this weekend found us out of our comfort zone and enjoying ourselves immensely working with students and staff at prior pursglove college, guisborough to deliver an interactive performance as part of their 450th celebrations.
the performance and preceding workshops were a creative partnerships project to develop an innovative approach to a public performance where the audience could play a role in shaping the action. our proposed idea (below) was the use of mobile phone technology whereby text messages could ‘activate’ the characters with audience members steering the eventual outcome depending on who they chose to activate and which tasks they selected.
with the students we looked at how we might bring to life historical characters from across 450 years of the college and engage their fellow students in the process. discussions around communication technology and protocol led to each student setting up a facebook profile for their chosen character, these were then used for interactions in character ultimately developing potential dramatic dialogues from these online conversations.
above: a timeline and initial character profiles exploring potential links between characters and social-historical events to weave into conversations.
below: queen elizabeth I on facebook
meanwhile having looked at examples of performance art and interaction – particularly fluxus and yoko ono, and some cross-referencing of classic pop videos that tell a historical story in the space of a few minutes, a performance was shaped bringing together facebook, text messaging and more traditional elements of street theatre. we invited darrell hooper who worked with us on the CHART Scarborough mobile phone treasure hunt to help develop the technology – the end result being android tablets as the audience interface and mobile phones for delivery to the performers. the audience are invited to click on a character’s image which then prompts that character to do one of a series of actions.
there’s a game element to this as some events have to happen in sequence to allow other actions to happen. for example, the prior who sought a royal charter for the establishment of a grammar school (later the college) can be instructed to converse with the pregnant wife of a schoolmaster from the WWII era, but she must have introduced herself to the audience via a diary entry first or his greeting will be refused. fun actions were also included such as being able to make prince george (on a visit to the school to plant a commemorative tree) sneeze repeatedly or have the C19th nurse hand out cough candy.
there are multiple unknowns with a project like this, not least the idiosyncrasies of mobile phone networks (almost every character was on a different network – initially by chance but then something we stuck with just in case one network’s coverage was interrupted) and the chance that the audience wouldn’t want to interact – we did consider a disclaimer assuring people that they wouldn’t be pulled into the performance… but the end result was glitch-free and the audience members responded with delight at being able to ‘control’ a character and fascination as to how it all worked.