I spent an hour on a lovely Sunday afternoon watching myself (and fellow audience members) on a semi-blurry screen while listening to instructions and observations delivered by a variety of robotic voices with charming British accents. SummerWorks Special Presentation, Offending the Audience, might not be for everyone but it definitely contained many interesting ideas about what is theatre and our identity as theatre-goers.
As creator Christian Lapointe explains in the program, his reinterpretation of Peter Handke’s experimental play, Offending the Audience exists in the space between theatre and performance art. Whereas other performances of Handke’s “non-play” still employs actors, Lapointe decided to take it a step farther and have the audience actually watch themselves on stage while synthetic voices try to convince us that we are not watching a play.
This is the only play that I actually took notes on during the performance because it operated on many different levels -– and there was certainly plenty of opportunities to take notes. Although it began with statements on its own anti-playness, there were also a lot of, well, attempts at offending the audience:
There were long periods of silence. Sometimes the voices were layered over one another as to make the words indiscernible. Sometimes the voices were completely monotone. There were boring simplistic observations and long-winded pedantic explanations. There were dazzling compliments followed immediately by a barrage of insults. And through it all, the only thing we could stare at was ourselves.
Not only are we told why what we are experiencing is not a play, and thereby making me wonder what really makes a play a play, the voices would tell us what we are (usually “a unit”) or state what we are doing (either obvious actions like sitting in a theatre, or assumptive ones about how we got to the theatre) in a manner not dissimilar to a guru or hypnotist. However, when I listened to the words, I caught a lot of statements that made me think deeply about the role and purpose of the audience in art.
In addition, Lapointe makes a point of emphasizing the play’s discussion of time. Towards the latter half of the hour, the live-feed of us was gradually overlapped with the recording of us from earlier in the performance until we were confronted with our past selves on screen. The discussion of the effects of passing time soon became a visual reality.
There is also an intriguing sense of humour in Lapointe’s work. Certain statements (especially statements of the obvious), when paired with particular voices, took on a dry and sardonic tone. There was more laughter in the theatre than I had expected.
To tell the truth, Offending the Audience was not to my taste, but I do recognize the importance of this piece and, in some ways, really appreciates what the play was trying to say.
- Monday August 10th 10:00 PM
- Thursday August 13th 7:30 PM
- Friday August 14th 10:00 PM
- Saturday August 15th 7:45 PM
- Sunday August 16th 12:30 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo provided by the company.