In February, I was lucky enough to partake in a week-long masterclass with Coney at the Theatre Delicatessen in London. I’m currently completing an MLitt Theatre Practices at the University of Glasgow, where my Independent Practice has focussed on creating work that uses audience participation to emulate the experience of online participation in social media, and other virtual experiences. This research had led me to read about Coney and their performance work, which uses audiences in new and innovative ways. I immediately applied when I saw they were running a masterclass on making Interactive Theatre, and delighted when I was offered a bursary to go. However, an essential part of my practice research was the abandonment of technology; in an attempt to recreate the virtual experience physically I had decided to restrict my ‘pallet’ to physical objects, and face to face interaction. I wondered how this would fit in with Coneys’ own work which is often tech-reliant.
My worries turned out to be unfounded as the masterclass focussed around audience agency, and shaping immersive dramaturgies, both very related to my academic interests. We started the week by playing a simple game, which involved balancing a penny on the back of your hand whilst trying to knock the pennies off of other players hands. There were different types of players- some competitive, some overly polite, some sneaky. The game was the starting point to a week long discussion about audiences, the different ‘players’ that exist within them, and numerous attempts to create a game that suits them all.
Through the masterclass we worked in a range of spaces, inside and outside, sometimes in groups, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes alone. We used ‘game’ structures as the basis to build dramaturgical structures around, as opposed to vice versa. The discussions that I had with Tassos and the other participants were particularly insightful. It was invigorating to meet so many young people who were making interactive work!
The abandoned Guardian building, now inhabited by Theatre Delicatessen, was an eerie backdrop to our final performance, the culmination of the week long masterclass. Following instructions texted to their phones (through Coneys’ magnificent Magic Phone Platform), the audience/ players moved around the space and took part in games designed by masterclass participants. The players behaved in unexpected ways; changed the rules, created new games. Watching them interact with the game I had constructed was extremely interesting. I could see both the strengths and the weaknesses, and through watching them I understood how to reconstruct the game to make it more ‘playable’.
Taking all that I learned from Tassos, and my experiences on the masterclass, I headed back north to continue working on my own performances. I restructured my research into more game-like systems of audience participation, which allowed the audience to take on the role of players or ‘users’. In early April I presented a scratch piece at Buzzcut Festival for teenage audiences, ‘the internet irl’, which used a game show format, with rounds, tasks and rewards.
Then later that month, I presented my final practice- based piece investigating the virtual experience at the Gilmorehill Theatre, Glasgow. In this performance I experimented with different levels of participation; those who wanted to participate fully and enter the ‘grid’ where the performance took place had to remove their shoes, whilst others were restricted to the sidelines. There were ‘games’ scattered throughout the space to interact with initially, and as the performance progressed more specific tasks were given to selected participants.