Friday, 19 March 2010

Documentation: Crowdscripted Performance: The Robot at Bucket 12/03/10 pt. 3

I'm wary of the notion that talking about a performance online before, after, even during, and inviting the audience to join the discussion means that the performance extends into the digital sphere; or that it begins before the audience arrives, ends when it is no longer discussed on line. This sounds to me like the sort of thing that gives Theatre Studies a bad name; after all, do we consider that a show in the old media days started with the first poster or ended with the last review?

Nevertheless, when you're talking about a performance that explicitly invited online participation, and is about the relationship between the two spheres, it seems worthwhile to discuss the online element. This was the first time I'd tried to incorporate a Twitter feed into the performance, and it taught me a lot. I didn't get any tweeted requests from outside the performance space, unless you count Rob tweeting from the Box Office, which perhaps you should, as he couldn't see what I was doing and could barely hear it. This was disappointing, but not unexpected, especially as I hadn't set up a live feed so remote audiences could see what I did with their requests.

Although, as the image above shows, I did some online preparation for the gig, it's the aftermath I want to write about. It began, very pleasantly, on Twitter, with kind comments by a person I know only as @fatroland

I particularly cherished his comment about the unrepeatability of the event, that very liveness I've been trying to highlight.

The following Monday, the gig having taken place on a Friday, I received a link to a review of the event by amateur reviewer Arthur Chappell (no relation). I am slightly acquainted with him, and he was, until the end of the conversation I'll reproduce below, on my list of friends on Facebook. I'm giving you the conversation in full, not because I believe it reflects particularly well on me, it doesn't, but because I think it raises some interesting questions about the relations between audience and performers, on stage and on line. I'd be very curious to read any comments on any aspect of the discussion, now that it's public. I'm not asking if you think I was right, I believe I was, though I wish I'd handled it better. I'm interested in whether we can tease out some of the implicit questions about the ownership of space, both real and virtual.

The discussion took place on my facebook profile page, and began with Arthur's posting of the link to his review:

Arthur Chappell My Cabaret review is now online - enjoy - best wishes, AC

Aliki Chapple Thanks. I take your point about being distracting, but:

1. It was prearranged, with Garth and Chris W as well as Gareth and Chris F.

2. The whole idea of #RRobot is to give the audience a free hand. On the first occasion I performed it, more than half the texts were essentially proxy heckles, expressing the desire to disrupt the other performers. Gareth and I decided to indulge them. I'm not sure we were wrong.

3. Bucket exists at the intersection of cabaret/burlesque and performance art. The Robot is more the latter; a rogue element that disrupts the cabaret experience, making it into something else. It's possible that she doesn't belong at a cabaret event, certainly giving people with access to an open bar (relatively) free rein with your person has its hazards.

I've got stuff to tweak, no question, but it can only be done by performing it over and over, and, on the whole, the CFKAB audiences love the #RRobot. I've never gotten such great feedback from a crowd.
15 March at 10:08 ·

Arthur Chappell Hi Aliki, appreciate that some artists expected you to do some stuff, though some other audience members were like myself trying to pay attention to the acts you were competing with - Though they were warned you'd do 'something' the loud unrehearsed stuff you do clearly cuts into their space - and simply doing anything the audience dictates to the point of encouraging them not to pay attention to other performers is not anarchic theatre - it's just disruption -Bad enough if audiences are bad attention payers anyway without encouraging them - it was an interesting experiment but it was severely overdone - especially as you have been on as the robot before -Interesting that the requests dried up by part three - indicating that others were picking up on what I sensed earlier - that the distraction factor was getting too intense - i think the robot does belong in an eclectic show but not to the point of dividing the audience - you did the same think during the magiician's set at the previous cabaret until he told you not to from the stage - the open bar has nothing to do with this and the open bar works well really - by all means be the robot but when other performers are on, you stop. I've seen the robot - I want to see the other performers too - Don't get me wrong - I like you and your act - but there is a time and place to stop - As a poet myself I was quite keen to see what the poet was going to do and I found I had very few notes on his act because of what you were doing and I've seen you do that long and often enough to find it just getting in the way - best wishes, AC xx
15 March at 10:44 ·

Aliki Chapple I understand your point Arthur, and to some extent agree with it. However, there was a clear desire from the audience that I disrupt other acts. Since the different ways that audiences might influence performers is something I'm researching, I wanted to take that step and see what happened.

I agree that the results were problematic, but they were interesting, to me anyway.

Your feeback is appreciated, but it does not outweigh my own conclusions about my work.

