Proximity does not allow you to be a passive audience member. You will be required to talk, create, make choices and drive the "performance". I was ready to participate, determined to say "yes" and be open to any offer I encountered at the Proximity Festival. I knew that this was going to be something quite unique and I was really excited to see what might be involved.
Proximity was a micro festival as part of the Blue Room Summer Series that was only available to a total of 144 people, so attending felt like a great privilege. This unique performance design has just one "actor" and one audience member in every show.
Each show went for 12 minutes and there were 4 in each program. You could do only one program or you could do the 3 hour marathon (Programs A, B & C). It was a condition of booking the marathon that you had to do all three programs on one day. One audience member commented afterwards, that she would have preferred to do one hour at a time over different days to allow herself to enjoy and process the experience more fully.
Over the course of the afternoon, with map in hand and helpful volunteers at the ready, we navigated our way to various spaces in the Blue Room that were being utilised for performance. Every audience member had a different rotation order and so each experience was unique.
The performance of HOW CLOSE DO YOU WANT ME? begins when you enter the room and sit or lie down on the mattress and turn off the bedside light. In the darkness, the beautiful resonant voice of Russya Connor speaking poetry from (what seemed like) above, is even more haunting and poetic. Her words, drawn from the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke, were inspiring and warm.
In USH AND THEM, friendly but efficient Nikki Jones appears as an usher to take you to your next show. On the way it becomes apparent that you're already in your next show and her sense of humour, coupled with historical knowledge makes this a fun little walk in and around the Blue Room.
With torch in hand you enter the darkened studio to witness FRAGMENTATION 1.2. Hellen Russo has created a physical performance based on Salvador Dali's painting, Hallucinogenic Toreador and it was up to you how much or how little you saw of it. As the lighting designer, you could direct the torch on or away from the performer to change the effect. Described as a "powerful dance work of energy and restraint", this was one of the more confronting experiences.
Sadly, the fourth performance in this program was not available on the day we went. It was called FLUSH and simply involved sitting down to play a few hands of strip poker with Janet Carter. Depending on how bad you were at cards and how prepared you were to participate, you may have found yourself in the bar of the Blue Room wearing nothing but your underwear... or less.
THE GLORY HOLE BEARD was held in the male toilet downstairs. This stop was one of the major talking points at the dinner table later. I was instructed to flush the urinal when I entered the room and once I had done so, a pair of feet appeared from inside the stall and a man's (Jackson Eaton) voice began to speak to me. I giggled my way nervously through the first part and eventually had the courage to ask the voice to stick his beard through the "glory hole" cut in the toilet door. He encouraged me to touch it and I soon felt at ease enough to play with it and even put a few plaits in it (it was a very long beard).
MOBILE MOMENTS was my favourite adventure of the festival. I was escorted through the Cultural Centre on a tricycle ridden by Sarah Neslon who was delightfully easy to chat to. She recorded the whole journey as footage for a film portraiture series that would hit the big screens in Northbridge. As we rode past interested bystanders, we got aquainted and Sarah asked some poignant questions to get me thinking about what does and doesn't make me happy.
THE UNION was my opportunity to resolve something that had been getting on my goat. Renae Coles (aka Scarlett), a representative of The Union of People against Very Small Injustices heard my case and composed a punk rock song to help me vent my spleen.
SWEETLIFE was going to be good if I was judging by the lolly wrappers littering the waiting area outside the room. I was thrilled to be greeted by James Berlyn who was wearing a colourful, candyman vest and a licorice allsort bracelet. Through games, tests and choices he gently challenged me about my life and if/how I could make it sweeter.
YOUR PRIVATE HOOFER for the day is Rhiannon Newton. After she greets you warmly at the door, you go over to her computer and choose a song from the thousands she has on itunes. Once you've selected your music, you go over to a costume rack and choose a couple of garments and hat for her to wear. You designate the performance space by placing your chair wherever you like and then your world premiere performance begins. This show, created by Claudia Alessi, was one of the more relaxed ones.
SLOW FOOD SUNDAY allows you to spend some time with Sarah Rowbottam (Producer of Proximity) in the Blue Room kitchen, which had been styled like an old country farmhouse for the day. While you assist her with dinner preparations, Sarah shares stories about the origins of the food and the farmers who provided it. Slow food (in direct opposition to fast food) utilises local, seasonal ingredients and is prepared with love.
HYDROSIS is performed in the store room under the stairs. Janette McGinty invites you into the tight space and then makes it even tighter, by trapping you between two bookshelves. Normally claustrophobic, I was surprised how at ease I felt with the space and the proximity of McGinty as she tested various deodorant products and requested that I check which cotton pad was wetter, and how her armpits smelled.
After all of that, I was quite looking forward to finding out HOW TO HAVE A 3 MINUTE SHOWER. The brief for this one warned that there was potential nudity, so I fully expected to be witness to Jen Jamieson taking her 3 minute shower. Instead, I sat on the cushioned toilet seat just outside the curtain and timed her while she explained what she was doing to get her hair washed, body scrubbed and feet pumiced, all in 3 minutes. I welcomed the opportunity to give it a go myself, and being a long, luxurious shower taker normally, I was pretty impressed with my efficiency coming in under time.
Feeling clean and fresh I made my way up to the mezzanine where a table had been set with all of the food that we had prepared throughout the day. My fellow audience members and I enjoyed a feast including flat bread, avocado dip, basil pesto, tomato chutney, potato salad, figs, chocolate coated gooseberries and lemongrass iced tea. The meal was just as much a part of the performance journey as we sat together sharing and comparing our experiences.
I hope that Perth will see another Proximity festival next year, and I would urge everyone to get in very quickly with their bookings if they do.
The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Proximity Festival present
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James St, Northbridge WA
Dates: 29 Jan - 19 Feb 2012
Tickets: $25 (4 shows in 1 hour) | $66 (12 shows in 3 hours)*
Bookings: 9227 7005