Let’s Make A Brilliant Piece Of Imaginary Theatre Now!

Convener(s): Tassos Stevens

Participants: (listed in order as I remember them joining, all brilliant, apologies if I missed you off the list, please then add yourself)

Persephone Bayley, Francesca Hyde, Ed Kemp, Andrew Mulligan, Greg McLaren, David Betz-Heinemann, Clare Fischer, Antonio Ferrara


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Let's Make A Brilliant Piece Of Imaginary Theatre Now!

It started small, grew slowly and then a small eruption of people near the end.

A practical session. As much about the process of us getting there as where we ended up. 

I started by saying I didn't know how we would make it - although I had an idea in case we got stuck - and I was interested in observing how we did. We joked about being brilliant and about what imaginary theatre might mean. I had been inspired by Karl Kraus writing Last Days Of Mankind as a deliberately unperformable play, with my favourite stage direction of all time 'enter 1200 horses from the sea, led by a singing flame thrower'. So imaginary theatre could never be realised practically.

But P talked about how the focus of her mind's eye was quite intimate rather than epic, so in imagining a girl riding a polar bear in His Dark Materials, she saw the girl on the bear but couldn't see the epic scale of the bear the way she could in the film. 

We stated in turn some qualities or properties we wanted our brilliant imaginary theatre to have:

  • epic but intelligible
  • the piece travels around the world with its audience, picking up people along the way
  • a piece where a Fedex parcel is sent around the world and at every courier point, a flash of light is picked up by an orbiting satellite... the 100 flashes over time trace a picture of a dog
  • a piece where you are alone in a hotel room with mirrored ceiling which after a while rises to reveal hundreds of people in rooms like you... a shift in perspective where you realise it's not just you
  • unwitting participation

E joined. He'd thrown me a lovely curveball earlier. Brook's Empty Space starts with a definition of theatre, that a man walks across a carpet with someone watching that action. The gaze makes it performance. If E was to break into my house while I wasn't there and walk across my carpet but leave no trace of his entry and never tell anyone, is that not theatre. We agree it's not but then E wonders if it might be and I think there's an anticipation of discovery which threatens theatre, particularly if E were to talk to me and fear at any point I'm going to say 'didn't you break into my house?' If that ever happened, it would be theatre, says E. So there's an anticipated threatened theatre at any moment. 

E also threw in puzzles. Where every playing audience had a piece of the puzzle - a fragment of story, a piece of a picture - but needed to congregate and share them to solve it. Or maybe not. The sense that you have almost got the full picture however many pieces you have but that there is just one more piece. And then you find that piece and reassemble but there's still one piece. The nagging possibility that it isn't quite over. I like this quality.

- every person in the playing audience is the lead part in their own

With all of these, and as more people joined, tried to converge our divergent thoughts.

We liked the idea of breaking into people's houses to leave them the first clue as a surreptitious gift. Perhaps we'd employ burglars? Or could we do it ourselves?

I got overexcited at the thought of a theatre on legs - like Baba Yaga's Hut - that stalked each member of its audience in turn, hiding behind trees, following them, before - when they think they've escaped, leaping on top of them and plunging them into a lurid carnival performance in which they are the lead, before offering them the chance to join the travelling theatre for the rest of their lives or return to the real world.

P threw in a reality check, that it sounded like Second Life. It all turned a little more feasible after this.

(Now my notes and memory are a little more fragmented.) 

Activate the Theatre - turn up the filter and everything seems as if it is in the play.

Is this a bit like therapy?

I asked rather incoherently what's the story, the journey?

Which led to us talking about social chain structures.

A mission to recruit a stranger.

A mission to meet a stranger and pair up.

A mission where you are given a target to copy in every single way but you are also a target to a target etc to a target who is themself copying you.

The great thing about all these is that they are sustainable. The initiation mechanism. The last audience becomes the performer. 

We talked about the impossible blessing/curse you give each person in the audience. Something is going to happen to you. You don’t know where or when.

A bit like Derren Brown ‘Trick or Treat’, The Game, the end of The Vanishing

We want it to be Treats. But still, there is a fear.

What's it all about?

Your place in the world.

Active engagement.

Bringing something to the Feast.

A culminating event... the feast that brings everyone together.

Encounters with microstories along the way, that themselves *reflect* facets of what is happening... a story about two strangers becoming friends, a story about strangers gathering for a feast... etc.

Now we're really converging. We're running out of time.

I think P had thrown in earlier the ritual of food, the groundedness of eating and drinking, and that's where the Feast had emerged from.

We need to describe our piece (so that Lyn Gardner can give it an imaginary review).

The Feast

I realised several things in writing this up. This piece can happen. I very much want to make it happen - of course it might change as that happens. And if so, there will be an invitation to all those who were present in the group to join that process, and I have emailed them all with the final description.

But one of the key properties of the piece might be that its workings are mysterious. You probably can imagine what the piece might be, given the title and the description of the process. But perhaps I should keep the rest of it away from casual googling. 

It's still open to you if you want to know. You just have to ask. Email [email protected]. Or you can just imagine what it might be and whether you might find yourself in it one day.