Oh the many bizarre, enthralling and inelegant rituals of courtship. In rural Austria young women used to place a piece of apple under their armpit at the beginning of a dance, and by the end they would choose their lucky man by giving him this deliciously sweaty slice to eat. In Finland, girls would wear a leather pouch on the front of her skirt and a man could place a knife in it if he fancied a bit. Subtle.
With new technologies like Tinder, Grindr and OK Cupid, things are a tad different these days, decries Bron Batten in her live art performance Onstage Dating. Unions are made based on sobriety, hormones and geographical proximity. So many people are out there, she quips cynically, “squeezing the rancid bowels of the internet”. Maybe not too different to the days where a woman would eye a man off on the other side of the bar then grab him drunkenly by the end of the night. But the biggest difference, Batten explains, is that dating via screens removes that element of physical chemistry, that inexplicable buzz that hums through our veins, to decide whether that being is desirable.
So Batten is bringing the physicality back, luring up a volunteer on stage each night – plucked and chosen by her based on their pre-show surveys – to go on a very live date. This is the essential nature of live art – it cannot exist without the audience’s input – and each night of Onstage Dating is undeniably and wonderfully coloured by the character of it’s volunteer(s).
Batten, with her cheeky flirtations and biting wit, is definitely driving the ship, but her chosen mate is equally as interesting and brave. Although he seems reluctant in the beginning, her beau on opening night warms up, goes with the flow and turns out to be live art gold. The date is shaped by a series of questions on slips of paper as things become progressively more and more intimate. Asked what thing he has done recently which he is most proud of, her date answers “becoming a fire fighter” which brings out whoops of gusto from the ladies, and surely some men, in the audience. Batten’s proud claim is that she’s “been off Centrelink for three years”.
There’s a reason this show was such a hit at the Festival of Live Art and returns again for Fringe – it’s fraught, fresh, fascinating and off the cuff. So unstick yourself from your screen and come and see a live date in all its awkward and spontaneous glory – we may plug ourselves into the internet for hours at a time, but real life and real people will always be irrevocably more fascinating.
2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival
by Bron Batten
Venue: Fringe Hub: Arts House - Underground | 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne VIC
Dates: 20 Sep – 1 Oct 2016
Tickets: $24 – $20