Kumuwuki Review: I Met

by Jane

Emma Beech in the Australian Bureau of Worthiness’ I Met Viborg

I’ve now seen the Australian Bureau of WorthinessI Met in four incarnations: Renmark, Port Adelaide’s Port Road, Viborg in Denmark, and now Goolwa.

I never wrote about the work properly; although I was intending to after Viborg time got away from me; I only just briefly mentioned Port Road; and had an even briefer pass at Renmark. Now, I see that as a unique blessing: if I am going to write about this work I need to write about its changing incarnations, its constant rediscovery of itself and exploration of its own form and possibilities.

Being able to see the work four times before sitting down to write about it is perhaps the most unique privilege and what we search for in looking at the role “embedded critic”: in following the creation – or recreation – of the I Met model, I now, hopefully, get to give more than a cursory review of one show, and instead get to write about what the Bureau have created as a model. A unique show model, perhaps, takes a unique writing model.

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness is the creation of artists Emma Beech and Tessa Leong, and often operated with James Dodd. It’s model is simple: go into a community and discover who they are and what is important to them through the use of a simple question: What makes your day worth it?

No justification or further exploration is given for the question: some answer with the small – seeing someone’s smile, the sound of a packet of biscuits being opened, some offer up answers of the deeply philosophical – the ways they intend to change the world, some can’t offer up an answer at all – nothing.

In earlier versions of the work, Beech and Leong delved not only into these reactions of the local community, but also the model of a government organisation. How do we interact with these organisations, what would a Bureau of Worthiness  look like and interact with its community?

In later versions of the work these layers seem to have been stripped away, for the strength of the piece. What we are left with is a view into the people and the places which make up a community, explored more honestly by a group of artists who want to genuinely discover, love, and share.

There is some formula to the creation of the show, but this structure is loose and responsive to the place it comes from. Firstly, the Bureau take up residency in a town: Beech was in Viborg for a month, while Goolwa was prepared over the course of a week. They go out an explore the town: take in the architecture, drink in the coffee shops and the pubs, and Beech asks people the question. This snap-shot of a city is then crafted into an hour long portrait through performance.

In this age of high-tech multimedia, I Met remains delightfully lo-fi. I Met Goolwa was lit only with the light of two old school overhead projectors; also used to show black and white photocopies of Dodd’s illustrations of Goolwa. I Met Viborg took place in front of a pin-up board with notes Beech referred to during the show. I Met Renmark involved a map on the wall, hand-drawn on butchers paper. All involved not only Beech’s verbatim reenactments of the answers she received, but also audio recordings: slightly scratchy, taken on a dictaphone on a street corner or in a busy cafe.

Each I Met takes clues from the town and the people to find its own structure and unique points of comedy or drama. Noticing a proliferation of raffles in Goolwa, where Dodd won two raffles on two nights, including one reward of the fish platter, the Bureau placed a raffle into the work.

The short development of each show, too, creates a piece which remains rough around the edges. At times, Beech reads stories of printed sheets of paper or from a handwritten note-book. She refers quietly to director Leong sitting to the side: are we going to do this bit now? Okay. 

Through the snap shots of places, what really makes the work sing is Beech’s generosity as a performer. In these rooms you not only feel that she is taking care of you as an audience member, but she is also taking great care to look after the characters and the town she is depicting. The work is frequently softly humorous, and there is something to the fact that we as an audience often are laughing at the responses to the question, yet it never feels like Beech is making fun of or judging these characters. The care extends to make sure that their jokes and humour can be shared. She often forms surprisingly deep connections with the people she talks to, and in Goolwa she beautifully told us she meet her soul mate in an eighty-year-old man.

Beech’s performance of these people she meets is deeply physical, and, here too I am using the word: Beech feels giving and generous in the physicalities she gives to these people she meets, in the ways she fills out these characters in the brief moments we have to meet them, through the way she holds herself in their worlds. This also allows Beech to at one point in the performance strip away  the dialogue, and montage through the people and their bodies.

In many ways, I Met is a small show. Sometimes one woman, sometimes with small bits of performance from Leong or Dodd. Often in small rooms, to small audiences. About small communities, and an even smaller collection of people within them. It’s developed over a small residency, for a small season. It exists almost entirely in its transiency: a short hello, and then goodbye. On to the next town, the next person, the next story.

Country Arts SA through the 2012 Kumuwuki / Big Wave Regional Arts Australia Conference presents I Met Goolwa, by the Australian Bureau of Worthiness: Emma Beech, James Dodd and Tessa Leong.

Vitalstatistix in Adhocracy 2012  presents I Met Viborg, by the Australian Bureau of Worthiness: Emma Beech with the Carte Blanche Theatre Company.

The 2011 Port Festival presents I Met (Port Road) The Other Day,  by the Australian Bureau of Worthiness: Emma Beech, James Dodd and Tessa Leong.

Vitalstatistix in Adhocracy 2011 presents a creative development of I Met (Renmark) The Other Day, by the Australian Bureau of Worthiness: Emma Beech and Tessa Leong.