Right now, Forced Entertainment's Quizoola is being performed, and also live streamed, from the Barbican. The performance started last night at 11.59pm and ends tonight at 11.59pm.
Quizoola involves two performers on a stage. They both have clown faces painted on. One asks the other questions from reels of paper. The questions are formulated by artistic director and member, Tim Etchells, and in this case, by the general public too. The other answers the questions. They alternate this process at different points.
Truth or fiction, we don't know but we're drawn in all the same - probably more so by this uncertainty. The six members, who have been performing together for over 25 years (and you can tell - the connection is visible and lovely), alternate in and out. The audience are also free to come and go as they please.
The first performance I watched by Forced Entertainment was Bloody Mess. It was my first year (2008), and maybe my first term, at university. The tutor knew the company and she knew their work - and this DVD was the introduction to them she had chosen for us.
I'd always gone to the theatre - to see mostly musicals but also new plays. I'd never seen any contemporary performance - I wouldn't have known what that meant or where to look for it.
I didn't know what had hit me. I was drawn in. In a line, the performers introduced themselves. They were performing versions of themselves and I hadn't seen that before. They were funny and they were sexy, sometimes both at the same time (yes, I'm talking about Claire Marshall).
Then it descends into chaos. Chairs being placed, removed, thrown. Claire in a gorilla costume. Attempts at storytelling, maybe it was about how something works, but there are interruptions and continuing chaos and undercutting, and competition.
I wasn't completely sold. I loved moments but as a whole I didn't know how to take it. I was also scared to voice those opinions - as if I wasn't intelligent or arty enough to get it or to talk about it.
We watched more of their work and I grew to love them. I had a favourite member. Moments of their work (Cathy's suicide speech in Showtime) stayed with me permanently.
I saw them live in 2010, when we went to see The Thrill of it All. It split opinions amongst the group, and also the audience - some of whom walked out. I thought it was funny and sort of wonderful. I loved moments of it but some sections went on too long - and I wondered if that was the point, for me to feel wound up - and that confused me.
I read their book, Certain Fragments. It described their process, and how they thought about their process. It was written beautifully and it was poetic. It was one of my favourite things I read at university. I didn't read it properly in my first year, but I came back to it a year or two later and bloody loved it.
I think today, and last night, I've really got Forced Entertainment like I haven't before. There's something about being told to watch a performance DVD as part of a course that, even though you enjoy it - it's work. Then you sit there, and as it's work, you feel like you have to watch the whole thing. Whereas the point of a durational piece is that you can come and go - and that almost heightens the experience.
That's how my watching of the live stream has been. I watched a few hours last night, then this morning, some more this afternoon and now this evening. It's addictive. It's absorbing and you don't want to leave.
There's also the shared experience of live streaming. I liked that about the Olympics - that we all watched the same telly and talked about it on Twitter. There's something nice about that and that's happened with this - people sharing their enjoyment of the medium and reposting particularly interesting questions. I went to bed, woke up and the performance and the conversation were still going on. It brings people together. We're included and we're part of it.
It's a shame that people who may have seen the live streaming, without knowing the work of the company, may wish to go and explore past works and that's difficult. DVDs of each production are on sale but at £45 each it becomes financially implausible - and restricts past work to students who have access via tutors and their library, or by visiting somewhere like LADA - which takes effort.
I like the beauty of people being able to try something like this via live streaming. I think a lot of contemporary performance can benefit from this approach - people are wary of buying tickets for things they don't think are for them. This gives you the chance to try something new out, and to see that something like Quizoola can be alluring and addictive, whether for five minutes or five hours - regardless of your knowledge of the company or the art form.
There's something about the interview process that draws us in. Perhaps it's because we're vain - it makes us want to answer these personal questions about ourselves. Perhaps it's because we want to play - we know the actual answers.
The performance is now into what I think is its 21st hour. The company are tired. They don't know what the time is or if it's raining outside. They probably don't know just how many people are watching. They're faced with the same questions again - maybe they realise and maybe they don't. They must be exhausted. Laughter begins and questions and intonation become more bizarre.
The questions flit between the intellectual, the silly, the surreal, the personal and the everyday. They answer creatively, intelligently (at times) and often absurdly, but without regard or surprise at the nature of the question. We at home can think "crikey, that's a good question", but they crack on with answering. It's a different way of conversing and you feel yourself taking it on.
There's just a few hours left to go. I'm looking forward to the last hour - seeing the performance come to it's anti-climactic climax. A part of me wants to watch the latest episode of Girls, but I know I'll keep watching as I can't quite stop. I feel like now to watch a pre-recorded and pre-written piece of telly will feel very odd and a little inadequate. Plus I want to savour this very particular kind of liveness.
A very limited number of questions asked during Quizoola:
When are you going to do your good material?
Why do men like that girls that lisp?
Why do people close their eyes when they sing?
Have you ever walked out of a performance by Theatre De Complicite?
Why do people take pictures of their food?
Why are people are so conservative with what they do with their shoes?
When does a colleague become a friend? / When you sleep with them, sexually.
Is sorry really the hardest word?
What is a home? / Wherever you lay your hat. / What if you don't have a hat?
Do you mind if I ask you a question?
What tastes good with fennel?
Are you tired? Are you thirsty? Do you need a lie down? Do you need the toilet? Would you like a beer?
Are you scared of not being able to get to the toilet in time?
Do you want to stop?
"They had this game with the audience, that's for sure. A game of drawing them in and pushing them away. Teasing them with meaning..."
Etchells, T. (2008). Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment. London: Routledge. 65.