Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Shunt Niche (with karaoke and the transvestite stewardess enclosure)

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I'm afraid you've missed this now. Sorry I should have said. For the past two weeks seventy-four empty, wooden frames have hung to form a false perspective in Shunt's long corridor, their distance from each other and diminishing dimensions perfectly calculated by Tom Duggan. They looked great. And to the right as you came in there hung a piece by Kathy Hinde, the working guts of a prepared piano with a video of birds alighting on a wire projected on the underside. A white line passed steadily from left to right across this image and every time it hit a bird a note was struck... It's been a rich programme this past fortnight. Problems with the license meant I ended up performing Nijinsky Karaoke twice to plug some gaps, once on Thursday as planned, and another shotgun showing of it in the Arena on Saturday which turned out to be far more successful. It took a while to get going but from about 11pm onwards I didn't have to perform at all, or any way I decided this time not to intervene, and it was fine. People were perfectly happy to sit and natter and listen and then, most importantly, cross what I had feared was an intimidating distance to a lone chair three arches down, tap a stranger on the shoulder and take the mike from them. I still get a kick from watching these changeovers. Occasionally the volunteers wouldn't read from Nijinsky's diary at all but perform Cyprus Hill or the opening credits to Beverley Hillbillies, and I was fine with that; despite its name, all "Nijinsky Karaoke" really needs to be is an oppressively isolated open mike, comfortable seats and a crowd happy to take turns (and they always returned to the diary in the end). I enjoyed Saturday. It got me thinking. And I think most of these thoughts I then put down on the following strand of Chris Goode's "Thompson's" blog regarding his allusion to some inherent ideological flaw in the Lounge's make-up.

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So in brief... Me: "Am I sort of right in saying that the ideological problem for you is the space's remoteness from the surrounding reality... the very fact that people upon entering might go 'Fantastic'? A theatre company should have a 'quizzical' relationship with a space this patently -- non-domestic, this ostentatiously alien in your view, and 'Shunt are the benevolent dictators' presumably because people are unable to make themselves at home here, is that it?... But here, re: works of art and paying attention, what is it you pay attention to? It is never going to be, and therefore should not be, just the piece. You pay attention to each other as well. And, while not really 'my scene' whatever that is, the Shunt Lounge matches and probably surpasses any venue, show or indoor event I can remember in the opportunities it gives its artists (and frankly in the pressures it puts upon them) to pay attention to their audience and allow their audience to pay attention to each other as part of the work... I mean really joining in. Audience then becomes the wrong word. 'Crowd' is fitter. The Shunt Lunge is very much about the Crowd."

On Wednesday we didn't even have the documentaries, so Amber Sealey was projected in their place before two columns of plane seating and a dirty mesh, while I paced disconsolately around this enclosure in a pink wig and the rags of a stewardess' uniform. Again, it was fine.

Now, Chris: "I think the best way to describe it is in relation to recreational drug use... One of the things I regret about the recreational use of, for example, ecstasy, which generally seems to have a positive effect in making people happier and calmer and more open and more readily available to genuine experiences of love and intimacy in relation to others, is that on the whole users seem to tend to ascribe these positive effects to the drug alone... So, your mind is blown by Shunt? What do you do with that? You look forward to going back to Shunt again another night."

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And this is the image I bore in mind while I knocked about that transvestite stewardess enclosure with the punters peering in: the horse that slowly approaches you from the other side of the fence, and then stays there.

Finally, me again: "To be clear, I am not arguing that the Vaults is the perfect model of a theatrical space. I'm not sure one single place can ever fulfill that Function. What I do believe is that it is a useful and beautiful mutation, rather than a dangerous placebo... the response I hear more often than any other from people entering the Vaults for the first time is - and it's why I love the place - 'How did they get hold of this?'... Why don't you ever hear that asked in, say, a space like the Tate? Is it because the Tate is immediately baffling? Because it is. But this question, to me, sounds like a person having their idea of what is possible suddenly enlarged a little... I don't mean people have asked me this knowing I'm 'in'. I mean that I constantly witness people enter and yes go 'wow', but then also go 'how did they do this?' and the excellent and important thing is that this isn't a magic trick, because it isn't a secret! Which is why this isn't a dictatorship. It might be a compound, yes, or a haven - although not my idea of one - but I'm fine with that because everyone's invited and we're around to show our working if anyone's interested... 'We are monarchs of all we survey' is the inherent message of the place, for me, while the subtext is 'Go and do likewise'. And in six months time it will all be handed over to the sandwich barons anyway and Shunt will have to build somewhere else. None of which is to detract from your assertion that this build is a project which should not have been embarked upon in the first place, and all of which boils down to my love of theatre almost solely as a medium for amateurs. And builders."

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Oh and another thought I've had since: Great Art should not, contrary to popular belief, necessarily get us talking. What Great Art should really do is shut us up. 

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