Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Documentation: Crowdscripted Performance: The Request Robot

In my previous post, I started trying to work out how I feel about the use of technology in contemporary theatre. Well, more accurately, I started trying to write coherently about it. I’ve also been trying, for several months now, to explore this idea in my performances. The first, and simplest (crudest, perhaps) attempt at what I’m calling crowdscripted performance, was in December, when I was part of a cabaret evening, The Cabaret Formerly Known as Bucket (it’s a long story, some of which can be found here), which is held regularly at Manchester’s Green Room theatre. On this occasion it was Christmas–themed, with the host dressed as an elf and a life-sized dancing Santa near the bar.

Our host, Gareth, aka Bill Bucket was willing to let me try a kind of performance new both to me and the CFKB, which I called The Request Robot. Beyond dressing up as a robot, I made no preparations for the gig. I just announced my mobile phone number to the audience, and promised to execute any request that was sent to me in the following format: Do: an action (or) Say: a text. I was to be active during the intervals between other performers, to cover the turnarounds with my pseudo robotics.

I cheated a bit; my injured knee prevented me sliding down the banister properly, so I did that one half-assed. Also, I’m pretty sure that the person who texted : Strip didn’t intend for me to strip off my leggings to reveal the tights beneath. I improvised a bit, dancing with the dancing Santa doll, and indulging in some banter with the audience. I should probably also admit that I wasn’t particularly disciplined with the physicality. I’ve never had rigorous physical training, though I’m quite expressive, and I was playing around with a robotic physicality rather than strictly adhering to it. You’ll find a review of the event here.

I came away from the experience with a couple of tentative conclusions, and a strong urge to do it again. Fortunately for me, my kindly, if distinctly roguish, uncle Bill Bucket, is going to indulge me. On Friday. This time the theme is politics, and Bill is running for office . Once again, I’m covering the turnarounds, though this time the Robot will also be serving as a lie detector during uncle Bill’s campaign speech, which should be fun.
I’m going to try to be a lot more disciplined about it, this time, still unless requested to move, and ducking nothing. To safeguard myself, I’m going to announce my own Laws of Robotics, making it clear that I’m not going to injure myself for their amusement, nor strip. Well, not beyond the unitard, anyway. Metallic body paint is too expensive to squander on a precautionary full-body cover. The iPhone should also allow me to receive messages from different sources, and I’m trying to come up with a hashtag so people can tweet requests.

Last year, it was pretty clear that the main thing the audience wanted me to do was interfere with the other acts; a sort of heckling by proxy. I did it a bit, with those seasoned performers who I was sure could handle it, but was asked, reasonably enough, to refrain. This time, it’s going to be different. I’ve discussed it with the others, and I have explicit permission to heckle particular performers. I’m rigging a little LED light which will inform the audience when the Robot is taking requests.
In the interests of full documentation, here is a complete list of the SMS messages I received during December’s gig.

Requests for the Robot (All of the typos are from the original messages. I hope they are, anyway.)

Do: Hopping
Do: The crab walk
Do: Tweak Elf’s ears
Make animal noises
Rap a Xmas song
Sing No woman, no cry
Kiss the Santa
Sing Jingle Bells in a German accent
Pull down Gareth’s pants and year them yourself
Kiss elf
UR an octopus
Remove Gareth’s Y fronts
Put Gareth’s underpants on your head
Do the funky robot
Slide down the banister
Crouch on the stage and shout “ I am laying huge Yuletide logs and it hurts”
Kiss that man on stage
Stare at this text in silence for 10 seconds. Then proclaim that you cannot do this anymore and fake an emotional breakdown
Make fart noise
Do some popping to the Xmas tunes!
Kiss that camera man
Take that camera off Red and take it into the toilet and take a picture of your boob and when you hand it back shout ‘I hope Santa empties his sack all over you this Christmas’ x
Go to the guy in the blue T-shirt. Rub his belly and say ‘When’s this baby due?’
Mime being stuck in a box
Act deeply insulted by this text and demand to know who sent it, saying that you are not paid to take this abuse
Shout ‘i love big willies’
Do a jig
I’ve been bad. Will you teach me a lesson?
Sing- Mama Mia
Say into the microphone ‘ I much prefer Paul Daniels’
Can u say the best short poem u know?
Can you draw me a robot?
Do- go outside and press your face against the window

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