This Wednesday I travelled up to Liverpool to present a scratch of my new piece ‘Room Full of Elephant’. The scratch was hosted by Metal Culture – a dance and arts studio – and DaDa – a Disability and Deaf Arts organisation.
The evening was presented under the heading of “a space in-between” – aimed at art that explores the space in-between normal and other bodies. It featured a selection of Changemaker artists – i.e. artists supported by Metal to develop as leaders and artists engaged in activism around intersectionality and other issues.
I wanted to try out my idea for an ‘inverted round’ performance layout, as part of a wider exploration into an auditorium that looks at best fit accessibility and inclusion. The ‘inverted round’ is like a classic round, but instead of the audience sitting around the stage, they are placed in the centre, looking outwards, with the performance taking place around them.
Ultimately, I envision this inverted round incorporating a suite of accessible technologies (such as haptics, 360 projections etc). This however was a bare bones version, so it was literally chairs in a central circle, with an interpreter signing.
The content was from ‘A Room Full of Elephant’ – a show that will explore the many models of disability, how they are used to understand disability and the identity of disabled people, and interrogate how fit they are for purpose.
The feedback that I got from the audience after the performance was very positive. There was no questions of why the inverted round, which I was half-expecting.
Interestingly, the audience said they found it more of an insular/independent experience than a standard ‘end-on’ performance. But this seemed to be a positive thing – they didn’t have something to look at all the time, so when I wasn’t visible they listened more to my words. Some said that it was like I was inside their head. One audience member said that when I disappeared she built up her own picture of me.
I was also surprised, because before the performance I thought that people might feel the need to move around – turning their bodies and chairs to try and keep looking at me. This however seemed not to be such a big deal. People’s natural instinct seemed to be to stay where they were sitting and wait for me to pass by next. This puts more pressure on me as a performer – I need to be focused, and ensure I’m giving equal and fair treatment to each part of the auditorium/audience. Keeping the performance concise and to the script is not my instinct but it really worked for this because keeping the audience immersed is about me keeping present as a performer and not slipping out and dwindling.
It seemed for me as a performer that it was kind of different as well, because it felt like when I stopped beside a person it seemed quite personal – because the concentration of your energy is with a smaller amount of people. Although there are people around them, really the person you’re really looking at is getting a lot of you.
Going up I was particularly worried about logistically failing the d/Deaf community. This is because BSL is a visual language – you have to be able to see it. So if the interpreter wasn’t in their field of vision, then they would be missing out. Or if they were in their field of vision, it wouldn’t be exactly the same feeling of the performance surrounding them, which was one of my aims. Also, d/Deaf audiences have a spectrum of hearing which will be specific to each person. So I was worried that it would seem like I wasn’t concerned about their access issues – which was not the case. What I really wanted to do was try something out, and work out how it might be improved and made more accessible.
One deaf audience member felt that although he could always see the BSL interpreter, he missed out when I wasn’t in front of him. Whereas other audience members couldn’t see me all the time, they still had a direct contact with me through my voice. This got me thinking that perhaps what is needed is not just a pure interpreter, but a performance signer – someone who is giving a performance quality in their own right.
Another interesting suggestion was that 360 sound could be experimented with alongside the haptic vibrations.This was not something I had thought about before, but that I want to find out more about.