D-I-Y PER FOR MANCE
Conceived and performed by Nika Leskovšek
Première December 1st, 2014 (private studio)
Running time dependent on the spectators and chance (1 hour 30 minutes to 3 hours)
WHAT I SAW
Prior to attending this piece, I knew several things: 1. The performance would be interactive (gulp). 2. I am one of four audience members (double gulp). I steeled myself to be uncomfortable. I hate being uncomfortable.
Upon arrival at the Maribor Puppet Theatre, I am greeted with a sign on the door that tells me a bit more: DIY Per-For-Mance is a game. To win the game, one must make a play.
We are lead away from the theater, up a flight of stairs, and into a small back room behind the theater’s puppet shop. We meet a young woman, Nika Leskovšek, sitting in front of a board game. We take our seats. She explains the rules of the game: we will make our way around the gameboard, collecting information about the elements of our play as we advance (the elements modeled after Aristotle’s 6 elements of drama). Along the way, we may land on spots with numbers on them. Those numbers correlate to one of Georges Polti’s 36 dramatic situations. When that happens, we receive said situation and must accomplish a task on the card.
I know what you’re thinking: how can this be fun to anyone who isn’t a dramaturg? Ok, I must admit, I am a dramturg. And I had fun. But I don’t think one must be true for the other to also be true here. Read on to find out why.
Nika brings us coffee and we begin writing notes on our play, on a piece of paper split up into six sections (for the 6 elements) We pick our “characters,” (game board pawns – I pick a metal shoe). We roll the dice to begin.
As we move forward on the board, we pick additional cards that give us additional ingredients for our play. For example, place: my play will take place at the Ljubljana Slovenian National Theatre (which apparently has the biggest budget in Slovenia). And character – my characters will be “characterless.” Despite myself, something begins to materialize in my brain. A bar. A love story. Movement-based, perhaps?
I land on a situation: #15. Murderous adultery. I’ve fallen in love with my sibling’s spouse and have killed my sibling to get to her spouse! I must receive punishment from whomever lands on situation #14, as that person was my victim. Her ghost will avenge her death, I suppose. As it turns out, one of the other players had just landed on 14. So she doles out her punishment, which must relate to my play: I tell her it’s a play in a bar. She tells me I must get my audience drunk. Fine by me.
After these situations, I decide ghosts will be in my play. It’s a story of unrequited love. Ghosts of lovers past haunt the couple in question.
I’m getting attached to my play. I realize this when I land on Situation #20: self-sacrifice for an ideal. I must either get rid of one of my characters or move back on the board a significant number of spaces. I find I cannot sacrifice a character – I move back on the board.
Then, the toughest situation - #6. Disaster, a major change or overthrow. We all must change seats, and in doing so, take ownership over the plays our fellow players were developing. I’m so sad to see my bar play go! I was going to use my huge budget to buy the audience good beer and whiskey shots in the dark underbelly of the fancy theater!
I’m surprised at how hard it is to move on. But move on I must.
I end up with a play about a woman who finds a cat and decides to take the cat home, even though her husband hates cats. Over the course of the game, a refugee was added to her cast, a character she took from another player’s play. The play was to be presented in the Off-Off Scene, was to be an Absurdist drama, with queer characters, involving bread and circuses, of the avante-garde tradition.
We get to the end of the board, and have a few minutes to take our elements and put together an outline for our play. I decided my piece will be site specific. It will begin in cars. 7 cars, to be exact. In each, a woman is driving in a car, and she sees a cat on the side of the road and MUST pick it up and take it home. The cat is played by a human. The same scenario plays out in each of the seven cars, and then all show up at the same house, at the same time. At this house there are then 7 wives, and one “husband” (female). The husband does not like cats. As it turns out the cats are actually refugees. The husband is...Europe? The wives are...specific countries? Hilarity ensues?*
We are told to vote on each of the pieces, and the winning piece would be submitted to Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture for funding. Mine does not win, but no matter. I’ll see what Single Carrot thinks of my car/cat/refugee play.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size: Cast 1F (Nika herself)
Touring Size: Nika and 1 technician, 2 in total
Minimum/Maximum height/width/depth of stage: no specific requirements
Cartage Information: Fits in a suitcase.
Translation Options: performance exists in English.
