Meng Jinghui, artistic director of the Beijing International Fringe Festival, personally invited our creative team to create a new piece for the 2014 season. Although we we had very limited means, we looked at this unexpected offer as a chance to explore an idea we had for some time: What is the bare minimum we need to make theatre? At this point, we returned to our design-based method of creation based on the questions and nature of humanity, resulting in Labyrinth: Defining Humanity. Using a Provost Faculty Fund grant, I traveled to Beijing for this thrilling opportunity.
Labyrinth is a unique piece where the audience makes the play. Before the performative parts of the piece were invented, we collected answers from a widely-distributed survey asking questions designed to take a person through the journey of their own inner life. We used the responses to create the basis for what would happen during the play. This piece asks the audience to become and make the play by inviting them to consider and act on their own humanity, both individually and collectively, by exploring a series of environments we called “stations.” When the audience enters the space, they are surrounded by a low-lit white surround covered in video feed of questions and answers from the survey. As they acclimate to the space, they are then lead in smaller groups through the “stations” for different experiences we called Sound, Hopes, Wishes, Map of Important Questions, Family Meal, and The Most Difficult Question. Throughout all these experiences, there is a live feed camera roaming the space, broadcasting live on the surrounding walls. Suddenly, and apocalyptic event occurs where audience members are eliminated from participation either voluntarily or randomly as they “die.” As they “die” and move into audience seating, they see that only a few are left underneath a parachute shelter. These survivors are left to consider the last question: What will you bring to help build humanity? This unique immersive experience garnered a lot attention from both audiences and press. Labyrinth was featured on the Chinese evening news as well as the Chinese national newspaper and a number of online news outlets. It was ranked in the top eight shows of the entire festival with over fifty productions adjudicated.
LABYRINTH WORK STATEMENT:
“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but ... life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
In this work, we are inspired by the ways in which we have ability to reify our own origins through the process of reflection as an individual and communal act. How can we practice continual awakening and renewal of perspective in this time of consumption and living for the sake of comfort? We believe that this process is one that comes only from deep personal reflection. As theatre makers, we revel in community and believe that profound connection is made when the meeting is made with individuals who have access to this practice of contemplation.
Why is this theatre? The Greek word “theatron,” which the word “theater” is derived from, means A PLACE OF SEEING. What happens in most theatre productions is the process of modeling - where actors perform characters with whom the audience might have resonance. They play out their lives, and we watch their specific reasons for action. We see them as a model for us, as a stand-in for us, perhaps experiencing what we already have - or never will - as a way to connect us to the rules of human behavior through observation. We are interested in the audience member having the creative power of SEEING WITHIN without the explicit models of characters and actors on stage. We wonder what are the possibilities for the human imagination when given prompts as opposed to model. We hope to inspire our audience to reflect deeply on their lives in order to be present in the now, and to face their future.
We are collecting sources and impulses from our international community of family, friends, and acquaintances in order to build an ever growing Collective Hive Mind that seeks to determine humanity’s history through personal memory. We believe in the specificity of diverse experience as a component to understand the epic nature of the human being.
The Beijing Fringe Festival was established in 2008 with the purpose of nurturing young theatre talent, introducing outstanding theatre work by young people, promoting the development of a flourishing theatre scene in China, and fostering international exchange among young theatre practitioners. Since 2008, the Beijing Fringe Festival has launched many young practitioners of exceptional talent and presented a large selection of excellent original works. In the past six years, the Festival has hosted 276 productions by young theatre artists from China and all over the world, and held numerous play readings, acting workshops, theatre forums, stage design exhibitions and other public event s. To date, almost 5,300 youths have participated in the Beijing Fringe Festival, almost 230,000 audience
members have attended Festival performances, and almost 31 ,000 have taken part in the public educational activities organized by the Festival. Beijing Fringe Festival productions have been shown in prominent international festivals in Asia, Europe, America, and Australia. The Beijing Fringe Festival has established itself as Asia's largest theatre festival. It has provided an even greater number of young gifted artists with a favorable creative environment and a platform for international exposure and interaction. It has strengthened creative cooperation with international art festivals and organizations, and has become an important gathering for young people from all over the world to connect, communicate, and collaborate.