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Findings of the Experiment colloquially entitled “One Way Mirror”

April 12, 2018

Ostensibly, our latest production One Way Mirror was about a series of psychological experiments. However, the audience was also invited to view the production itself, and all theatre, as a type of experiment.

Laura: Theatre is experimental in that you learn things about the audience. Like a science.
Mike: You learn what works and doesn’t work on stage.
Laura: That. And how people are going to deal with certain stories, ideas, concepts…..

And later:

Laura: How do you really know about your society except by putting stuff out there?
Mike: You could read the papers. Listen to the radio/
Laura: Yeah, but what we actors do is a bit like a particle accelerator. Like they use in atomic physics. You take an inert lump of matter and you get a highly energetic group of particles and you fire them at the lump. And kapow! (pause) The inert lump of matter is the audience. We’re the highly energized particles. And in the collision, whatever happens, we’ve learnt something about the universe.

So, in producing One Way Mirror, what did we learn about the universe? What are the findings of our experiment?

1. Audiences want to talk history.                                                                                      They were fascinated that the play told tales of the America of the 1960’s. They wanted to talk about that period. There’s obviously a hunger for an Australian theatre that transcends national myth making.

2. Audiences want to talk social pressure.                                                                      The experiments featured in the play dealt with the pressure to conform to peers or to comply with authority, and these themes resonated strongly with audiences. They wanted to talk about these experiments; the historical accuracy of their presentation, their meaning for our understanding of human nature. And plenty of people wanted to talk about that phrase ‘human nature’. Is it a useful and meaningful expression? Or is it just an example of muddy thinking, convenient for excusing ourselves and manipulating others?

Alison Benstead Angus Evans & Ash Sakha medium

               Angus Evans, Ash Sakha and Alison Benstead

3. An ambitious script stimulates many people but bothers others.                        A few reviewers were a little put out that the play couldn’t be summed up in a sentence or were troubled that they were being invited to think. ‘No one comes to the theatre to think,” quips a character in the play, but her outrageous generalization is obviously not without foundation. Perhaps the danger for some critics is that they can become like spoilt rich kids, so used to receiving gifts that they begin to resent the ones needing to be unwrapped. Fortunately, many of us know that the unwrapping is often a key part of the fun.

4. Critics read each other before they publish.                                                                Of course, this isn’t true for all reviewers and I do lack hard evidence. But read all the reviews for this production (please do – they’re very positive!) and you’ll find an uncanny repetition of certain words and phrases. It’s a little disturbing to think critics won’t back their own judgement. But then, we did just produce a play that explored the pressures to conform, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

5. Some ideas are not yet in the zeitgeist.                                                                                I began this post by suggesting the idea that theatre could be considered not simply as an artifact to be judged but also as a tool to understand the world. This idea was explicit in the play but was not an idea generally picked up by audience members. Is it too artist-centric? I don’t think so. Of course, theatre will be judged. Questions like ‘Did this work on stage?’ will always be asked, and should be. But on another level, a theatrical experience is an opportunity to gauge your own response, and that of other audience members, to the vision of the world presented in the play. Is my vision similar to the playwright’s? Is my vision similar to that of other audience members? Answering these questions can be a valuable part of understanding the social world in which we live. (And, if the psychological experiments featured in the play are valid, then our ‘world’ is a lot more social in its nature than we sometimes assume!)

Mark Langham & Sheree Zelner Medium

                            Mark Langham and Sheree Zelner

6. Audiences enjoy unconventional uses of space.                                                      The Blood Moon Theatre is a valuable part of the Sydney scene and it’s a venue that lends itself to reconfiguration. In our case the use of an intimate traverse, which put the audience in the same space as the actors, was appreciated for its thematic relevance. Audience members often commented on how it made them feel part of an experiment (though they did not generally take the next step – into the idea suggested in point 5.)

7. Set and costume are unimportant.                                                                             What was the play’s setting? Were we in the university campuses of the 1960’s? Or were we in the Blood Moon Theatre in 2018 as a troupe of actors shared with us a tale? Of course, it was the second of these two, and so little effort was made with either costume or set to evoke a world fifty years gone. And audiences went with it. What mattered were the script and the performance. (A theatre culture where these two features can’t be considered sufficient is one in crisis.) Not that there weren’t costumes; actors wore clothes that barely differentiated them from the members of the public surrounding them. And there was a set: an audience watching the gift offered by the actors. That these features were so readily embraced gives me hope that the idea raised in point 5 will soon find popular expression. (And since I’ve already made one outrageous generalization about theatre culture in this paragraph, why not another? If theatre is to give its audience all it has the potential to offer then the perception that it is merely an artifact to be judged needs to be transcended. The division of artist and consumer needs to be downplayed and we need to appreciate we’re all in this together.)

8. Surrounding yourself with wonderful people is important.                                   Part of the joy of this project came from having such an amazing team. I want to thank Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Ash Sakha, Sheree Zellner, Luke Holmes, Liam O’Keefe and Daniela Giorgi. I also want to thank our audiences. Theatre doesn’t work without them! I’m appreciative of everyone who comes through the door. They’re co-producers, not just because ticket sales pay the bills, but because theatre is a coming together, a sharing, a social thing.

Thank you.

Paul Gilchrist

 

One Way Mirror was produced at the Blood Moon Theatre 14 – 24 March, 2018.

For more information visit our website

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