Award-winning Australian performance artist Bron Batten is visiting NZ with her latest show Onstage Dating - in which she invites an unsuspecting volunteer to date her, live, on stage.
Renee Liang asks her about the differences between 'dating' Kiwi and Aussie audiences.
What drives you to make theatre?
I suppose it's a desire for human communication and connection. The kind of theatre I'm interested in is one that doesn't have a fourth wall, acknowledges the presence of the audience and relies on a live exchange of energy that can only happen in that exact room at that exact point in time and history and space. That and I don't have any real world skills anymore so it has to be theatre!
Performance art, experimental theatre, community participation - how are they alike, what sets them apart? (Is there any point to the terminology?)
I think it's a historical context that helps to define them - performance art comes from a more conceptual, visual art background for example. Although a lot of contemporary artists are working in an extremely hybrid way and refuse to be defined by any one artistic genre. Post modernism draws from pastiche and a wide variety of influences and traditions and contemporary performance practice (which is how I would define myself) really reflects that varied artistic history and aesthetic.
What happens when you perform outside a theatrical space, for example a shopping mall?
You encounter the general public! I once did a week-long gig performing at a tram stop in Melbourne - it was a very long week! A lot of people work in the theatre because they want to control all of the elements - but I'm learning that the best theatre happens when you take away the ultimate control of the performer or director and trust the audience to participate.
You often collaborate with untrained actors, for example your Dad, children, or an unwitting audience member. Why?
Ah, just let me segue seamlessly from my last answer! Part of my fascination of working with non-artists is that chance element and the live-ness in the moments it creates. Part of the great thing about working with my dad was that I never knew what he was going to do - I don't think he often knew either! That creates real drama and high stakes for both the audience and the artists in the show. In the dating show, people get a chance to just be themselves and more often than not they're wonderful, natural and fascinating without having to 'act'.
Tell me about your work in children's theatre. What makes a good work for children?
My work with children is mainly with the amazing children's theatre company Polyglot. I'm employed as a performer (I haven't made a work for children myself) but if it's the element of random chaos that you're after there's no one better to provide it than small children!
You often use an 'outside eye' when developing your works. Is this the same as dramaturge? Do you always use the same person?
No I haven't used the same person - and mainly I collaborate with an outside eye whilst working on the structure of the piece - so that it's actually shaped into a cohesive 'whole'. Sometimes when you're in the middle of a creative process it's hard to be objective, so an outside eye can be just that - someone who comes in with fresh eyes who can see things you can't. Plus I'm much too stubborn about my own work to completely give over the directorial process to someone else!
What makes something funny?
There's a saying that's attributed to people from Mark Twain to EB White to comedian Jimmy Carr and it goes something like: 'analysing a joke is like dissecting a frog. In the end you understand it - but then no one cares and the frog dies'.
Have you noticed a cultural difference in what makes Kiwi and Aussie audiences laugh?
I love the kiwi sense of humour and I look forward to being effortlessly upstaged by my participants in New Zealand. I think the kiwi's have a much drier sense of humour that Australians and I really appreciate that - I'll have to concentrate hard in order to not laugh too much onstage!
Why did you make Onstage Dating?
I was fascinated with the online dating culture and how it reduces a whole human being down to a collection of statistics, personal facts and pixels. Searching for love is such a tender, vulnerable, random and lucky process - but doing it online makes it like a Roman Colosseum. I wanted to take that process out of cyber space, hold a mirror up to it and say 'this is how we're doing it now everyone - what do we think about that?'
Tell me about the techniques you use in Onstage Dating (without spilling any secrets). What's the significance of the earpiece?
I explore historical courting rituals, play a vintage board game, consume wine and cheese and encourage my 'date' to be as honest, open and vulnerable as I try to be throughout by exposing themselves both literally and metaphorically! And it's actually not an earpiece, it's a wireless headset microphone which allows me to get up to all sorts of mischief in larger, noisier venues while the audience is still able to hear me!
Have you ever gone on any second dates with participants?
Yes I have - and after that night I decided to keep my personal and professional life very separate!
What are you working on next?
I'm working on something political actually - which given the state of the world at the moment seems quite urgent. I'm interested in the ideas of right and left and how we broach the distance between those two ideologies - because at the moment they're getting more and more extreme and further apart... But I'm sure it will also include jokes - and maybe fake blood and glitter!
Theatre-maker, Producer and Performer
Onstage Dating NZ tour, January-March 2017
Basement Theatre Auckland
BATS Theatre as part of Wellington Fringe