herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

it's PARTICIPATORY THEATRE AT ITS BEST

Smock Alley Theatre > CHRIS WASSER

We all have name badges. The wide-eyed 'volunteer' at the door asks if I spell Chris with a 'CH'. Yes, we both agree that that's the normal way. We're in a 'community centre', you see. Actually, this is the Smock Alley Theatre's Banquet Hall - the perfect setting for Melbourne-based performance artist and theatre maker Nicola Gunn's quirky social experiment.

But let's not burst the bubble. Or, the balloons on the floor for that matter. Confused? Me too. The ensuing workshop is entitled 'How to Change the World through Social Transformation' (I thought it was Hello my name is…).

The bloke seated next to me signs our lives away on a contract handed to him by Nicola, the aforementioned 'volunteer'. Nicola does some explaining. O Fortuna blasts through the speakers. Here we go.

We have a karaoke machine in the corner. Board games, table tennis, free tea and coffee. Nicola plays around with a white board and tells us to get moving. Be social, as it were. Play 'balloon tennis' with Gary, a chap I've never met before.

MEGAPHONE

Stand up, stretch the legs and - oh my good God, I'm dancing. We all are. Not a drop of drink taken and I'm getting funky. Now, I'm in a conga line.

Now I'm in the street. Our admirable hostess has climbed a wall and is shouting about art (or love) through a megaphone. People are staring. This is really happening.

What's it all about? Beats me. Is Nicola the real 'participant' in all of this? Probably. Like I said, Hello my name is is something of an experiment. Start conversations. Get strangers to engage with one another while Nicola shares her relationship woes. She informs us that an ex-boyfriend recently used the term 'it's not you, it's me'. She tells us this while posing nude. Yep, it's an art class, too.

It might not make a lot of sense, but it certainly is enjoyable. Playful. Charming. And besides, The Housemartins will explain everything (we hope).

Keep an eye on those circling photographers - the big reveal is rather heart-warming. I won't spoil anything, but watch what you're doing at the start.

In the end, you wonder what it was all for, but what you do know is that you had a lot of fun. It's as much an exercise for Nicola, the performer (or even the real person) to open up to a room full of strangers, but mark my words: you'll leave smiling. Joyous.

Running until Sunday HHHHI

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