The only person who's in a position to ask me not to interfere, apart from the other acts, is Gareth. If he decides to, I'll come up with another act for Bucket and take the robot elsewhere, to a context where her unpredictability is more suited.
15 March at 11:10 ·

Arthur Chappell Not disputing in any way your wish or right to perform again as the Request Robot or in any other way - that would anyway as you say be a choice for Gareth to make in relation to Bucket shows - My presentation here as on the website is a review of the show as i saw it -audience member point of view - not a manifesto statement. If you wish to continue to make an 'act' out of behaving in a way that would get other people ejected from the venue, fine. I'll keep it in mind when deciding whether to purchase tickets for future events in which the robot is likely to appear.
15 March at 11:25 ·

Aliki Chapple As I say above, it is certainly an act I intend to continue to do, and to tweak.

I will certainly consider where and at what sort of event it will be appropriate. Your attendance or otherwise is not a factor that will influence that decision in any way.
15 March at 11:29 ·

Arthur Chappell good for you!
15 March at 11:34 ·

Aliki Chapple I'm going to be blogging on the whole thing, and I'm planning to link to your review. Do you mind if I also quote this discussion?
15 March at 11:40 ·

Arthur Chappell By all means - do please let me have a link to the blog pages too - cheers AC xx
15 March at 11:41 ·

I thought that settled the matter, and I went on to see if anyone else who had been present had anything to add, by changing my status to:

Aliki Chapple is actively soliciting further comments from Bucketeers, either on her debate thread with Arthur, below, or on the blog, which should go out today. Audience reactions, for and against, are essential to her research on crowdscripted performance.

It never occurred to me that Arthur would see this as an invitation to continue reiterating his objections to the nature of the show; but he did, and this was the resulting thread:

Arthur Chappell likes this.

Arthur Chappell Perhaps a definition of 'crowd-scripted' would be useful here Aliki. While the audience clearly said what they wanted you to do, it wasn't specified in your instructions to them that instructions were to be followed immediately, ie, while other activity was taking place to. Had i asked you to leap about making frog noises, I could have waited until other performers were resting, ie, during a break, rather than seeing you do it there andthen. To what extent did the audience know their instructions were for immediate action? Some will certainly have realized once they had proved how mallable you as the robot, (not you as you) were proving to be, but others perhaps less so. As you say, it will be interesting to see how others feel about the discusion we have had below. Is the onusof responsibility and respect for other performerson you or onthe audience itself? Can the human elements in your android persona (What you were rather than a robot automaton) really say 'I was only following orders?"
15 March at 12:56 ·

Aliki Chapple I invoke Godwin's Law, and you lose.

Really, Arthur, considering the tone of your comments on my response to your review, I'm being very civil here. Your opinion has been noted. Quit it now, or I'll stop being polite.
15 March at 13:13 ·

Roddy McDevitt fuck the audience. they'll take it and they'll like it!
15 March at 13:20 ·

Arthur Chappell Sorry if I sound impolite - certainly not intentional. The question of whether the audience knew when their requests were to be followed is perfectly valid - secondly, the idea that you were following the requests and orders set bythe audience in effect gives them moral and social control of you as a robot - yes, you agreed to do no harm, interfere with health / safety etc, but by saying the robot only does what the audience wants it to do, you make us, the audience, responsible for anything you do that we then dislike or disagree with. This is a vital question, given that you are as you state making the audeince your research subjects. This is clearly the kind of territory I would think you aim to explore in your research. Forgive me if i am wrong, but it doesn't look that way from this reading.
15 March at 13:20 ·

Arthur Chappell I have not compared you to Hitler - my thinking is in keeping with many behavioural research studies in which people can be expected to behave with lack of moral control - who was really telling the robot what to do and doing it? Where was the decision to act made? Youset a seriesof asimovian laws and stuck tothem unquestioningly - youmade the rules absolute - even asimov didn't do that as canbe seen in several robot stories - I certainly do not think you are a nazi.
15 March at 13:26 ·

Aliki Chapple You think telling me how I should and shouldn't do my act isn't impolite? On my page? I'm happy to debate the issues, though I'd rather do it on the blog, my posting to which you are delaying, but I object to your tone and sense of entitlement.

You are not directing me, you are not the event organizer or a fellow performer at the event. You are one member of the audience, and the fact that you are an amateur reviewer, primarily of other art forms, does not give your opinion any more weight than that of any other member of the audience.
15 March at 13:28 ·

Aliki Chapple Yes, I made the rules absolute. That was the nature of the experiment.
15 March at 13:29 ·

Arthur Chappell did I ever say it does? What I am expressingis an opinion - not a command or insistanceon how you perform or not - that is and always was your choice
15 March at 13:30 ·

Aliki Chapple I quote : by all means be the robot but when other performers are on, you stop

Nobody gave you the right to say this . You do not decide when I stop. So the robot pissed you off. Result.

Your opinion has been noted, responded to politely, and will be linked to/quoted on my blog in a neutral and courteous fashion.

