Public Actions doesn’t tear down the fourth wall, it shreds it to pieces. When I stepped into Arts House (North Melbourne Town Hall), I didn’t expect to be kicked out of my seat by an avalanche of performers that came rolling down the stands. Let alone did I expect to be part of the performance in the end.
The 90 minute ‘happenings’ choreographed by Luke George and Collaborators felt like an invitation to me. Seeing the performers push our chairs away from us with their bodies was not only refreshing, but also shifted my gaze from the stage onto the audience. We became both the observers, and the observed. This simple action invited me to look elsewhere, to look at myself and others, and to challenge the ‘borders’ that we are used to assume are a given in the performing arts.
In the second part of the show, titled ‘Group Action’, the performers moved across the stage in splintered unison, making evident that the collective was formed by its parts and that each member of the group had something unique to bring to the fore. In his essay “People watching people: public actions as social choreography”, dramaturge Daniel Kok highlights the fact that George assembled a diverse group of performers in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. But instead of staging a clichéd utopia where ‘we are all one’, he negotiated differences by allowing for individual stakes to filter through the collective; proposing a new way of doing things: teamwork that allows for dissidence, union that not only tolerates, but supports disagreement. In a time when social polarisation is on the rise, this acquires paramount importance.
As I sat absorbed by the performers, one of them came to me and whispered to my ear: “is there anything in this space that you’d like to explore?” The subtle invitation led me first to sit on the floor and then, to lie on my back in the middle of the space, watching events unfold around me. Audience members climbed in chairs and re-configured the environment to their liking. They danced with the performers and talked to the sound designer. They went in and out of the room. There was no stage (or, more accurately, the whole room became the stage) and the lines that defined who were the participants, who the observers and who the performers were completely wiped out.
In the show’s promo, George asked: ‘what would it take to mobilise a group of people?’ After taking part of Public Actions, the answer became very clear. For me, it was curiosity that drove me into the theatre and out of my seat. And being part of that room, where there was an open invitation to become part of a collective without the expectation of ‘fitting in’, the open possibility to take risks and ‘do your own thing’, transformed art into a force for social cohesion.
Lourdes Zamanillo is a Melbourne-infatuated journalist. Originally from Mexico, she loves words, travelling, and (above all) feeling surprised.
The venue is accessible.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Starling Communications.
Image credit: Luke George and Collaborators