Feature in Issue 21-2 | Summer 2009

Our summer issue heralds the arrival of the outdoor performance high season. Starting in May with festivals such as Big in Falkirk, Brighton, and Norfolk & Norwich, the summer months continue with a plethora of events in all corners of the land.

Total Theatre Magazine has, for many years, been a staunch supporter of street arts and outdoor performance. It seems appropriate to think for a moment here about what it is about this body of very different sorts of practices falling into the 'outdoor arts' category that makes it of such interest. Of course, there's the fact that events are often unticketed, and presented in public spaces, thus bringing live arts to people who may not otherwise have that experience.

But it is also that the relationship with the audience is so very different outdoors, where there is a lot of potential distraction, and people have the option of walking away if they don't like you. This view is reflected in Matt Feerick's article on his company Wet Picnic, emerging artists on the street arts circuit. This article is part of a special feature called ‘Street Arts: The Next Generation’ that celebrates the work of young artists, and flags up new training opportunities in street arts / outdoor performance. Meanwhile, across the channel, French companies such as Ici-Même have been exploring the power of trickster theatre and interventions in public spaces, here documented by Charlotte Smith. We also have an article by Meyhrdad Seyf on two very different site-responsive projects that originated in the East of England region. Another sort of site (and thus another sort of audience relationship) is a circus tent – and we have a report this issue from the Cirque de Demain festival in Paris, in which the brightest new stars of contemporary circus show their wares. We also have an interview with Ursula Martinez, an artist whose work has crossed the boundaries of many sorts of audience relationship – from the circus-cabaret success of La Clique to the extraordinary immersive theatre event Office Party. Her latest show My Stories, Your Emails premieres at Queer Up North, May 2009.

In all of the above-mentioned work, the relationship with the audience is rather different to that of so-called ‘traditional theatre'. Far from being passive observers, audience members are drawn into an active engagement with the artists and their work. Our reports from the National Review of Live Art highlight examples of work which expects a little more of the spectator – although this does raise issues, explored here, of what the contract with an audience actually is outside of a seated theatre setting, where they have the choice to move on. Does this mean, in some cases, that people are taking a TV-generation channel-flicking approach to the 'consumption’ of live arts?

I was interested to read a recent interview with The Globe's director Dominic Dromgoole (by Brian Logan, Independent on Sunday 3 May 2009) in which Dromgoole points out that two aspects of the Globe are key to how the performance must work: the architecture (round, open to the sky) and the audience (boisterous, free to move around). He points out that in daylight there is an equanimity between actors and audience – you can't use the lighting to focus attention: ‘we all do something collaboratively in the light together’.

It's a timely reminder that the model of theatre that we have come to think of as the norm – a black box into which we silently creep and sit cloaked in invisibility, being passively entertained or educated from behind a 'fourth wall' – is in fact just one little avenue of practice that has developed in one pocket of time in some parts of the world.

Far from being a quirky branch of performance practice, street arts, outdoor performance and site-responsive theatre is actually at the heart of theatre practice. Which is why we give it so much attention! That this work is crucial to contemporary arts practice is being reflected in the news, as we go to press, of the unveiling of Punchdrunk's latest project - a site-specific collaboration with the Old Vic called Tunnel 228, set under the arches of Waterloo Station. There are whinges about Punchdrunk 'going mainstream' but we say good, about time – and great to see Kevin Spacey involved in the support of 'total theatre'!

We hope you enjoy this summer issue of Total Theatre Magazine, and as always welcome feedback and suggestions for future content.

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-2
p. 4