|resist: the right to revolution, PVI collective|
photo Bohdan Warchomij
The atmosphere is energetic: a chaotic, kilted MC introducing a haphazard band while two tracksuited contenders, in red and in blue, repeat an individual tug-of-war over a tightly gripped flag.
Audience members, on their way in, have each been given a red satin cape emblazoned with the name of a ‘champion’, anyone from Che Guevara to Anne Frank. As music thrashes and the tug-of-war continues, we’re informed that Australia is unlike many countries worldwide in having no bill of rights. A sterile female voiceover interrupts at intervals: “The battle will commence in [x] minutes.”
The right to revolution, we’re told, is a little known clause in many existing bills of rights: in other words, if the government lets the people down, the people have the right to overthrow it. Today, the audience will decide, by tug-of-war, whether this clause should be part of an Australian bill of rights. If the decision is YES, the bill will be delivered to one of WA’s civic leaders—live—and videocast back to the theatre.
To the sound of rousing march music, our MC heads out to the streets to gauge the will of the people. We’re asked to choose sides, guided by our two performer/leaders and, as a practice run, the FOR team throws imaginary stones and sets up the chant, “WAKE! UP! WAKE! UP!” Those AGAINST deflect the stones with mimed ‘sticks’ and stomp closer and closer. At its climax, the energy approaches that of a protest—the agression, the power, and, crucially, the will to win.
Next, two teams of seven are chosen, and a heavy rope is measured out across the centre of the space. I’ve chosen FOR. On my team are Sun Yat Sen, Golda Meir, Germaine Greer, Morpheus, the Dalai Lama, Spartacus and Malcolm X. While we prepare for battle, the screens show our MC canvassing shoppers on the bill of rights. He meets, predictably, with almost complete public apathy.
We’ve been promised that if the result is FOR, the bill of rights will be delivered to one of WA’s key civic leaders–today’s ‘target’ is Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan.
Kelli McCluskey and Steve Bull, the pvi collective co-founders and show co-directors, were interested in the tug-of-war both for its participatory possibilities—audience engagement is crucial to pvi’s work—and because they found it has a very real history as a non-violent confict resolution device. “There is a hardcore physicality to the action of tug-of-war,” says McCluskey. “The physical effort alongside the mental conviction for what you are fighting for seemed to us a really potent combination.”
The investment in an outcome has palpable effect as those holding the rope feel the resin on their palms and tighten their grip, and the audience on the sidelines gets ready to barrack. Bull says that with a full house the performance space becomes more like a sports arena: “It feels like the ownership of the work transfers completely to the audience, with us simply facilitating.”
On the day I attend, the audience is of modest size, but the sense of ownership is strong, intensifying as the tug-of-war begins. The live cross is now crucial—we in the room know we’re determining something that will happen in the ‘real world’ outside. After a bitter struggle, the AGAINST team wins.
In a short review it’s hard to convey the personal investment that resist: the right to revolution sets up. It’s a poignant moment, watching our MC, still at large, intone to the camera, “The will of the people has decided. The right to revolution will not be on the bill of rights.” He takes the scrolled document, sets it aflame and lets it drop to the footpath, watching with exaggerated reverence. It’s a surprising moment, and a poetic one.
There is no audience applause, no curtain call, the two tug-of-war leaders have left the stage, feel-good music is playing but we’re left in our black box until someone decides to get up and leave. Some kids are playing with the rope. We take off our capes and leave them at the door, no longer heroes for the cause. And afterwards, outside in the museum café, I overhear a family talking about whether Australia should or shouldn’t have a bill of rights.
pvi collective, resist: the right to revolution, directors Kelli McCluskey, Steve Bull, performers Ben Sutton, James McCluskey, Ofa Fotu, Sarah Wilkinson, production Mike Nanning; Western Australian Museum, Perth, Nov 23-28, 2009
RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. 47
© Urszula Dawkins; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org