Heavy Activist Rice

When staging Of All The People In All The World on foreign shores we always have at least a ton of rice on our rider. It’s not very rock-and-roll but when you’re building an installation that converts human population statistics into grains of rice it is necessary.

In truth we are starting to sound ever more like theatre’s answer to Celine Dion as we get ever more particular about the exact kind of rice we require. We use a grains-per-gram equation to help us ‘count’ large numbers and so, a few years ago, had to throw an hysterical strop when a venue supplied us with broken rice. Rice with a high proportion of broken grains is significantly cheaper than standard rice but we rely on a high proportion of whole grains to be confident in our counting strategy.

Here in Alpbach, although the rice is our standard long grain white variety it is par-boiled, which has two consequences.

Firstly the rice must it is approximately 20% heavier per grain than we are used to, presumably it absorbs some water in the par-boiling process. This means we’ve had to adjust our grain-per-gram equation, keep mindful of the fact that we have fewer grains to play with than we were expecting and that the rice we do use will take up more space than it normally does. A population that we would usually expect to squeeze onto an A4 sheet my now require an A3 sheet.

The second, more subtle result of par-boiling is that when poured the rice piles sit less steeply on the paper and loose grains are more ‘lively’ than usual, spreading across the paper more widely and readily. It maybe that the par-boiling washes the grains, making them less powdery and thus more slippery than when raw. Whatever the reason the solution is careful sculpting of piles and scrupulous sweeping.

Neither issue is an active problem but this experience will lead us to refine our rice rider.

One clause on the rider which will remain unchanged is the requirement that promoters arrange for the rice to find an ethical home once it has finished being a work of art. Here in Austria a local farmer is very happy to feed the rice to his pigs – it may be that they are very happy to have their dinner less raw than it otherwise would have been.

NB: Of All The People In All The World runs at the European Forum Alpbach until 30th August.

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