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  • Louise White

Getting Out Of The Studio! - Flashmobs and Happenings


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- Flashmobs!

If you’ve got a TV and you’ve seen a certain set of adverts from a certain mobile phone network provider, then you’ll know what a flashmob is. A flashmob is quite literally a performance that appears as if from nowhere performed by commonly a mass of people – usually the same people you just walked passed a second ago that you thought were going about their daily lives. The most common forms of flashmob are large groups that perform a mass dance in the middle of a trainstation (such as Living The Dream’s flashmob at St Pancras in 2010), or a choir singing unexpectedly in an airport. Sometimes and with ever increasing popularity, you may come across a Zombie apocalypse situation while buying your groceries. Now, of course, these are not truly spontaneous events – they are carefully planned, choreographed, and rehearsed. What hooks us as accidental audiences is the surprise factor! The ‘oh my god, can you believe what’s happening?!’ feeling. It’s fab!

Now, in conflict with what I was saying about a performance needing to be created within the site to be considered proper site-specific performance… I do include Flashmobs because what they lack in symbiotic collaboration with a site, they make up for in choosing their cites purposefully in order to make a social commentary. They seek to open our eyes to the good, the bad, the ludicrousness, and the genius of how we interact with certain spaces. Flashmobs also tend to be situated in Non-Places (e.g. airports), or places with one specific and, more often that not, mundane task-based function bereft of much social interaction (e.g. supermarkets). There are also some companies such as Zed Events, that tailor their Zombie Apocalypse experience to specific places, such as malls, lakes and manor houses, therefore ticking the box that states the site should influence the performance (yey!).

Flashmobs are great additions to festivals, especially festivals that happen over various venues within a town or city, such as Dot-to-Dot music festival. Flashmobs at these types of event not only mean there are parties going on within each venue, but ensure the celebrations carry on into the streets, which would otherwise just be used to get from venue to venue!

Give Flashmobs a go for yourself!

- Happenings!

Alan Kaprow first coined this term and while there are lots of nuances and exploratory meanings behind it, in it’s broadest form, it quite literally means something that appears to just ‘happen’. In this sense, Happenings very similar to Flashmobs, however, they break down the audience and performer relationship further. They come in various forms, but for me (and this is by no means gospel, simply my interpretation of them based on my experiences) there are two distinct types – True Happenings, and False Happenings. Let’s start with False Happenings… Instead of a mob, you may encounter one single performer, or maybe a handful of them, and they could be doing absolutely anything. Most commonly False Happenings take the form of Live Art/Performance Art. They tend not to be ‘shows’ that have an obvious narrative, beginning, middle, and end. The aim of them is to free an artist from conventional relationships with their audience. They can be of any duration lasting minutes, hours, days. Score-based actions and repetition tend to be recurrent aspects of these types of performances. Commonly, False Happenings and other performances of similar nature encourage people to stop and look. They encourage people to be OK with being waylaid, and allow being engaged differently to take priority over the task they were doing, perhaps they can persuade people to join in. I like this. I like what False Happenings aim to do and they have equal value to True Happenings.


True happenings, however, are much less tangible, they tend not to be so consciously facilitated, and there is rarely any evidence that they have even occurred. They engage performer and public in spontaneous collaboration. They can be fleeting, lasting a few of seconds, or if your lucky, a while longer. A good example may be a busker playing a guitar, who is joined by someone with a jembe and decides to start jamming instead of simply walking by. Perhaps some bystanders begin to clap their hands, others start dancing, someone starts singing but you can’t pinpoint where the singing is coming from straight away. There is a brief communal celebration and everyone involved has volunteered themselves to contributing. The song comes to an end and the crowd disperses. This is why I call these ‘True Happenings’, because they simply just ‘happen’.

Give Happenings a go for yourself!

Check out next weeks entry for another site-specific suggestion on how you can get out of the studio!

Influences -


Sue Palmer

Simon Persighetti

Misha Myers


‘Street Theatre’ Bim Mason

‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ James Surowiecki

‘A Misguide to Exeter/Anywhere’ Wrights and Sites

‘Mythogeography’ Wrights and Sites

‘Site-Specific Performance’ Mike Pearson

‘Site-Specific Art’ Nick Kay

‘Making A Performance’ Govan, Nicholson, Normington

‘Devising Performance’ Heddon, Milling

‘Body, Space Image’ Tuffnel, Crickmay

‘An Exploration Of Performance As A Stimulus For Utopian Collectiveness’ Louise White


BBC Four’s Sultan’s Elephant

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