Performances in Promenade are great little things! Although, they come in all shapes and sizes I promise you! Performances in Promenade are performances where the audience must move around in order to experience the performance. This usually means the audience moves from place to place or between places of performative action, while being guided on a route of some sort. This guided route can be for example in the form of a map, or you may have a performer doing the job. In the case of the latter, this does not always mean that the guise of the performer is that of a ‘guide’. Nor does the ‘promenade’ part of it have to be ‘walked’. In Wrights and Sites ‘The Quay Thing’, the audience were taken on a boat ride on Exeter canal, along which they were treated to many performative ‘punctuations’ in their journey. Some of these were in the canal, some along the canal side. Perhaps you might have seen a mermaid tangled in a shipping net draped over the canal side wall, or was that just because you’d caught it in the corner of your eye, and the boat had floated on too far for you to be sure?
I'd like to take this opportunity to assert my opinion on occurances where static shows allow for the audience to stand and walk about the action in order for them to scrutinise the performance at every angle. Some say this is promenade theatre, because the audience is on their feet and able to have a bit of a wander... I, as you might expect, disagree vehemently. For me, in order for a production to qualify as a promenade, there must be some kind of physical journey that both audience and performers take together. On example of this from Burn The Curtain - Interactive Promenade Theatre Company, that very literally takes you on a journey is their production, 'The Company Of Wolves', based on the stories by Angela Carter...
‘One beast and only one howls in the woods at night’
In a tiny village on the edge of the mountains, a young girl puts on her red shoes and cloak, and heads into the forest alone, watched by unseen eyes. As the shadows lengthen, she begins to run…
Now the hunt begins.
Angela Carter’s classic tale has been adapted by Burn the Curtain and Shiona Morton to be a promenade theatre adventure for runners and walkers. It also includes elements of the author’s stories ‘Wolf-Alice’, ‘Peter and the Wolf ‘ and ‘The Werewolf’.
Join Burn the Curtain in the theatrical re-telling of this dark and mysterious modern classic. We need you to run or walk with us. To help us to sniff out those who have been born feet first, to hunt those who are hairy on the inside…' (www.burnthecurtain.co.uk)
I am always encouraged when there are instructions for what to being and what best to wear too - this tells me I'm in for a proper promenade...
'The route will be between 2 miles for walkers, and 5 miles for runners. The tale will be performed along the way.
To take part in the show, come prepared for physical activity, either running or walking, with appropriate clothing and good footwear. Some of the action will take place in the dark, so bring a torch or head torch if you have one.
There are several route options you can pick the path you want to take at different points in the performance. Choose to be a hunter or a gatherer, fleet of foot or eagle eyed, to pick up the pace, or tread carefully along the forest path.
However, stray from the path for one instant, and the wolves will eat you . . .' (www.burnthecurtain.co.uk)
I once was invited, along with many of my friends and peers, to a promenade performance by contemporary performing artists, Cluster Bomb Collective (http://clusterbombcollective.yolasite.com), during the LivedArt Performance Festival at Falmouth University. This was a rather strange Promenade Performance because it was site-specific while being being held in performance studios. This set up is actually quite common is you strip it down to its essentials, which is a bunch of rooms connected by a corridor or corridors. So for instance, if Cluster Bomb wanted to, they could transfer this performance to any other site that has those things – its not restricted to the studio.
As an audience member in this performance you were very much made to feel like a lab rat, being commanded very authoritatively by the numerous performers in white lab coats who were milling around and all looking very busy. On the floor were coloured lines indicating where we were expected to stand and we were only allowed to move along these and nowhere else. If we strayed from them we were given a sharp talking to by the performers, who very quickly started to resemble the popular idea among the audience of what a nazi scientist might have been like. The first room we were directed to was some sort of processing room. The floor in this room was covered in several different coloured lines all crossing each other and was somewhat reminiscent of the London Underground line map. We were instructed one-by-one to follow certain coloured lines which took you to various processing stations, all manned by more ‘matter-of-fact’ lab coat wearers, where you were weighed, measured, assessed on your balancing abilities and eventually asked to put on overalls and a steri-mask. We were then split in two, and each half of the audience was instructed along different routes around the Performance Centre, into various different studios where more tests were conducted on us; having to resist eating any of the food laid out on a long banquet table for instance. Eventually my group was led into a room where we were finally allowed to do what we wanted, there were costume boxes, silly string, paper planes, all sorts. As we played it was revealed that the other half of the audience was observing us from the window-sided wall of the studio. As we were aware we were being watched, the experiment was declared void and all subjects were to be terminated. It’s possible I may have made that last part up, but seeing as I can’t quite remember how the performance ended, and something in the back of my mind thinks that’s what happened, I’m going to stick with it. After all the point is to provide an example of a promenade performance, how it ends is up to you!
I really love promenade performance, especially as an audience member. It’s a great way of challenging and stretching the audience/performer relationship and establishing new trusts. Both audience and performer become somehow co-dependent on each other, and there is great pleasure in testing this dependency and what you can get away with. This way of performing also has the potential for great play, and provokes a sense of mystery and adventure for the audience that they otherwise wouldn’t get in a conventional seated performance.
I really do recommend this as a way of making work outside the studio that never fails to engage an audience. Give it a go!