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e-dition june 28


some other selves

caroline wake: applespiel, nat randall, tiny stadiums


Applespiel, Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat Applespiel, Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat
photo Michael Myers
HOT ON THE HEELS OF IMPERIAL PANDA COMES TINY STADIUMS—ANOTHER SYDNEY-BASED, SELF-PRODUCED FESTIVAL THROUGH WHICH EMERGING ARTISTS GAIN BOTH EXPERIENCE AND EXPOSURE. THE TWO FESTIVALS SHARE MORE THAN A DIY SENSIBILITY AND A FONDNESS FOR QUIRKY NAMES, THEY ALSO SHARE SOME CURATORIAL TALENT—MISH GRIGOR CURRENTLY SERVES ON BOTH ORGANISING COMMITTEES AND ZOE COOMBS MARR AND EDDIE SHARP HAVE DONE SO PREVIOUSLY. SO IT’S NOT SURPRISING THAT, LIKE IMPERIAL PANDA, TINY STADIUMS PROVIDES A DIVERSE PROGRAM THAT COMBINES LIVE ART IN A VARIETY OF LOCATIONS AS WELL AS SOME MORE THEATRICAL OFFERINGS, INCLUDING A GOOD OLD FASHIONED DOUBLE BILL AT PACT THEATRE.

First on the program is Applespiel’s Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat, which, as you might suspect from its title, is a satirical take on every self-improving, team-building, life-affirming exercise you’ve ever had the misfortune to endure. The show starts with an invitation from a young man in a snappy suit to enrol in the elite club. Several audience members head to the desk while I hang back, until I remember that I am reviewing the piece so I’d better participate. Unfortunately the elite club closes just as I reach the desk—hesitation then rejection, that’s a double fail. Having been photographed and name-tagged, the elite club members now circulate with “ice breaker” exercises, asking the non-elite about our allergies, holidays and siblings. Ice broken, we then do another survey, where the performer poses a question and we stand on one side of the foyer or the other, depending on whether we like tennis, have a father with a drinking problem etc. Finally, we enter the theatre and as we take our seats—elite club at the front, mere mortals at the back—we see several performers in black suits sprinting back and forth across the stage.

The rest of the show basically consists of Applespiel running a corporate workshop, demonstrating an exercise and then directing the elite team to do it on stage. These efforts are then scored and the results displayed in a sort of league table, which is projected onto a large screen upstage. The exercises include mock job interviews, in which participants are asked not only about their strengths and weaknesses but also about which food they most resemble. “An egg” is the recommended answer, for its ability to work solo and in combination with a variety of other ingredients, its balance of protein and fat, not to mention its facility for segueing from one cuisine to another. Do not say “banana” as they are “the first to go missing in a crisis." Participants are also taught an obscene rhyme in order to remember how to tie the perfect Windsor Knot and led through a strange series of actions to find their totem animal. Last but not least, they close their eyes and vote on each other’s performance.

There are some amusing moments and the premise has real potential, but it isn’t completely fulfilled here. On the night I attend, the elite club members are oddly acquiescent, to the point where I was dying for someone to throw a spanner in the works. But the closest anyone got was when one participant refused to grade the others’ performances, instead giving them all a thumbs up. While this may be due to the nature of this particular 'team,' I suspect the problem is structural for the rules of workplace and audience participation are basically the same: as audience members we’re aware that we have entered into a contract, that the performers are depending on us and we don’t want to let them down. These are of course exactly the thoughts of hapless employees as they are conned into doing just one more hour of overtime. Thus, even as Applespiel seek to mock the mindless supplicants of the corporate world, they implicitly rely on their audience to behave similarly. There is much more to be mined here and I was reminded of Jon McKenzie’s book Perform or Else! (Routledge, 2001), an elegant exploration of how corporate, technical and theatrical notions of performance intersect. With this in mind, I look forward to undertaking another “performance review” of Applespiel soon.

Nat Randall, Cheer Up Kid Nat Randall, Cheer Up Kid
photo Michael Myers
While Executive Stress employs a cast of thousands, Cheer Up Kid is the work of just one writer and performer—Natalie Randall. She runs on stage wearing a white t-shirt, black pants and the broad grin of a child who has finally coerced the family into sitting down for a living room show. She briefly outlines the structure of the show, noting however that she is “completely unreliable, with no sense of consistency or consequence.” These words are repeated at the beginning of each section, so that we hear the same phrase recited by different characters, in different accents. In the second section, Randall plays a weird and bad-tempered child, who is prone to swallowing whole bottles of Vitamin C tablets, exaggerating her achievements at the school swimming carnival (winning that little known race, the 300 metres), getting swooped by magpies and secretly eyeing off the twice-cooked pork belly while being made to order the chicken schnitzel. In the third section, Randall plays an American agony aunt who slugs back a bottle of Passion Pop while dispensing advice on air, and in the fourth she plays a lonely Englishman scared his parents might die before he does.

Randall has a warm and generous stage presence, and I really enjoyed her performance in Some Film Museums I Have Known, but here she is let down by the writing, which is somewhat underdone. The characters are interesting as individuals but the connection between them, beyond their origin and juxtaposition, is not necessarily clear. Nevertheless the show, and with it the night, comes to a satisfying end when Randall slices up a "pool cake" (a classic from the Women's Weekly cookbook) and passes it around—a gesture of generosity and hospitality that seems to encapsulate the theatrical act itself.


Tiny Stadiums Festival: Applespiel, Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat, devisor-performers Simon Binns, Nathan Harrison, Nicole Kennedy, Emma McManus, Joseph Parro, Troy Reid, Rachel Roberts, Mark Rogers; Cheer Up Kid, devisor-performer Nat Randall; PACT, Sydney, May 2-15

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. web

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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