There’s a thing that happens on stage. In rooms. Not always. Not necessarily even often. But when it does; a performer trusts us, as an audience, with something of themselves. Sometimes it’s their body; the sight of it unhidden, unprotected, perhaps uncontextualised. They allow our eyes to crawl on their skin, to skitter across it and studiously study the back wall, the exit sign. To ascribe or derive meaning, while wondering about their muscle tone, the cadence of their breathing, their sex life.
But at other times it’s even more intimate.
Performance is, generally speaking, the art of revealing, of giving something; unless you’re properly phoning it in. But I’m watching Quizoola and asking myself the questions quietly alongside the performers (because how can you help but do so), and knowing that every now and again, when we segue into deeply personal territory and there are more pauses, greater swathes of silence between answers, that whoever is in that chair is giving us a piece of their story, their life.
What words are scary?
I don’t love you.
That’s why the whole game means something – being occasionally funny and irreverent wouldn’t be enough. It would be good, but not enough. Josh Coates asked why we watch Quizoola and I gave an answer I wasn’t expecting; because it’s surprising. And uncomfortable. And uncensored. And we all like to talk about it on Twitter. We are rampantly curious about each other, and this gives it a safe frame. A context for unprotected wordplay. A moral choose your own adventure. Tell me something true.
Have you ever been in love?
Yes, three times. (Such certainty.)
Which of your scars do you like the best?
Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn are asking for something. It feels safe and it’s anonymous but they’re asking for our stories, our experiences with clinical depression, and they in turn will put their own into their show. It’s tempting to shy away from the kinds of performance that ask of us – anything that demands more than our time and attention is inherently frightening. It must be worked up to, we must be ‘in the mood’ (how unsexy). Bryony has given me parts of her story before; I’ve been in the audience for Sex Idiot. I’ve given her parts of mine – she gathered experiences of love in a similar way for a performance at the Bush (though I confess I never saw it) and now for Fake It Til You Make It, I am telling her intensely personal things about my life and my family, but from the distance of my living room. Someone I’ve never actually met. We’re not in ‘the space’ now; the theatrical contract, the one creating performer and audience member, the one generating this trust, shouldn’t necessarily exist here, but it does.
There’s a faith we have in anonymity; whether that of a webpage or a room full of strangers that we are unlikely to ever see again. I’ve been to performances where, with the dawning realisation that I’m going to be asked a question, I have frantically prepared a lie, and others where I have looked someone directly in the eye and thought “I don’t know why, but I will tell you almost anything and it will be true.” Often that has a lot to do with what the artist has shared – what they are willing to give us in return. So often we expect to pay money and have someone stand up and divulge parts of their lives to us, but panic when we are asked to do that in the smallest way, though we will leave talking about how wonderful it is to be challenged by theatre. Of course, it’s what the artist has knowingly signed up for, which we haven’t necessarily done, but god how frightened we sometimes are of each other, and how skilfully a good performer can defuse that…
Also in my living room, Cathy Naden is telling a room full of people in Sheffield, a host of lifestream viewers, and Twitter about her childhood and what she feels she has done wrong with her life. So much of Quizoola is performative, but it’s the mixture of truth that makes it poignant. Earlier Terry spoke about her relationship with her father. The beauty is that we can’t tell how much of this is real. Or is that the trick?
Cathy: Have you ever suffered a tragic personal loss?
Cathy: What was it?
Robin: *pause* I don’t want to talk about it
So I’m asking myself each of these questions as they come up. And I’m asking myself the questions Bryony has put in her survey. And I’m wondering about how and why and when we place this trust in each other; performer and audience member. I take my seat, you walk on stage and for the next however long we are each other’s. Depending on the nature of the piece, you may tell me something of yourself, you may ask me something of myself, you may bare your body, you might just ask me to empty my bag. There’s something irrevocably, thrillingly, frighteningly intimate about that potential that I don’t want to take for granted.