Theatre luvvies will tell you that theatre is special because it is made afresh every night for a new audience and that the unique combination of those people in that space together at that time… it’s about context… etcetera and so on and on. I’ve spun similar lines and they’re not wrong, but at the same time theirs is also the same script, performed by the same cast, on the same set, on a similar stage us here – you there – darkness and clap at the end.
Of All The People In All The World is only theatre if you want it to call it that but if it is theatre it is re-made more radically than most theatre each time we perform it. In this case it really is all about context.
This Performance Installation, if you want to call it that, comprises piles of rice representing human population statistics counted out one grain per person and placed on labelled sheets of paper. The combination of which statistics sit next to which generate stories and questions. When we arrive in a new venue we have the freedom to put whatever statistic we choose where ever we choose to put it (provided we have enough rice to represent the number involved). In this way the ‘script’ is waiting to be written afresh with each new performance in each new venue.
Our decision making process is structured so there is a level of continuity between presentations but beyond that they do all vary from each other quite distinctly. We will choose statistics that address the country, city/town and venue the performance is located in, that match and compare contemporary and historical statistics, that address a broad range of human endeavour. our choices of statistics and their combinations will include humour, whimsy, pathos and an element of provocation. Inflecting many of these choices may be a theme explicitly or implicitly requested by a promoter designed to ensure our show keys in with the overarching theme of the program into which its has been booked.
Here in Adelaide we have been invited to be part of Dream Big Children’s Festival and we are excited because, although children have always enjoyed this show and we have made versions of the show with children, we have never made the show for children before.
I think children like the show because it is tangible and easily comprehensible; it is also a landscape ripe for exploration, discovery and open to sharing, questioning and discussion; you don’t have to sit down, you don’t have to shut up, there is no ‘end’ that you have to stay until – pretty much the only thing you mustn’t do is step on the rice.
Thus far constructing a “children’s version” appears to be a doddle.
Having said that children like the show there are also many, many ways in which the show is inaccessible to children, it uses are cultural references they’ve never heard of to make tangental allusions to dilemmas adults struggle to untangle. While we put a lot of work into the show we leave an enormous amount of work for the audience to do and a lot of that work based on a knowledge of history and politics, an appreciation of irony and bathos and learning a kind of kit form surrealism. If you take all that out because the children won’t get it then what do you have left? Is it still Of All The People In All The World?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m sure you’ve already reached. No, with all that removed the show wouldn’t be the show any more, but that doesn’t matter because there’s no way we’re taking any of that out just because the children won’t understand it! For heaven sake, lots of the adults don’t understand it either and that’s not us being all superior, while we’re making the show we have to explain much of it it to each other. If everyone understood everything all the time it would all be an entirely pointless undertaking.
So for Dream Big we are making a version in which nothing is cut out, but in which the balance is different. For adults we probably wouldn’t bother weighing out the populations of the country’s seven biggest cities and arranging them around the hall in an approximation of their geography. For adults, to our shame, we probably wouldn’t have researched the greatest number of people playing Fortnite simultaneously. There are more statistics about children than in previous versions and fewer references that couldn’t be explained to a child in less than a minute. There will still be many opportunities for people to ask a question that leads to a story and a conversation and that is what the show is about.
Making it been fun so far – but then the doors have yet to open to 100 five year olds freshly unleashed from a school bus.