A semi-improvised performance, a spa-like treatment, an exploration of memory, a motivational coaching and a discussion of the psychological attachments to human hair: these were my experiences at the Camden People’s Theatre’s One-on-One night – a night which was overwhelmingly positive, affirming and overall lovely.
Before going into each piece, I’ll quickly mention Chapter One by Black Shoe – a durational piece running throughout the evening, where four performers in jumpsuits practiced automatic writing, and in turn read what they had just written through a microphone. I didn’t stay for much of this, so don’t have a huge amount to say, but it reminded me slightly of Forced Entertainment. It was interesting to listen to the writing phase in and out of being conscious and unconscious – with some of the moments of unconsciousness providing glimpses into the depravity and weirdness of the human mind. I’m not sure I got enough of a sense of the piece, sitting in for only 15 minutes or so, to truly appreciate it. I suspect the durational aspect is very important, and from what I saw I don’t think I would have had trouble staying engaged with it over a longer period: there’s a constant sense of “what’s going to come out next?” which lends both a slight excitement to the proceeding, followed by either a payoff or a disappointment every time someone reads, both of which left me wanting ‘just one more’ before getting up to go.
My first one-on-one was actually for two participants at a time, going one-on-one with one another. The Stand In by Art of Disappearing is a delightfully silly experience: under the vaguest of instructions (through headphones and an extremely light ‘script’), you and your partner are asked to improvise several different performances – all the while with a director taking notes which you receive at the end (I was very pleased to see she approved of my concoctions!) There’s a good range of scope to interpret the instructions, and so long as you’re happy to let go it’s just a good piece of fun: my session was accompanied by a great deal of giggling. If you get a chance to try this out then do – just leave your inhibitions at the door and embrace your inner performer!
The Happiness Treatments by Robert Clarke was by far the longest experience of the evening, lasting approximately an hour altogether. I understand that this is only one part of a four-part work attached to the dance piece Promises of Happiness, but it stands very well on its own two feet. A sort of spa-like treatment, you enter a room with two other people, and are invited to lie on a bed (blindfold), and are gently manipulated in a variety of ways, sort of like a unusual massage (with the odd bit of sound helping along the way). The whole process was immensely relaxing and reassuring, and I would have been quite happy for it to go on much longer: I came out the other side calm, comfortable and happy. Really lovely. There’s quite a bit more to it, but I don’t want to spoil it: there was a point I thought it was over, and then realised it definitely wasn’t – and then my understanding of what the piece was offering expanded in a fascinating way. Well worth catching if you can.
Next, I went to Re:Memory by Suitcase Civilians. Another piece which involved being blindfolded (!), this was an exploration of my memory, first from my own and then from somebody else’s perspectives, executed in an incredibly simple way. At first, it simply involves a conversation: the artist asks some questions about your memory, and you have a short chat about them. Then – and again I’m not going to say precisely how – you are immediately presented with the memories you were just discussing, but now with the artist’s observations and reflections overlaid. It’s all very positive and sweet, and also quite touching. I was very happy that they offered us a sort of memento to take away from it – I get the feeling whenever I dig it out it’ll make me smile for a moment.
Un/bound by Eve Parmiter was the most ‘performance-y’ of the events, and that’s not meant in any disparaging way. Acting as your boxing coach getting you ready for the big fight, she begins a motivational speech (with several dialogue nods to classical works – I caught a couple, I’m sure I missed more!) which derails partway through, as she explains that she knows this fight isn’t what you really want to do. And then she asks you to picture what you do want. And suddenly the fiction merges with reality, as you’re picturing something real, for you, a part of your life which you want to take positive action on, and you’re being inspired to go and get it. Using some simple physical tricks to help raise your sense of drive, strength and purpose, she pushes you to the point of being ready to charge out into the world and grab it in both hands… and then tells you to go get it. Brilliant – I came out of this one just feeling fantastically positive.
Finally came Song to my Intestines by Weronika Cegielska. Surrounded by masses of human hair – some of which she has turned into various objects – and sat across from Weronika, we discuss my relationship with my hair, her relationship with hers, and what hair can mean to us psychologically, both positively and negatively. She offers me the opportunity to buy one of the objects she’s made – but the payment comes in the form of my hair. If I want to take, I must donate, and the price needs to be worked out. She shows me hair that other people have cut off this evening in payment. There’s a ‘tie’ made from a plait that I really like, but I am worried what the price will be… This made me think deeply about how much importance I place on something that I don’t really think about that much, and my response both surprised and bothered me.
Looking back over these pieces, what I’ve noticed is that they all offered the participant something, and that something was quite often intrinsically part of the participant, with the piece allowing us to remember that, or to find it. Or, if not already part of the participant, they felt like something of a gift – an opportunity just to experience something different, to experience this moment right now as worth diving into, and enjoying, and exploring. I almost always come out of one-on-one events feeling inspired. I think it’s something to do with how much it has to consider its audience: every single element, every single moment, is about one person, and so it becomes so much more personal, so much more important. There’s often a tendency to treat ‘the audience’ as one entity, as opposed to a collection of individuals (and for the most part, this is a necessary way of thinking about things). One-on-one pieces allow us to celebrate that individuality: recognising that, despite the overall structure of the piece being the same, this particular moment of the piece is unique, and it is unique not because of the performer or performance, but because of the audience. Artists working in this field seem incredibly attuned to the importance of that uniqueness, and manage to make it the central part of the work. I feel like I have a lot to learn from them in this regard.