My encounters: Group Works #7

The German group ScriptedReality’s Our Hands Against Us! is the third performance of the festival. They write “Do-it-yourself can function as relieving dilettantism as well as self-exploiting professionalism. What does the role of artists and art play here?” The WaW says “The delegation of work to the audience is an unabashed provocation from the students & alumnaes from Giessen: we propose that you do the labor, yes, but also that you take the decisions and find the solutions”

On stage, we see a simple pedestal with an oversized book with the title Read Me, a timeline with six chapters, a piece of paper with six light cues and, placed in the background, a text from Bertolt Brecht’s play Fatzer written on a big piece of paper. In the room, we also find a number of large cardboard boxes with objects and texts. No performers. The audience is supposed to make the performance themselves. The manuscript is written in the big book. Step by step the audience is guided through the actions of the performance.

As WaW states in the program it is the audience who are expected to do the “labour” of the performance, but labour in the sense of manual labour not mental labour. The concept development, structural and aesthetic decisions, which is a great part of making artistic work, has already been worked out by ScriptedReality. In the black box, we are workers in a build-it-yourself IKEA performance exposing our group mentality while we negotiate among ourselves how the collective is to respond to the manuscript and the framework of the play.

The artistic concept is clearcut and smart, but also recognisable because this is the strategy you would expect to meet in a team building exercise. Of course, this concept is relevant to the field of stage art because it questions the traditional relationship between the performance and the audience. The outcome, though, will hardly ever surprise since the black box propagates a certain kind of behaviour, and the power of the artist is too strong for anything unexpected to happen.The audience is, merely, playing out the dramaturgy of the artist and the only real decision they can make in Our Hands Against Us! is whether they want to respect the artistic work and play along or disrespect it and destroy it. Isn’t this the same options you would have in a conventional theatre setup?

Furthermore I wonder if it makes any sense to talk about Do-it-yourself in relation to ScriptedReality’s work. Isn’t Do-it-yourself a strategy to obtain production agency over something/a product that you want? If you as an audience member have not seen ScriptedReality’s Our Hands Against Us! before, you do not know what performance you are making, and therefore you don’t know if you want this performance or not. You and the rest of the collective are simply obeying orders.

At the artist talk Friday evening one member of ScriptedReality said that the audience members had always finished Our Hands Against Us! because they wanted to know how it ends. Having witnessed the performance and my fellow audience collective I wondered if there could be other explanations as to why the audience finishes the performance, and I came to think about empathy.

For some reason there wasn’t enough time for ScriptedReality’s performance to finish, and as the starting time for the next performance by White Horse came closer confusion emerged. The audience didn’t know what to do. Should they leave Our Hands Against Us! in empathy and respect for White Horse or should they stay in empathy with ScriptedReality. The result was that some felt obliged to stay and some felt obliged to leave. I stayed, and in my view, the atmosphere in the last part of Our Hands Against Us! was not as driven by interest as by empathy towards Scripted Reality and the festival team. I found this interesting because it made me think of the role of empathy in the black box?

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