Next Wave

The Commonwealth Games here in Melbourne brought thousands of athletes and officials to town. It also brought a bevy of pin-wearing, aqua-clad volunteers who over-eagerly pointed people in random directions and man-handled them into trams and buses. Lanyards became the hottest accessory, with the fashion-conscious finding ways to wear them like a rifle slung over the shoulder. With something like $15 million in funding, the arts festival that coincided with the Games brought endless amounts of FREE music, dance, circus and theatre. Getting to see the shows involved lining up for hours for the limited seats, so alas, the time-poor comme moi, had to make do with tastes of street-art brilliance (Five Angry Men doing “The Bells” was a highlight).

Coinciding with all this was the Next Wave festival for emerging artists, which also received some Games funding. Going along to the opening of one of the centrepieces of Next Wave, The Container Village, was initially as much about the prospect of meeting fashionista artists and drinking free beer as it was about artistic integrity. The Village was a disused warehouse in the old docklands filled with a two-level agglomeration of around 50 empty shipping containers, each given over to the use of a particular artist or group. The opening was packed with black-clad chics but the feeling was of excitement, friendliness and warmth … maybe it was the cask wine talking. In any case, I found out that one of the containers was vacant in the second week of the festival. After about two seconds of careful consideration, I decided that this was a criminal case of lost opportunity and so i approached one of the associate producers and said “We’ll use it!”. By “we”, I meant the band of five friends from VCA who I’d managed to convince in the preceding ten seconds. What would we do? We’d improvise. Using the non-verbal, non-literal method of improvisation called Pulse, that we’d worked on last year, we’d create four 1-hour-long pieces of theatre. The shipping container, open on one side, had a thrust stage with rudimentary lighting and a PA and our improvised pieces would be like installations that people could watch for a bit and then move on and come back to. There was no seating for the audience, we would just be another exhibit in a warehouse full of installations.

There followed the most ridiculously exhausting and exhilarating weekend of my recent memory. Hot weather and a tin shed make for sweaty work, especially when you’re doing improvised physical theatre for an hour at a time. We allowed the Games’ spirit to infect our clothing … sweat bands and sports gear … and just as well, see the photos for the glistening sheen of perspiration. It was all worth it. We came up with some great stuff, especially in the last session (when we’d really got in sync), I found muscles i’d forgotten i had and we had people standing or sitting on the asphalt for forty minutes watching us, which was a great surprise. The organisers were thrilled with us. So, yes, a good thing.