Tiny Stadiums is over for yet another year. This year the festival began at PACT in Erskineville on the 4th May with the opening nights of Applespiel’s Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat and Nat Randall’s Cheer Up Kid and culminated in a weekend of Live Art on the streets of Erskineville on May 14 and 15. If it is boring to talk about the weather, please let me bore you for a moment. Sydney had been drowning for months; thus it was some kind of supernatural inspiration that provoked us to move Tiny Stadiums from March to May for the first time this year. The festival culminated on two of the most spectacular days of the year. Bright blue skies, crisp air, warm sunshine: perfect Autumnal weather for wandering around a small village and engaging in all sorts of live art.
LIVE ART WEEKEND:
The Live Art weekend is the defining feature of Tiny Stadiums. We curate the festival with small works that you can engage with simply if you stroll down the street. We love the fact that we drag the art community out of the gallery and into the sunshine. But the really fun thing about the festival is the surprised responses from locals who do not know how to engage with the work because it entirely out of context.
This year the festival’s epicentre was the Town Hall with Dan Koop’s Wish We Were Here project, Lara Thoms’s The Experts Project, Amy Spier’s Meeting Point, Jen Jameison’s popchannel, and Beth Arnold’s Transplanted Surfaces all situated in the hall’s immediate vicinity. While Just down the road we had New Planes Zine Cart, and Keg de Souza’s Gigloo (The Gigloo unfortunately only made a brief appearance, replaced by Drop-in Book Club on Sunday; a marquee in which Applespiel interrogated locals about their favourite and least favourite books). We didn’t have any big performances on the street as in previous years. Most of the works enabled a sort of interesting form of hanging out near Erskineville Town Hall. Meeting Point enabled you to meet people, The Experts Project facilitated conversation, popchannel lured you into a trance and The Gigloo and Book Club allowed you to chill out in the park.
But the festival looked much more static than it was. Lucas Ihlein’s What lies beneath (small soundworks for the sleepy), along with Arnold’s and Koop’s work offset the simplicity of this basic layout. Ihlein’s work found its way into the bedrooms of local residents: they could download sound-art alarm clocks on their smart phones and be woken to the sound of industrial noise. So Tiny Stadiums literally got into bed with its audience this year! As well as this, Beth Arnold’s work was spread out over the entire suburb and a walking tour was required to engage with it. So Tiny Stadiums made its audience do some sight seeing and exercise this year! In Wish We Were Here, Dan Koop hand delivered postcards from festival attendees to anyone within a five-kilometre radius of the Town Hall. So Tiny Stadiums managed to engage and audience of people who didn’t even know about the festival! All in all the Live Art weekend was a great success, and lured hundreds of people outside and onto the streets of Erskineville on a majestically sunny weekend in May.
This year we tried something different with the work down at PACT; the season of shows was longer and had more performances. We treated it more like a traditional theatre than a space for Live Art performances. This gave the shows room to settle into the space and for word of mouth to spread around town before the shows were finished! Applespiel’s new show, Executive Stress/Corporate Retreat, was essentially a corporate skills development conference in the form of a performance; they investigated the hilarious and terrifyingly empty rhetoric of corporate motivational workshops, and built a show on that special kind of spin. It was an experience to participate in a performance like this. But, Applespiel’s show divided the audience in two: those who took part in the Elite Program and those who just watch. Those who take part in the Elite Program are involved in about 90% of the performance and those who watch can be as involved or as passive as they like. On opening night we had a pack of drunken hecklers who felt left out of the Elite Program. But on the second night, a small audience meant that there was no one else to heckle and all the audience was participating in the program. This show divided the audience in another way. Of the people I spoke to, those who participated in the Elite Program were thankful that they weren’t made to undertake tasks that were too traumatising and humiliating. Where as the passive spectators essentially wanted to see dancing monkeys; in other words, they were sometimes disappointed that Applespiel didn’t make the Elite Program participants work harder on the stage. This was the first outing of this great new show, on an important contemporary issue, hopefully it will get further air time around the traps in the coming year.
The second show in the double bill was Nat Randall’s Cheer Up Kid: four short, thematically linked monologues and four different characters (I’m counting the ‘Nat Randall’ character too!). A hybrid of devised performance, traditional character acting, and stand up comedy, this work had audiences crying with laughter and then almost crying. Plenty of people left the show saying it was both completely hilarious one of the saddest shows they’d ever seen. Randall’s performance explores, complicates and (I would say) critiques the distinction between being a child and being ‘childish’, and also by contrast being an adult and acting grown up. Randall has been testing these characters out around various performance mic nights, and this was the first time they all came together under the one neon sign. This work will be seen again around town, to be sure, and keep your eye out for it. One local artist declared ‘Everyone I know should be here seeing this tonight’. We would agree; it is a very clever and unique show.