Now, what do I have to do to get you to stop braying it all over my page? It's boring, and it's making me regret the original courtesy.
15 March at 13:36 ·

Arthur Chappell That's my opinion, not a statement of fact, or an order - to most artistes itwould happen out of courtesy and respect - I wasn't happy to see you carry on with your act when I've paid to see the rest of the cabaret performers too, seeing itas triumphal that you 'pissed off' a member of rhe audience strikes me as the first impolite thing anyone has written here -
15 March at 13:39 ·

Aliki Chapple WE KNOW. NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!!!!!!
15 March at 13:40 ·

Philippa Lee I actually left the CFKAB during the second part due to not really feeling my best and not really being able to see anything that was going on! Still, I can comment on what I saw.

I really like the request robot, and I think that Aliki gave her an excellent amount of effort. I can see Arthur's point about Garth's poetry, but it seemed very much as though the interruptions were part of the act anyway and he was clearly playing up to it. For me, it seemed more that the two complimented each other's performances.

I think the downfall with such an act was and will always be the audience, who seem to have a tendancy to regress to being about 6. I'm not sure exactly what it is I would like to see the robot being asked to do, but it's not howling like a wolf, flashing a bra or faking an orgasm. But as Aliki had promised to fulfil all commands, then she had to stick to her own rules. It was not, perhaps, explicitly STATED that these would take place during performances, but it was explicitly stated that the robot would fulfil requests made while the light was on. It's not too hard to work out what that means! And if anyone hadn't understood that immediately (and I'll refrain on commenting on how easy that was to understand and what it makes anyone who didn't), it became obvious very early that orders would be fulfilled when sent.

This will of course cause a split in the audience between those wanting to concentrate on the other acts and those amusing themselves by sending instructions, but while where was an air of anarchy (that I am sure Ida Bucket would have wholeheartedly enjoyed), it had also clearly been thought out, planned and discussed. The robot was respectfully 'turned off' for performances where it would have been inappropriate for her to have distracted focus.

As for how absolute the rules were, it is entirely irrelevant whether Asimov ever diverged from his rules in any of his stories, or whether anyone else has. If Aliki felt it appropriate to stick too her rules, then so be it. She certainly isn't at fault for that.
15 March at 13:49 ·

Saffron Warde-Jones By all means delete this Aliki! I didn't see the performance, but reading this thread caused a sharp intake of breath, I agree that Arthur's tone is intemperate and impertinent and provocative.
15 March at 13:51 ·

Gareth Cutter I've heard mostly positive reactions to the Request Robot but aside from what's already been discussed, one negative criticism was that the robot didn't perform the requests 'robotically', which I think means with the same dead-pan attitude we saw at the beginning of the night. That's only come up once though.

It would be an interesting variation to see.
15 March at 15:52 ·

Aliki Chapple There's a lot for me to think about, Gareth. I'd be grateful if you'd pass on any comments, or direct the commenters to my blog.

Thanks again for letting me try it, it was an extraordinary experience.
15 March at 16:01 ·

David Bolton Haha - reductio ad hitlerum in three posts....

The event was a cabaret - light entertainment and humour - it wasn't high art. The clue is in the title. Everyone did really well, and the show had coherence and flowed nicely through the evening.

The performance poetry and the robot actions went so well together that I assumed it was planned. If anyone wants "serious" perfomance poetry they need to go to a "serious" performance poetry gig. Most people understood that the show was meant to be funny.

I only heard praise for the robot on the night. There was a group of lads in the loos at the end of the show who thought the whole concept was great.

Personally I thought the concept worked best when everyone was reasonably sober, at the beginning of the evening. The later it got, and the more alcohol was consumed, the more people chatted amongst themselves and ignored what was hapening on and around the stage. That is normal for any event where the audience mills around and drinks. And I guess the drunker texts/tweets were the most abusive and inane. It also seemed like the texters were running out of original ideas, so some of the tasks became a bit repetative. But then this was an experiment - and all results are valid.
15 March at 18:53 ·

Chris Fitzsimmons I'm biased because I've worked with Aliki on a number of occasions and think that she is a very thoughtful, sensitive, open performer and collaborator. I think she's approached this project, and continues to approach it, with a great deal of thought and that the success of the experimental Bucket event is testimant to her ongoing committment to respecting and working with her fellow performers. I agree with the above comments though - the robot worked best when the audience were soberer (Soberer - is that a word?) and that she shouldn't have fisted that poor gimp guy. He was great. I loved him. He reminded me of... erm... a gimp.
15 March at 19:10 ·

Aliki Chapple The gimp loved it, I could tell from the way he screamed.
15 March at 19:19 ·

Arthur Chappell We all loved the gimp - no disagreement there
15 March at 20:09 ·

Arthur Chappell Quote WE KNOW. NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!!!!! Unquote - do all researchers talk to their test subjects in this way? Sorry if I ran the wrong way through the maze on you and confounded your hypothesise
15 March at 20:44 ·

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