Kumuwuki: Democratic Set

by Jane

Back to Back is a Geelong based theatre company which works with a core ensemble of six performers with intellectual disabilities. Speaking at Kumuwuki, artistic director Bruce Gladwin spoke about how the company’s work is “a continual exploration.”

One of the key things the company explores is “theatre’s relationship to the architectural frame work where the work is presented. […] What is the architectural structure? What is the frame in wich we place the performance?”

These questions, he said, are asked in the support of the actor. One of the first works which made this exploration was a 2002 work called Soft, a performance work which occurred in a large inflatable structure housed inside another building.

Another exploration was in “an aural architecture.” Gladwin described using headphones to create “a type of performance that didn’t need a physical space but was requiring on the sound to create an aural architecture”, which resulted in their work Small Metal Objects.

“All of these ideas” he said, “are all about trying to find a different performance space, a different frame work for the actor.”

Back to Back theatre, Galdwin said, “also have an arm to our practice which is about engageing with community: with our own community in Geelong, and as artists with other communities, undertaking residencies and so on.”

While running workshops at Footscray Community Arts Centre, Gladwin spoke of a moment of watching a performer undertake a piece of improvisation which could sit in any major arts festival in the world. “You are sitting in a rehearsal room, and you are just watching theatre or dance gold […] and everyone in the room is transfixed.”

From this, he began to ask “How can we take that moment, how can we take that slice, almost as if we could collect it” and developed a way to create a “montage of all of those points together” – this became Democratic Set.

Democratic Set involves members of a community being invited to perform in a plywood room about 2.2 x 2.2 x 6 meters deep, in bursts of ten seconds: the length of time that is allowed for the performance is the time it takes for the camera to track in front of the performance space, about ten seconds. “There is nothing more complicated than those parameters.”

“It is the same for every single person, and everyone has the same time frame.”

The result is a montage of those single takes of individuals, which has been “built organically. Not only a collaboration with the community, but it’s also a collaboration with the event or festival as curator.”

Gladwin describes this as “a grand connection with the idea of democracy” which “creates a platform which allows people to be seen and be heard.”

In addition to this, it “it’s a very playful project.”

“It just is.”

After filming, the project is screened for the participants, meaning the audience is the participants, their families, and their friends.

Through the work creating an equal framework and stage for presentation, it creates an interesting lens for looking the the differences between people  – and between communities. Says Gladwin “There is a poeticness about this piece: in the pursuit of equality, what do we do with difference?”