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  • Justin Cliffe

Life Coach - A Quasi Theatre Meme

A few thoughts from a rapid process of making something completely unprecedented.

(SPOILER ALERT: THEY DIE IN THE END)


There's A LOT I want to say about Life Coach, from conception, to process, to outcome. However, I'm painfully aware of peoples limited attention spans when engaging with anything online and so I'm going to keep this blog brief... which was also one of the key tenants/methodologies with which I approached making the actual show. Keep it short and snappy, feels like a fundamental rule of the internet.


Also, before we go forth, my last blog wasn't necessarily a very exciting read, but it was interesting to me to note the terminologies and principles of (ordinary) theatre making that still exist and feel oddly familiar when creating work online. When I considered how I would make LIFE COACH I knew I would be utilising my experience of theatre making and by proxy certain key fundamental rules, but I was also aware I was making something for the wild west of the internet. What I didn't know was how unexplored this territory was, how well these two would meet and how later on I'd learn I'd fooled myself into thinking I was making something completely different.


So here's what I think now, after a week of sitting with it.


(You can read my last blog by clicking the pic below.)


Firstly; Making LIFE COACH was extremely exciting, but also really, really hard. Upon receiving the commission I knew I wanted to create dangerously and step wholeheartedly into this new forced dimension. What an absolute privilege to be able to explore this bristling, urgent and new creative space. Working in response and in the midst of our global trauma often felt surreal, but most of all it felt so full of discovery and potential. Think about it; all this time we've had this exciting, multifaceted, interactive, interpretable digital performance medium that can reach people directly through their existing technologies. With it we can broadcast across the world in an instant and offer access and opportunity to people regardless of their geography and economics*. So, creatively I was stoked feeling like I got to explore some jewel lined cave that has been laying under just two inches of earth this whole time**.


As a maker of things I create devised work based on exploring one idea that is separated into moments. Then by asking what could happen and what should happen, I cut the chaff and piece it all together. For example, with LIFE COACH I knew I wanted it to be live, but then "live" in a rectangle on someones phone was never really going feel a-live, so I knew I had to commit the work to uncertainty via 'the spur of the moment' and create tension in something unhinged and unknown to keep people invested. Responding to the cultures of the internet, a core aim of mine was to make the responsive and episodic with each part being rapid fire, punchy and meme-like*** in it's physical language, vibrancy and content. Rolling off a meme-structure I chose to forego a three or five structure narrative and instead wanted audiences to feel as though they were coming across a world/story/idea that already exists and is already happening. This feels like something that happens to me online.


By accepting these ideas and using them, it felt more honest to the medium and the format in terms of how we view what we view online. The sporadicalness of social media sees stories, ideas and concepts quickly pop up and permeate before almost completely vanishing with something else instantly filling the void. The next most attractive thing. This is the experience and legacy I wanted for LIFE COACH.


(Audience interaction from Seminar 1 - PERSONALITY)


Secondly; It was moments after finishing the first performance that I realised I'd fooled myself into believing I'd been making a piece of theatre when in reality I'd been making a film. As soon as it stopped being live and it became a video of its self, it died behind the eyes.


When it was live, it was a-live, and I had wanted to ensure that would happen by creating something that only made sense if it was played out like that. As performers we improvised dialogue, talked live to strangers and focused on embodying the characters in order to let them lead the way through the piece. These characters were created in response to the actual living humans we encounter online, daily. Youtubers, Influencers, Celebrities. They are the proprietors of digital space and the profiteers of your online time, and so of course they should feel completely elevated and confident and dominant in this setting, even if they are rambling through it with little thought or content. By inviting an audience into it all I wanted to incorporate what happens when we're all in a room together and the performer talks to one audience member. In my experience the rest of the room vibe off it, and become interconnected, the audiences as a whole. I aimed to reach audiences stuck at home, asking them to see themselves represented there within.


No shade to the fourth wall plays and monologue writers out there, fair play, but that was never going to be the route I was going to take, and I actually question whether it is a useful modification of theatre in this setting when considering that the only thing we have left to hold onto is LIVENESS and audience presence... otherwise are we not actually just making short films?!


Thirdly; I wanted to say thank you to a load of people who came through for me on this****. I want to point out that none of my networks were there for me. People were missing both physically, technically and socially. My friends and creative compadres were almost entirely absent. They were either completely screen tired or dealing with the evident trauma that is surrounding and drowning some of us. So instead, I met and worked with a whole brand new team of people (and I still find it strange to think we made a piece of work together but have never actually met outside of a digital rectangle). That's two actors, the production team, the whole of NTW, my tech and my stage manager, as well as my mentors Nigel and Louise. It is both incredible and in a way unremarkable given the circumstances. However, I'm wholly grateful to have been forced together with these professional strangers. It kind of tells me that we should not wait to create with XYZ from who knows where, and that there are potentially a whole host of exciting risk free ways to work with new people. If we feel like we're waiting til we can be together, we should maybe acknowledge the time is now and the means are present. They are our laptops, our phones and our willingness to engage. This idea against a backdrop of Brexit, against the backdrop of an incoming economic crisis, against the backdrop of a thousand crumbling venues should perhaps offer us objective.

Lastly; In detailing this work I said it was a brand new piece of live ,semi-participatory, interactive, adaptive, digital theatre. Phew, I know, I get it. But there's a reason I use all these descriptives and it's because that's what this kind of work is capable of! AND THAT'S SO EXCITING! Subjectively, whether or not you think I nailed that***** is really irrelevant. The relevant thought here is that we're IN the R&D. There is no reference point for us to use other than having had a Zoom call before and/or having once made a piece of theatre. THAT'S IT******. And not only are we stood in the R&D, we're also stood in the immediacy of this moment grasping a hold of what ever it is we have, using it to continue the legacy of creating something and reaching out . When we consider what is happening to the existing historical structures and architectures of theatre rn we should maybe take time to understand how important this moment and these ideas might actually be.


Mucho,


JTC


*Taking into consideration the cost of wifi and phones. I'm mainly referencing travelling and high ticket prices locking people out.


** I learned during lockdown that DJ's stream like this ALL THE TIME. I'm sure many other artists also do. So maybe in terms of theatre we've been straddling liveness. As is our nature.


***Memes (as a concept) fascinate me. Like, have you ever noticed how on video memes with popular music they cut the moment the most satisfying part has happened? There's an almost entirely unspoken artistry at play here, and we'd be wise as creatives to assess it.


****Thats; Jeremy Linnell, Charlotte Lewis, the WHOLE team at NTW, Dan Rowley, Nigel Barratt & Louise Mari and Emmanuella Nicolalou.


*****Cut me some slack.


******It's not. There are actually loads of transferable skills. Our tech guy Dewi as done a lot of work at corporate events and his skillset transferred almost seamlessly when you consider that projecting imagery might use similar techniques as overlaying graphics onto live footage. My experience of film making also came into play.






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