Representing Agent: Nika Leskovšek
The Future: Performing on Saturdays through February 2016. Contact Nika Leskovšek (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information on future productions.
Availability: DIY Performance will be available for touring through at least 2018.
Special Note: Performance is for an audience of 4 at a time.
Director and Conceivor: Nika Leskovšek
Nika Leskovšek is a freelance dramaturg and theorist. She is involved in contemporary performance art in all its forms, be it in theory or practice. Leskovšek regularly contributes to Maska, Dnevnik, Sodobnost and other journals and magazines. Currently, she holds a Taras Kermauner Foundation Fellowship. In 2013, Leskovšek and the creative team of the performance Vaje iz Tesnobe (directed by J. A. Vojevec) received the Borštnik Award for collective achievement .
WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
From Bilten the Maribor Theatre Festival Newsletter
Yeeey! I finally got the chance to concretise all the mysteries, and elusive and abstract aspects of this participatory performance. D-i-Y Per for MANCE is a brilliant mixture of dramaturgical theories, experiential learning, developing your own creativity, with an added chance to have a peek behind the scenes. The beginning was a true puzzle. In every aspect. Actually, the participants were guessing for a while whether this beginning has actually started a performance already. We were casually offered a cup of coffee and tea, which was accompanied by a relaxed chat. But the imaginary reality awaits - the stage manager started urging us to do some serious work. We were on our way to craft our very own performance. Of course, the very nature of such work permits for moments of creativity crisis. And the strategy on how to successfully overcome it could be forged in the Bar. During the entire process each participant faces different challenges. These challenges can even be similar sometimes or even completely the same. But since each individual makes different choices with the offered combination of destiny, fortune, knowledge and its own resourcefulness, the results are often quite unique, in spite of the same challenges faced (some would say obstacles). You must come and see for yourself, you might even learn a thing or two about life! -Danijela Sekej
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
As I already mentioned, I was very surprised at how engaged I became in this piece. The experience was confusing at first: I wasn’t exactly sure what we were supposed to do with our first card. Did we have to write a play right on the spot? My fellow players were writing furiously and I hadn’t written a thing! Nika, our dramaturg and guide, tried to assure us that we’d figure it out as we went, but there were a few elements lost in translation at first. (She translated the entire game into English for us, and on the whole it worked well, after these initial hiccups).
Still, as time went on, things became clearer. As our confusion decreased, our investment increased. The four of us playing got into a rhythm, started to feel connected to one another and the works we were creating. Nika was helpful and sweet, offering context for certain aspects (like the various theaters, since we were all international guests), encouraging us to have fun and be creative.
I found this piece to be exciting for a couple of reasons: first, it invites audiences to be artists, and offers them the tools with which to do so. Second, it does so in a very un-threatening way, in a mode with which we’re familiar: a board game. I was very nervous about having to get up on my feet and act, but I am always up for a good game. Further, Nika worked to make us feel comfortable, with coffee, and later booze (there was a situation that resulted in banishment to a bar and a missed turn, which also came with a shot of Yaegermeister).
I walked away from the piece excited about what I came up with, reminded that I have the ability to be creative when I give myself the opportunity to do so, and more aware of my specific creative impulses. I also got a sense of what can happen through collaboration, as my final piece was, finally, a group effort, consisting of elements by Nika and my fellow players.
I was also impressed with the subtle ways in which Nika offered her audience – us – a sense of how the theater industry works in Slovenia through the game. The fact that our shows were influenced by where they were produced, and the final stipulation that winning the game did not guarantee a production (as it was dependent on funding from the Ministry of Culture) was informative indeed. To offer audiences a little taste of the joys and challenges of making theater in Slovenia makes better, more engaged audiences – not passive observers but active participants. When I worked at a regional theatre, these were the kinds of audiences we daydreamed cultivating, and indeed attempted to through various pre-show and post-show engagement offerings. It was exciting to see theatrical piece where this kind of engagement was built into the performance itself.
Overall, I was impressed by the thoughtful construction of this game and its creator’s guidance through it. I found it to be a very smart piece of participatory theater, and I’m excited to see what else this young artist has cooking.
* If you’ve already read my writing on Europe, know this: I played this game before seeing that play. The parallels are purely coincidental. I swear!