Take a story and run with it

Review of a street theatre performance.

Nanirossi (Italy): Running away in an R4

6th July 2017, Ljubljana, Ana Desetnica International Street Theatre Festival, 2017

The article is a part of my highlights of 2017 Ana Desetnica festival.
In my introductory reflection I delved into methods performers can use to sustain a coherent narrative within street theatre environment. It can be read as a prelude to this review: 

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

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 2.dan

/…/ there’s kung-fu, there’s acrobatics, there’s prisoner falling unconscious, there’s pecking order protocol, there’s a surprise reggae marijuana scene, there’s more acrobatics /…/

An old clunky Renault 4 enters the scene, engine catching fire, smoke pouring out of its windows as two policemen jump out of the car and immediately establish the situation: it’s a clown show; things will go wrong (in a funny way); there’s a higher ranked semi-competent officer (Michele Fois), a lower ranked mostly incompetent officer (Matteo Mazzei), their car is falling apart and there’s a dangerous criminal in the back, trying to break free (Elena Fresch). It’s a recipe for … disaster! … a rollercoaster ride in which we, the audience, are led through an array of scenes, with twists and U-turns: there’s fixing the car, there’s the clever prisoner escaping, there’s kung-fu, there’s acrobatics, there’s prisoner falling unconscious, there’s volunteer from the audience helping the prisoner get back into the car, there’s pecking order protocol, there’s a surprise reggae marijuana scene, there’s prisoner escaping again, there’s more acrobatics, there’s juggling with motor parts, there’s police getting everything under control, just for everything to fall apart for the final time and the prisoner escapes.

To look under the hood of the show and what makes it run, I suggest investigating the role of the volunteer: an audience member selected on the spot by the group to play a prominent part in their show as an additional member of the police force. On both occasions when Nanirossi performed their show in Ljubljana the audience raised questions whether the volunteer’s participation was prearranged or were they given some additional instructions when away from the audience’s gaze. While the group disclosed to me they do carefully pick the “volunteer” as it’s a substantial role in the show, there are never any arrangements, nor do they offer any guidance to the person apart from in-character communication. In the show I’ve see the volunteer progressed from initially just helping with “harder” physically tasks (carrying criminal into the car) to getting more relaxed in his role and eventually even acquiring a certain character – particularly impressive was his immediate adaptation to “marijuana reggae scene”.

The well-versed trio immediately establishes who leads the scene, what is scene’s direction and how do other characters relate to the action and to one another.

The reason volunteers blended in so easily with the scenes they were in, is the same as how Nanirossi manage to cram so much story with multiple plot twists and developments into their street performance: their mastery of communicating the aim of each scene with the audience and guiding them with the tempo everybody can follow. The well-versed trio immediately establishes who leads the scene, what is scene’s direction and how do other characters relate to the action and to one another: are they adversaries or comrades, do they have lower or higher status? Focus of the action transitions smoothly – sometimes a performer would step back to create a space for somebody else’s solo scene, to then jump in with the direction for the next scene. Intent of the characters is always communicated with the audience before it is enacted (eye contact, facial expression). The group also always checks, if everybody is on board with what’s currently happening, before the story progresses.

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 2.dan

Intent of the characters is always communicated with the audience before it is enacted. The group always checks, if everybody is on board with what’s currently happening, before the story progresses.

Through the morning festival talks I got further insight into the workings of the show and its evolution. The first version of the Running away in an R4 show was created three years previously in a collaboration with a theatre director and included even more material, more scenes, often with faster transitions between them. After touring for a year, Nanirossi asked a clowning professor to help them clean it up: remove the unnecessary material, simplify the plot and adjust the pacing of the performance to the one audience can follow (i.e. “what works on the street”).

As the audience is the integral part of the street theatre “architecture” which sustains the space of the theatre in the street, the relation between the spectators and the performers enables (most) other artistic strategies, like having a complex plot. For this reason, it takes touring and rehearsing on the street for a street theatre performance to fully develop its potential, as its performers get to understand the audience-performers dynamics specific to their show. This was the logic behind the open call for Ana Desetnica’s inaugural urbANA ljubljANA 2017 award of excellence which required that performances be at least a year old. Amongst the four shows contending for the prize, the winner Running away in an R4, was the oldest – the one that toured the most.

it takes touring and rehearsing on the street for a street theatre performance to fully develop its potential, as its performers get to understand the audience-performers dynamics specific to their show.

Through the three years of touring with Running away in an R4 the story part of the show and the acrobatic/juggling part – formerly distinct from one another – began to blend seamlessly. As performers became familiar with their material and with one another, it allowed them to position their characters on the forefront of each scene, driving it forward and guide the audience along the winding path of the story.

Samo Oleami, September 2017, re-edited August 2018

Photos: Luka Dakskobler

Trailer:

Next: Ben Smalls (Germany): MozArt [review]

Author: Samo Oleami

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

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