Time out 15.11.00
As the attacks mount on Trevor Nunn’s National theatre- and the debate rumbles on about how to revive our major cultural institutions – a few yards downriver, just behind the Oxo Tower, an enterprising organisation has been making some outlandish proposals. Since it opened its doors in November 1998, the Museum of Has been offering a beguiling alternative to the tradition bound institutions of dinginess we all seek to denounce.
the rabble-rousers on the block quips Pippa Bailey, who with ice sculptor
Clare Patey, first began thinking the role of cultural institutions when
Coin Street Community Builders were trying to decide on a use for a substantial
brick building, disused for 40 years, on the site of the former royal bargehouse.
It was thought that a Museum of the River Thames might find a berth there.
But first it was agreed that there could be an exploration of museums: serious,
playful, sometimes iconoclastic. The Museum Of was conceived to ask questions
about cultural institutions: who they should serve, what they should include,
why we should need them.
No answers, of course, but since the Museum’s launch audiences have been pondering the questions in increasing umbers. Still more puzzled over Primitive Science’s ‘Icarus Falling’ , an achingly beautiful meditation on Breuhgel’s famous painting, performed in the Museum’s long, thin crumbling attic as part of the Museum of Me. Last weekend, the Museum of The Unknown, an unsettling hotchpotch of the weird and wonderful, hosted Forced Entertainments’ ‘Quizoola’, a 12 hour quiz show in which the company interrogated each other with a text of 2000 questions.
‘We’re interested in new audiences, says Bailey We’re interested in exploring and challenging our relationship with cultural in a different way from traditional arts event. And we’re interested in collaboration with a broad range of people both in the creative process as visitors to the museums and as decision makers. Exploring different ways in which we can encourage visitors to interact with our ideas.
Cue Shunt, a promising
young company with a reputation spreading like a forest fire. Their award
winning production of ‘The Ballad of Bobby Francois’, first
staged in the company’s Bethnal Green railway arch, was ample proof
that this was a group – a collective of ten directors, dancers, circus
performers with an unhealthy interest in theatrical interactivity.
‘The Ballad of Bobby Francois’ loaded audiences on to a plane, plied them with safety instructions, peanuts and duty free, before crash landing in the Andes, leading the survivors to the top of a mountain and conjuring the end of civilisation. If the show displayed more flair than skill, it played so cleverly with illusion, space and sound that it was hard not to fall for it’s unsettling charm. ’We’re driven by the idea of the audience being an integral part of the performance in some way influencing the outcome’ explains Shunt’s David Rosenberg. ‘I don’t mean “audience participation “. We want to make people think about why they’ve come to a live event in the first place, We want to make an audience react- say something or shout something out- so that afterwards they can say. “yes, if I wasn’t there things would have been different.” “Most of our audiences wouldn’t be seen dead in conventional theatres he continues, ‘so we confined our activities to non traditional spaces.’ To date they’ve conducted a dance-auction in Aldwych tube station whole their bi-monthly cabarets in their Bethnal Green arch have begun to attract a cult following.
But it was the semi-derelict atmosphere of the Museum Of, says Rosenberg, coupled with the ideas that inspired Shunt’s latest venture, ‘The Tennis Show’, an interactive event’ based on a 1920s tennis match in which on e of the players disappears. ‘There was something about eh dirty, bare space and the pristine lines and pleats of a tennis game that appealed’. He says. ‘We are interested in the very physical idea of disappearance so we divide the audience into tow and play around with the ideas of what is happening to the other audience group. Afterwards we reunite them and encourage them to hang around and talk to each other. If the conversation is about our show, we might well achieve something.”