Wednesday, 22 June 2017
When you google ‘Wakefield’, two things come up (at least in my tailor-made search engine: Wakefield, the 2016 American film starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner about a man who suddenly disappears from his successful job, beautiful family and house in the suburbs only to live a life in his attic spying on his neighbours, wife and kids and scavenging for food at night; and a mysterious news story about a burnt out ute parked on the side of the road just outside of Newcastle NSW in a small town called Wakefield where the remains of a badly-charred body sat on the driver’s seat. At first, it is hard to know to what extent these cultural phenomena play a role in the interactive show appropriating the same name but eventually, a sense of the inexplicable, the absurd, bleeds into the space and these references to ‘Wakefield’ fall into a space of recognition.
Self-awarded ‘Most Disruptive New Media Company 2017’ (curiously Polish-named) ‘Sekrit Projekt’ premiered their most recent work Wakefield: LIVE spearheaded by Laurence Rosier Staines on Wednesday night. The cast starring Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brenden Hooke, Jane Watt, Pierce Wilcox and Hayley Sullivan remained somewhat unclear as they roved through the cordoned-off places in the room mingling with audience and technicians alike. But this vagueness, this inability to decipher performer from spectator or scripted line from improvisation, was part and parcel of this piece and a credit to these energetic actors. Upon entering, we are invited to be interactive, post away on the website – photos, comments, insta, tweets, anything! Obediently, I post a picture I spotted pictured on a wall of what I feel is an appropriate quote for the moment: ‘I could either watch it happen or be part of it’. I had clearly opted to be part of it.
The social ‘live’ environment was seamlessly built – in real time – by Digital Designer Catalina Gouverneur, Digital Producer Kelly Pickett and Technicians Thomas Hellier and Alex Wilson who enabled ‘live’ broadcasts via a ‘live’ feed and the ‘live’ management of their Facebook page ‘Sekrit Projekt’. The show is split into a triptych of instructive scenes wherein spectators are cast as the successful applicants and now current interns of a new media company ‘Demand Live’, the idea being to generate content within ’15 minutes’ before sharing a news update online – a ‘livecast’ – with their ‘fans’. As the program notes state, ‘Web3.0 start-up DEMAND has already DISRUPTED the media landscape (“Demand scares us” – Buzzfeed)’. Indeed.
Content made during these strictly-timed 15-minute slots, ranges from women giving birth to emojis and blown-up flamingos to in-house protests about new media law reform (regarding the actual ‘2 out of 3 rule’ and the actual ’75 per cent audience reach rule’). The segment on media law reform is complemented (or ‘validated’?) by excerpts from Judge Judy and swiftly followed by an announcement of forthcoming new dating app with yet-to-be-finalised name Vindr or Totally Vindicating, whereby a ‘live’ video swipe is the key feature. With each ‘livecast’, tension mounts between a senior producer (Gordon-Anderson) and news presenter (Watt) who bicker over the quagmire of the contemporary news media industry. Walkley-awarded journalist Tamara (Watt) cares about responsible, ethical reportage whereas her boss, it seems, cares about social media ‘likes’ and profit margins. (And yes, it does recall that episode of Black Mirror…)
The climax arrives when in the aftermath of Tamara being suddenly fired, a blackout strikes the studio and a silent darkness implodes in the space dotted only with the odd smart phone beam. Clearly, their production work must stop because with no power, they can do nothing – in fact, there is nothing. We are asked to sit on the ground. After some moments, a slight figure begins strangely shuffling through the crowd and then curling his body into such an unfamiliar shape it beckons the question from a disembodied voice amongst us: ‘What are you doing?’ No answer. This body in dim light presses itself to a wall. I take a photo admiring the soft, fading, angular, morphing shadows and hesitate to post it on the website upon realising it would undermine the farce of the blackout. I post.
I post the image not only because it captured a poignant wordless moment but to voice my own rebellion in this otherwise didactic situation. Suddenly, another body bolts through the darkness and fuses with the figure pressed against the wall. Squirms and grunts inflect this sexual act of absurdity. But these bodies too succumb to the pervading void around them, sliding down onto the floor, still again. Some seconds pass and Vlad (Wilcox) the most celebrated presenter of the team for his production of popular videos (remember the flamingo?), one of which sacredly ‘goes viral’, stands behind us and delivers a heartfelt speech. Slow words of and embodied with chilling honesty seem especially profound in contrast to the laughs elicited minutes earlier. Tamara (Sullivan) who had left the space to check the source of their blackout, returns in the body of another. This is a new Tamara (Sullivan not Watt) but with the same sense of care. She checks on her colleagues, ‘Are you OK?’ she asks around her before calling on everyone to leave the building.
We exit, stage left. There is no applause. After all, it was us who created the material.
Photo credits: Audiences of Wakefield: LIVE 21, 22, 23 and 24 June 2017.