Stories in the street, dancing in the street – Ana Desetnica 2017 (intro)

Highlights from anniversary 20th edition of Ana Desetnica festival, 2017.

ANA DESETNICA 2017, 20TH INTERNATIONAL STREET THEATRE FESTIVAL

5.7. – 8.7 2015, Ljubljana.
Production: Društvo Gledališče Ane Monro

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 1.dan
Goro Osojnik, festival director, addressing the crowd at the opening ceremony of the anniversary 20th edition of Ana Desetnica festival

In my first year of hosting talks with street artists at Ana Desetnica festival in 2015, I was exploring this new to me territory and mapping it out through a lens of a theatre critic. In my second year I expanded on these horizons. This third time around I find myself deepening my understanding, rather than expanding it. As I got familiar with street theatre artistic strategies, I’m now filling in the gaps and getting acquainted with the details.

This year we rescheduled “talks with artists” to an off-main-programme breakfast slot, which proved successful in getting a higher attendance from performers (Ana Desetnica’s 13 cities/towns in 15 days schedule can be grueling). It also provided us with a more casual atmosphere in which artists could exchange their experiences and street theatre strategies. In the text below and in links above you can find some of the fruits from this collective harvest, filtered through my personal interest and curiosity. I would like to thank all the artists who engaged with me and granted me access to their creative process and their street theatre know-how.

Telling a story in street theatre setting

Artistic strategies that imply the fourth wall put a barrier between performers and audience, create separation instead of togetherness, and thus risk losing the audience to the street environment instead of enclosing them from it.

In my initial incursion into street theatre universe I deliberately ignored the narrative aspect of it. Instead I focused my inquiry on performing strategies which establish and sustain temporary micro communities between performers and audience on the street, thus creating the special space of a theatre within the street environment.

With the absence of both the enclosed space and the black box architecture it’s the audience which forms the boundaries of a street theatre performance. Which is why strategies based on what I called “fourth wall effects” could alienate them and break the togetherness of performers and spectators. An example of such black box theatre strategies would be those focusing on the precise reading of signs, flowing over the invisible barrier between the stage and the auditorium. Audience members would then, in the sensorial isolation of the black box, use these signs for their internal processes crucial for the show’s reception, like: creating coherent narratives, identifying with the protagonist. In the street environment however, the audience is often not able to understand every word said, let alone have the luxury of being able to ponder about it in tranquillity of their minds. It is also common for spectators to join and leave a street performance, which makes detailed story arches hard to follow and can leave audience confused or alienated. Artistic strategies that imply the fourth wall put a barrier between performers and audience, create separation instead of togetherness, and thus risk losing the audience to the street environment instead of enclosing them from it.

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 2.dan

In my first year at Ana Desetnica in 2015 I also encountered a specific street theatre strategy which bypasses (and confirms) the above listed obstacles by creating a space in which each audience member can individually wander around in their mind and imagination. Though the use of music and by pronouncing visual elements (such as paper puppets in Papelito’s “Totem”, or shadow puppets in Allatea’s “Memories”) these performances would create loosely structured scenes and atmospheres through which spectators would be able to traverse on their own. Each creating their unique flow of associations emerging from the images. This approach doesn’t require a coherent narrative and it doesn’t depend on everybody exploring the space of the performance in the same way.

The “Triangulation method” focuses on performers actively communicating to the audience: the relationships their characters form and the actions their characters intend to do.

Only later that year, in December 2015 at EFETSA’s practicum no.1, while observing a workshop by Craig Weston and Goro Osojnik on their “Triangulation method”, I could understand the tools which can be used to lead the audience along a relatively complex story line in a street theatre situation by the pace spectators can follow, keeping them engaged for the entire journey. The method, based on physical theatre, focuses on performers actively communicating to the audience: the relationships their characters form (character to another character, character to object, character to space) and the actions their characters intend to do. Focus is on what’s going on and where it is going to, rather than why something is going on (backstory, inner motivation of protagonists). Or, as Craig Weston said: “On the street you’re not a doctor because your character has a backstory including middle class background, a degree, an office and a nurse he cheats his wife with, on the street you’re a doctor because you’re wearing a white coat.”

If in the indoor theatre performers can count on the context of the theatre and the theatre architecture (black box isolation) to establish certain channels for the audience’s viewing strategies, these channels need to be deliberately created by performer’s physical action in the street theatre situation.

Instead of performers being observable objects inside the voyeur frame of the black box, to which the audience creates relations (of identification, of interpretation or of narrative construction), the performers in street theatre need to create all the relations necessary for the story to emerge themselves. They would create relations between their characters, then link their characters to the action/story, and finally using their gaze to invite the audience in, guiding them along the path. If in the indoor theatre performers can count on the context of the theatre and the theatre architecture (black box isolation) to establish certain channels for the audience’s viewing strategies, these channels need to be deliberately created by performer’s physical action in the street theatre situation.

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 3. dan

Another way to look at the same “architecture” of street theatre performances would be through Tom Greder’s scheme of three overlapping roles of a street theatre performer (as quoted by Vida Cerkvenik Bren in her december 2015 EFETSA lecture):

  • “the character” – Serves as an entry point for the audience.
  • “the director” – Makes artistic decisions on the spot within unpredictable street situations.
  • “the person” – Ensures everybody involved in the show (performers and audience) is safe and connected.

In a sense community building is required for street theatre to establish its space within the street environment, which then allows for performative strategies like “Triangulation method” or similar narrative based approaches.

If I would interpret this model through the process of “Triangulation method”: performers would first establish their “character role” as the user interface, the first point of contact that draws the audience in – as spectators relate to a character. At that point audience is taken over by the “person role” establishing the collective situation, making sure the audience and performers are safe, connected and that the audience follows what’s happening in the show. Only once community is established can the “director role” implement various artistic strategies, one of them being a creation of a coherent narrative. In a sense, the “person role” or community building is required for street theatre to establish its space within the street environment, which then allows for performative strategies like “Triangulation method” or similar narrative-based approaches.

“On the street you’re not a doctor because your character has a backstory including middle class background, a degree, a nurse he cheats his wife with. On the street you’re a doctor because you’re wearing a white coat.” (Craig Weston, from memory.)

A set of techniques similar/related to the “Triangulation method” was used by the Italian group Nanirossi to create a street theatre show with the longest and most complex narrative, I’ve witnessed so far. The reflection above can be read an introduction to its review.

Next: Nanirossi (Italy): Running away in an R4 [review]

Samo Oleami, September 2017, re-edited July 2018

Photos: Luka Dakskobler

Author: Samo Oleami

Reviews drama theatre, street theatre, improv theatre, contemporary dance, intermedia, boardgames and stuff.

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