PULSE FESTIVAL: Made In China
Made In China make theatre that playfully explores the paradoxes of modern identity, by crossing the borders between playwriting and performance art. Our latest show, Gym Party, on at Pulse this Saturday, does so by exploring a particularly big, messy and (we think) universal paradox: our often-secret desire to beat the very people we identify with or need to work with. We made Gym Party with the support of Pulse festival, who co-commissioned it, but also with the support of Pulse's audience, who got to experienced a pretty deranged work-in-progress of the show as we were making it last year.
Highlights of that version of the show included Christopher Brett Bailey attempting to sing a falsetto Video Games by Lana Del Ray while Jess (Latowicki, co-founder of Made In China) lay on the floor and held the lyrics up for him. Last year's work-in-progress also contained the first outing of what has proved to be one of the most uncomfortable, should-I-laugh-or-should-I-cry moments of the show: a section we now simply call 'humiliations'. Everything we did at Pulse a year ago was raw and barely-contextualised. Some of it was material we'd come up with that week or even that day, and we didn't try to link the bits we had together, we just laid them out for the audiences' inspection. It was a relief, I remember, at the time, that the audience seemed to really like what they saw, raw as it was!
Now, lots of elements we tested out a year ago have been stitched into a very logical (though still a bit deranged) structure for the show. Many elements have also been jettisoned - we reckon we throw out something like 80% of what we write during the making of a Made In China show. The big challenge when creating shows in this way is to turn the bits or fragments you have - dialogue, speeches, physical tasks, dances, 'humiliations', whatever - into something completely coherent by the end.
A few weeks after the work-in-progress at Pulse last year, we previewed Gym Party at the Almeida Theatre with an ending (the climax of the third of three rounds of contests) in which Christopher smashed a golf ball out of a terrified Ira Brand's mouth and into the audience. This was an ending we'd been planning for a long time, and we thought we'd found the coherent route for the show to take to get to it. But in fact, thrilling and provocative as it was (average 10 walk-outs per show as Chris set up the golf-smash after a game of violent one-up-manship), this ending was disrupting the coherence of the show.
We were a bit confused. Throughout Gym Party's work-in-progress showings, this was the moment people were most excited by. And in some ways, in a show about how we might be manipulated by media/politicians towards self-defeating competition, it did exactly what we wanted: it provoked the audience to become active, to not accept something unacceptable that's disguised as harmless fun. But eventually we realised we didn't want people protesting during the show, by walking out, shouting out or having a full-blown debate amongst themselves, as they were doing in the previews.
We wanted people to save their outrage, their protest, for outside. We were making the show about the sly, manipulative behaviour of the government and the free market they worship, not about the violence of the carefully-constructed - ie fake - action on stage.
A few days before the premiere of the show at last year's Edinburgh fringe, we came up with a new final contest round to end the show. This round involves a new level of audience commitment, rather than a more ruthless commitment from the contestants. In some ways, it's a gentle ending, but with a big sting in its tail. It brought coherence and a more lingering provocativeness - and it allowed us to finally say the show was finished. But in Gym Party, the competition, its winner and losers, the feeling in the room, all change every time we do it. Each performance is a kind of (very entertaining and thought-provoking) experiment - so we're looking forward to testing it once more at Pulse!
PULSE Festival 2014 runs at New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from Thursday 29 May to Saturday 7 June 2014. Forinformation and tickets visit www.pulseipswich.co.uk