Quizoola! – swimming against the stream

An Image of the performers of Quizoola! Photograph:  Hugo Glendinning

Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

I’ve just returned from a half week away from home. This may not sound like much but it consisted of a lot of to-ing and fro-ing around the country in order to attend a bunch of things that all seemed to want to happen at the same time. I got to see and experience pretty much everything I wanted to, and will write up those things in other posts here. The trip was filled with time compromises mainly based on the two to three hours it seems to take to get from one major city to another. A conference in Cardiff and a festival in London, back and forth. The only train I wish I’d missed was the one taking me away from London, in particular away from the 24 hour performance of Forced Entertainment‘s Quizoola! hosted at the Barbican as part of Spill Festival.

Performance

I’ve been reading about the show after experiencing it by clicking links on the #Quizoola24 Twitter feed leading to fragments by Tim Etchells here and here – and the programme notes; a great article by Jonathan Kalb, and this blog by Matt Truemann (and another here, by William Drew). This is in much the same way I obsessively read episode guides and Wikipedia articles on tv shows and films I like immediately after seeing them. As if I want them to carry on after they’ve finished, or I’m worried that I’ve missed something important.

“Is inspiration floating about in this room?”

“Not at the moment”

I like things that sound important or significant. I think it might be a hang-over from reading too many things into song lyrics when I was younger. One of the particular joys I get from Forced Ents more heavily text based pieces is how much meaning, emotional value or simply ‘story’ I can get from the smallest thing. The play text from Speak Bitterness (a version of which is found at the end of Certain Fragments) consists of hundreds of confessional statements – reading each one ignites a history which quickly collapses as the next is read, (confession: I’ve never seen the piece, but  now I’m hoping for a 24 hour version at the Barbican soon).

Tim Etchells tweeted about Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait which looked interesting enough to buy unseen. It’s described so “In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Levé hides nothing from his readers, setting out his entire life, more or less at random, in a string of declarative sentences.” I dip into it. It’s hard going, requiring a significant effort despite its simple form. The ‘simple declarative sentences’ motif appears in Sight is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First, and reads like a riff. Quizoola! turns this into question and answer dialog – adding danger, failure and tension – yet somehow keeping significance.

Watching it is addictive, it’s a page-turner on stage. A stage-turner. I keep wanting to shout out answers, whilst simultaneously feeling prematurely mortified as if I already had. It is utterly, utterly clown, albeit with more words than usual. It lives entirely in the present.

“Can you name six lies which are commonly told to children?”

“If you don’t go to sleep you won’t grow. Go to school, you’ll like it. Nobody thinks you look funny in those trousers. Carrots are good for you. Of course you’re clever …”

Streaming

It’s a brilliant and compelling piece of performance, a Simple Idea wonderfully executed. Of course it helps that the people doing it are very good at being Forced Entertainment – they’ve had their 10,000 hours practice (sometimes 6-hours at a time). There’s something else special in this instalment though; not only have questions been solicited from the audience and the wider world – submitted by email or twitter from days or months before and even during the performance – but the whole 24-hours is live streamed.

I always feel a certain sense of trepidation about Live Streamed Performance. Video of performance rarely seems to capture what was going on in the space – they’re a subtle, shallow mis-representation of a live event. I have DVDs and tapes of shows, but when I watch them back they function more as an aide-memoir – helping me to relocate how they made me feel and think at the time. I’ve helped stream performances before. With equipment stuck together with string and tape, and trying to emulate the way its done by the National – all swooping cameras on dollies and armatures, multiple jump-cut images from close-up to carefully framed wides. Our cameras don’t move much, but the cinematic aesthetic seemed to be the right way to do it. (We have a better setup now – blackmagic and HD – which I’m hoping will make a difference).

“When are you going to do the good material?”

Quizoola!24 was framed with one HD camera which alternated between a relatively close-up shot of the two performers, and a relatively wide shot showing the red neon QUIZOOLA! sign and a smattering of audience figures. On occasion one shot would gently change to another. Simple. And yet watching this stream was every bit as engrossing as the live performance. That’s not to say they’re the same thing: in the room there’s breath and sweat, the 3d sounds of the other audience members – laughter, a cough, some shuffling in the chairs. A strong feeling of being with others. Witnessing the q&a become one minute interrogation, the next pub chat.

The live stream is a flat 16:9 framing of the action, the sound picks up the performers voices, some of the louder audience noise and an ambiant hum of something electronic. And it’s addictive. I leave the show, pick up my bags from the hotel and head to Euston to catch my train home – and when I get to the station and wait, I tune into the Quizoola! live-stream. I watch and listen to it for most of the rest of the night. When the 3G coverage fails to sustain the stream, I read and write tweets about it. Even when I walk from the station to my home, I stick the phone in my pocket and listen to the audio.

“Do you think Danny Boyle should direct Margaret Thatchers closing down ceremony?”

“I think he could do the evening event”

Social

In the Barbican Pit my clever phone had no coverage at all – a neat inversion between the digital/social streaming experience and the live/present audience experience. Once outside the room, there was plenty of Twitter fun to be had – some of which is blogged about by Megan Vaughan here. I’m sure there was a spike in Twitter following activity, too (certainly there was on my part), as water-cooler chats around a shared adventure led like-minded folk to each other. Arty speed-dating.

Tom Langford ‏@bonniethetech 13 Apr Am I the only one of my Theatre friends who's not watching Quizoola? I did catch some in bed this morning which was quite surreal.

simon stephens ‏@StephensSimon 13 Apr I think I may well spend the next six hours as it pisses down outside watching #quizoola24  It is the only thing that makes sense any more.

Eve Nicol created a Twitter word-cloud which has my name almost as big as Simon Stephens’ which made me feel pretty good.

Jenna Omeltschenko ‏@JenChenko 13 Apr I want to live in #Quizoola24 land forever. I want this to happen all the time.

“When’s it going to end?”

“Tomorrow”

“When is it going to be finally over?”

“Tonight”

The End Bit

There always seems to be a gap between the expectations of a live-stream and the pay-off. A gap between how something works in-the-flesh and how something works on-screen. With Quizoola!24 Forced Entertainment have created something that people want to take part in wherever they are – sitting in front of a couple of clowns, sat in the pub or the park on a smart phone or a smart TV. I’ve not experienced this much social in my social media before, and it makes the future a little more comforting.

“Do you want to stop now?”

NO.