As the audience mingled in the bar area at The Studio Underground waiting for The Confidence Man to start, the stage managers wandered among us asking if we’d like to be part of the production. Most people were hesitant to be literally thrown into the spotlight. However, my companion and I seized the opportunity to experience something completely different. It was also a bit of a giggle to say that we had performed in a Perth Theatre Company Production at the State Theatre Centre.
While the remaining audience waited outside, the six of us required for the show were ushered backstage and given a briefing on what was expected. We were allocated roles and given large cartoon heads that we could see through and head phones to wear underneath. Through these headphones came the stage directions telling us where to move and when. We also heard our own thoughts, our backstory and our feelings. At times, when we were in the same room with other people, we could hear their dialogue as well. We couldn’t hear what was going on in the other parts of the house, but the audience could, if they chose to.
The set comprised of a floor plan laid out in white tape and a variety of rooms. There was action taking place in several areas both inside and outside of the house and the audience could choose which story line to follow via a smartphone and a set of headphones. Their phone had a picture of each of the characters they could toggle between as they chose to hear their inner monologue and any dialogue that was taking place for them as well. At any time, they could switch to something they found more interesting.
I intend to go back and watch the show because as exciting, hilarious and beautiful as it was to be a part of, I also want to know what happened to the other characters while I was fussing about in the kitchen. As characters, we had no idea what we would do next, who we would interact with or what events were ahead. We just responded to the directions coming in via our headphones with large body language and “arm acting”.
The play’s storyline is humorous at times but is also sad, threatening and violent. A mundane suburban family is upended by the arrival of a visitor with a large bag of cash and a lot to hide. The unique delivery diffuses the edge of the violence but I am looking forward to seeing it again as an audience member this time so that I can truly appreciate it.
Director, Zoe Pepper calls this “remote control theatre” and encourages the audience to “play big and play hard.” I have never seen anything quite like this before and I am excited by the way that PTC continues to push the envelope to explore forms of creative story telling. This particular offering is from Side Pony Productions.
Technically, the preparation for this show must have been an intricate painstaking process. The audio cues and voice overs were arranged by Sam Price and the beautiful soundscapes composed by Ash Gibson Greig. The direction and planning was exceptional. The script was written by Adriane Daff and Zoe Pepper. The “masks” or cartoon heads were designed by Rebecca Baumann. The characters were voiced by a group of 11 different actors.
While the stage managers told us that it didn’t matter, my fellow “actors” and I felt that it would have been just a little more convincing if we had been physically like the characters we were playing. I was suited to mine (Susan, a housewife) and Grace Johnson who played my daughter (Anita) was also physically perfect. However, two of the male characters were played by ladies and I think that it would have been much better to choose male audience members for the male characters. At this stage, that would be my only criticism of this otherwise, phenomenal production.
You can’t miss this show! I highly recommend you participate even though you may be nervous in the beginning. As soon as you get started, it’s a thrill ride. Do it!
Perth Theatre Company presents
The Confidence Man
written by Zoe Pepper and Adriane Daff | created by Side Pony Productions
Director Zoe Pepper
Venue: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 30 April – 10 May 2015