On Wednesday July 26, our group went to see Macondo at the Battersea Arts Centre and is directed by Silvia Mercuriali and is inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The show has no pre-determined script and “takes the shape of the people who inhabit it.” Once we walked into the theatre, and discovered that we had to wear headphones, I was immediately interested in what Mercurial and her team were doing. I have never been to a show where the audience had to wear headphones during a show. I was immediately curious about what they were trying to accomplish with the headphones. I, at first, thought that during the show we would be listening to some kind of music while the performance was going on, but I found out I was wrong when we walked into the performance area.
Once we walked into where the performance was already taking place, I started looking around and was amazed because I started noticing that some people in the audience had different colored headphones on. Most of the audience had on blue headphones and a small portion had red. I also noticed that some people had on no colors on their headphones at all and they were wearing normal black headphones. Once I looked at the audience members with normal black headphones, I thought they were actors a part of the production but it turns out that there were no actors. We as the audience were the performers of the show.
The show itself worked for me in a number of ways. The use of audience participation worked for me because I feel that the creators were still trying to tell the story of Macondo. In some plays that I have seen were the audience participates, the play begins to lose site of the text or story. This production did not lose the text because I felt that even though there were no actors and it was just the audience, I felt that the story was clear and we as the audience were telling it. The use of the headphones to listen to the fictional tech crew worked for me as well. I have worked backstage for a show before and it can sometimes be a little hectic. I thought the developers got the point of a hectic work environment across because when the techies were worrying about what was going on, I started feeling a little anxious because I wanted the show to start, and they were talking about canceling the show. The ending of the show where everyone in the audience wearing the blue headphones got up onstage and were snapping their fingers and whistling worked for me as well. It really symbolized how everyone could stand on the X and could be the hero of the show and the show got everyone in the audience to participate. The red colored headphones participated, the blue colored headphones participated and the black colored headphones participated. It is very difficult to get the entire audience to participate and I thought this show worked for me in that aspect because everyone in the audience were a part of the story. One last bit of the show that really worked was the choices of audience members for the critics and the sumo wrestler. Those three were really participating and were very clear on what they were doing and I could tell they were having fun leading us through the show.
There were some bits of the show were it did not seem to click. There were times where the audience members participating in the show were a little slow in what they were supposed to do. I am not sure if it was because the voices in their headphones were delayed in telling the members what to do or if it was the members being shy and not wanting to perform onstage. The voices may have not been very clear in what they were saying because I remember that a voice was talking to me to stand on the X but on the screen backstage, it said for the rest of the audience to stand behind the X and begin to snap. It was a little confusing so the voices telling the audience members what to do did not really work for me. I get the feeling that if the voices were a little clearer, then the audience members movements would have been a little quicker and crisper. One last bit that did not work for me was the screen backstage. I get what the screen was trying to do but at the end where it said to stand behind the X while the voice said to stand on the X got me a little confused as to what to do.
Looking back at the show Macondo, it worked for me because of the use of audience participation and how it got everyone in the audience to be a part of the story. The use of the screen and the confusing voices was what held the show back a little because some of the audience members were a little slow in what the voices were trying to get them to do. Other than that, I thought the show was very interesting and I think if other theatres try this out, it could be a game changer in theatre, especially with the use of the audience participation and for the “viewers” to tell the story.
Macondo at the Battersea art center was a truly inspirational experience. The premise of the show revolves around audience participation. When purchasing tickets you are asked to select the level of participation you wish to have, little else is told you about the experience itself or your role in it at time of purchase. Unlike most immersive shows which have actors improvising with the audience, Macondo serves as a stark contrast. The audience literally takes place of the actors, no actors directly participate in the show.
On arrival you are given cards depicting some vague information of your role in the show. These cards have, hero, critic, director, and various other roles listed, I was given an audience card (Seen right). Once you have your card you make your way to the performance you. As you enter the doors you are given a set of wireless headphones to wear during the show. As everyone enters you begin hearing murmurs of talking, the sound is low and tricks you into where exactly the sound is coming from. Your first instinct is to believe it is the people around you taking their seats, yet the sound is truly through your headphones. Everyone slowly came to realization as people removed the headphones to hear an early quite room.
As events progress you are given instructions through the headphones and through visual projections on a screen. What makes it interesting is the instructions you are given is based on the role in which you are playing. As an audience member I watched as seemingly random individuals took stage. Of course they were not random at all but selected previously. Yet, to the outside observer in that moment it had a sense of anticipation. How would this play goer respond to the instructions? What where they told? Who else was given instructions around me? You felt surrounded by unknown mystery, yet it was not daunting. Rather, it was inviting, it urged you on and made you hungry for what would happen next. The events themselves ranged from amusing to slightly confusing. People fighting for an X marked on the floor, Pretending to die, chalk outlines of bodies, dancing, jokes, it truly ran the gambit of activities. Those of us with the audience cards, which I believe to be the lowest form of participation available, were not left out of the action entirely. We were transformed into a Greek chorus, reading words projected on a screen. It was difficult with the headphones on to hear anyone else speaking at all, even your own voice felt muffled on the ear. It provided a feeling of freedom to participate without the spotlight being on you or the concern of being judged.
The overall concept worked surprisingly well, it managed to invest you in the actions going on around you in a creative and fun way. The play did suffer in the overall plot, which is not necessarily required in all theatrical experience but there were moments that felt like the group activities were placed more to distract you from the lack of a clear narrative. The end was also very anticlimactic. With people simply striking a pose on the X on the floor and joining in a group behind the X, snapping their fingers to music. The concept was beautifully executed and the technical difficulty of having so many people on headphones runs a very high risk. If headphone batteries died, otherwise broke, channels did not connect right etc.…the whole event could quickly fall apart. Their success in everything running so smoothly is noteworthy in and of itself. At the end though I was left with contrasting feelings, I was both inspired and disappointed. The mixing of technology and performance is something I wish to incorporate in my own work and aspects of their performance elicited numerous ideas. That is also why I was disappointed. They had access to the material and had a crew who could handle it all masterfully. Potential abound throughout but ultimately felt underutilized. This is one of the only times a show was clearly too short, with a rushed and unsatisfying ending. I was content with my experience and grateful for having seen the interweaving of technology, audience participation, and storytelling together. I can only hope that such a show spurs on more such performances and advances a new genre of theatre. I for one will be utilizing conventions I saw in one of my many upcoming projects and look forward to the feedback derived from the experience.