set.
Hunt began his piece in an energetic and elevated way. As audience members, we entered and stood in the space in silence, waiting for the show to unfold, with only a table of wine and orange juice and further into the space a lit table and chairs facing one another – however, this was not the case. Hunt encouraged us to bring an energy sensed upstairs during a coffee break, encouraging chat and drinking to ensue. This on a non-performance level was interesting in order to meet and speak new people, soon becoming aware that two of our audience members had become participants in the corner in what seemed a personal moment of light contact and hugs. To look felt intrusive yet awareness of what was happening was, for me, at a high. However, other audience members felt different or didn’t notice at all, not even when some were taken to help lift the participants at intervals along the room. One member of the audience decided to involve themselves and felt, on reflection, a sense of community from this – being able to make contact with another human that we normally avoid. This difference of community and ignorance was an interesting concept for creative’s such as ourselves to evaluate the audience as human’s and that the performance is still just, even if being ignored.
‘I wanted to make a sci-fi theatre show that wasn’t a parody… and wasn’t shit’ – Gerard Tyler
Making my way to the Taliesin, I was already aware from Gerard Tyler’s talk earlier in the day that this was unlike any other Taliesin show – sight specific despite using a stage, there would be an element of performance beginning in the foyer/area surrounding.
Awareness of the show beginning was evident in several performers walking around us in the coffee area holding envelopes and giving them to bystanders waiting for the show. Immediately, this began a conversation between us of curiosity and somewhat, need for an envelope just to satisfy this. I felt that these performers ranged in ability – some seemed in a character from the moment they entered the space and didn’t break this till the very end of the entire show and others seemed to drift in and out, leaving myself feeling as if this was half-hearted. This also was supported by the, from what later was revealed as the ‘ranger’ characters sitting in what looked like discussion in character form, to actually discussion about what they were about to do as performers as well as performers panicking about the amount of participants, then breaking character to ask audience members to help with this, breaking the illusion that they had seemed to originally convey.
Split into groups, we were given warnings and spoken to in a careful manner, showing that we were entering into a world of risk. Taken outside to the back of the building, we waited, looking at a man with a hose splashing an outer door. On reflection, the wait made sense with different groups and the different communication; what we entered into being played over several times and effectively, we were waiting for this to finish for previous groups. On entering the building through the water and being dried by large fans, we were aware that our entrance was as much a performance as the performers were; coming onto the back of the stage, performers ran up to us and began speaking and touching us, despite ourselves being on strict instructions not to do the same, with the awareness that previous audience members were sat on the stage or in the seats, looking at us. This voyeuristic nature was also supported by large television screens with a CCTV aspect, where these audience members had been watching us during their own encounters with the performers.
We had entered, what would seem as an apocalyptic safe house – CCTV, brick o brack making up the interior of the safe house, a small garden and these creatures in human form and human clothing, who’s abilities ranged from simple, almost child-like husks of humans to a normal intelligence. For myself, I wasn’t sure about this change in ability, as it seemed at times the most simple of aspects were hard to grasp but at others, their knowledge was intelligent.
The set itself, dim lighting and extra terrestrial sound was spectacular – the feeling that you see in horror and sci-fi films where they choose to save themselves in something known yet desolate was executed well – a theatre that we know or can at least sympathise with being changed to house these simple beings and us. The element of fear was still given to us in the form of not going outside, the harm that the rain [hose] could give us and the outsiders that were spoken of getting in or following was conveyed by the rangers who seemed to believe in the story with other rangers still lacking in this execution and the group of creatures who’s response to these aspects was of terror. Then the contrast of this, knowing the door was locked and that we were safe, the serenity of the creatures after fearful moments, gave a rollercoaster feeling that you would have in such a dangerous, alien world.
Eventually, the rangers made hiccups. There was someone new looking at the CCTV, when the creatures were enjoying their sunlight to keep their pigment at a normal consistency and stuck in a trance from this that they could not wake from, the rangers breaks and allowance of going outside with no fear, began to confuse us – was this still a safe house and if so, how come they had no fear of the outside world? A rogue creature and their love for DVD’s during the break when she wasn’t tranced by the sunlight and the rangers away from the scene, was comical and gave a nice interlude to the heavy nature of this world, until she sees herself outside… why is she outside in the fearful world? Chaos ensues, doors are open and the reality is revealed – the hose of rain is an illusion for these creatures, they are in fact copies.
We are finally greeted by a man in a new suit, entering in an authoritative manner – a contrast to the uncoordinated clothing and submissive manner of the creatures. His manner would make him seem as if he is the bad guy, keeping this group in this place and not allowing them to be in the real world. But his explanation was to look after these ‘copies’ of other humans and the cruelty of the outside world, and now with police on the way, we could no longer buy these copies, which is the reason we were meant to be there, but take them home for free – an uneasy feeling of being given a human as a form of slavery or like a pet.
Leaving the theatre, this specific actors performance left you questionable as to whether his actions were of good intentions or cruel to these creatures. Performers continued their performance into the surrounding area for another 20 minutes, never breaking this illusion which was a nice contrast to the beginning.
The momentary confusion, the fear and relief we felt such as the creatures and realisation of reality at the end provoked interesting concepts about the future if we were to enter these fictional Sci fi worlds and while, as already said, this is only fiction, I must give credit to the community of creatures for their undeniable conveyance of this, making us as audience members feel the same thoughts and emotions throughout.