Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Ant Hampton Gives Directions

There’s an old theatrical maxim that warns: “beware of any show in which an explantion of the plot requires the use of a diagram”.

Ok, there isn’t really any such maxim, but there ought to be. And such a maxim would put you on your guard for Doublethink, a diagram-enhanced production from English company, Rotozaza, opening at this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival.

For its Dublin run two “guests” (different ones each night) will perform the show. They will have no idea what they are about to perform and will instead simply take instructions from two “operators” – though chances are they’ll have had a look at the diagrams…

Ant Hampton, director of Rotozaza (the company takes its name from a sculpture by Jean Tinguely, something that there almost certainly is a maxim warning against) has been performing this style of production for several years now, amassing a sizeable portfolio of shows guided by the principles of TOCAR (an anagram for Theatre Of Command And Response).

From Romcom (where two guests perform a romantic dialogue by simple repeating the lines they hear over pairs of headphones), to Punta, (which involved the audience sitting under a tree in a public park on a summer’s afternoon and watching a performer in the distance, beyond crowds of passers-by) the company have devised a surprising number of different ways to use their TOCAR approach.

“A lot of theatre assumes a position of superiority towards the audience,” says Hampton. “It assumes that the audience are somehow less important that what is happening on stage and that they should be in awe. With this way of working, we really get to acknowledge how central to the performance the audience is.”

Hampton, who trained at Jacque LeCoq’s infamous Paris drama school, stumbled upon the approach when he was trying to find a way to work with a friend who wasn’t a performer. The solution was simple: just give him instructions as the show went on. The production created at that time has since then been performed by many different guests, some performers by training, others compeltely new to the stage.

“The guests are often quite nervous, but it is a nice kind of nervousness – we’re not going to ask them to do anything unpleasant. But they have to trust us,” says Hampton. “It is more controlled than something using audience partcipation, but the audience still discovers everthing at the exactly the same time as the person on the stage. So the guest becomes their representative in a very real way.”

But, all the same, some people will surely “perform” better than others, even when just following orders. “Well, we’ve found that it works better with people who are outside the usual. It is not about being able to perform, but being at ease with their own personalties is crucial.”

So far the roster for the Dublin run has not been filled. “Because Doublethink is a touring show, we usually work with the venues at each location and they become involved in the show. For the 6-day Dublin run we have to find 12 “guests”. So far we have found 2…”

Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin, September, 2004