Gob SquadOn Structure
The Gob Squad Reader and the impossible attempt to make sense of it all, ed. Johanna Freiburg, Gob Squad 2010
Your first performances such as House or Work were actually very wild and interactive. Your walk around as an audience member and build yourself a narrative. In contrast, Super Night Shot is a linear sequence of events from a dramaturgical perspective. There is a beginning and an end.
Our work has a clear and defined structure even when, for the audience, it is not always apparent. Many of our pieces (Super Night Shot, Prater Saga3, Kitchen, Revolution Now!) follow a defined dramaturgical arc. Even in Room Service, which is over five hours long, the high points and low points are planned. For example, we deliberately decided that first forty- five minutes should be reserved for the introduction of the basic situation of the performance. Only afterwards is the first contact with the audience made. It’s clear that although we don’t work with linear narratives, a a type of imposed logic is essential to allow progression with a journey or a task. It’s clear why you’re trying to do and there is a neat beginning, middle and end.
The running orders in our pieces are not always laid out linearly or presented frontally (e.g. Work, What Are You Looking At?, Say It Like You Mean It, King Kong Club). As a result, the performers are spectators participating in these works experience them in very different ways. Nevertheless, there are still planned and premeditated moments which structure the work.
Two other examples:
House begins as an installation, a ‘living’ enjoyment, which can be individually explored and visited by the public. The performance is similar in its structure to a net in which points can be individually connected. The open space of House offers a variety of possible paths and directions to walk. Each path leads to a different performance. After about 10 minutes the nature of the performance changes: for the first time, the soundscape acts as a connecting element for all spaces. The performers leave the microcosm of their retrospective rooms and come together at certain points. The installation becomes a performance.
Work was a 40 hours performance. An empty office in city centre was used as a performance venue; it was performed by seven performers for the duration of a working week (Monday to Friday- 9 am to 5 pm). The audience could come and go as they pleased during these times. Work was composed of twelve different scenes, made up total of three and a half hours of material which then looped and repeated over the week. An identical reproduction of the scene was made impossible by the ever changing roles and tasks and the open structure of individual parts which were differently improvised. External factors were added such as telephone calls and faxes. These were build in as unforeseen elements into the performance.
The Four Rs
Much of Gob Squad’s work is based on a creative structure that makes it possible to show the pieces without, as is usual in theatre, reproducing the same sequence of events again and again. A Gob Squad cue list is used more as an arrangement to improvise between the performers or gives a framework for the moments of interaction with the audience or 3 to both set events as well as the unforeseeable. Our main dramaturgical work is to balance reality and form, developing strategies to be able to react to random events within a dramaturgy.
-With the benefit of hindsight you could say that we have a rule of ‘Four Rs’: Rules, Rhythm, Reality and Risk. These are the four key ingredients whether in the theatre or out on the streets. You have to have something of each.
In 1998 we have been touring Close Enough To Kiss on and off for some time. It was a strictly choreographed, highly visual piece with hardly any spoken text and no room for improvisation. The set design was a large box made of see-through mirrored Perspex.
As time went by on the road we felt more and more like robots, performing our tightly controlled movements and actions show after show. It was getting harder to find that spark of inspiration to make each performance unique, removed from the audience in our mirrored aquarium, bound to our intricately structured piece.
One day, shortly before the show, we were sitting on the floor of the auditorium. We had just finished setting the lights and cleaning fingerprints off the Perspex and were having a moment of rest. Inside the box, a cleaner from the theatre was vacuuming the set. We sat there in silence for some minutes watching her vacuum the floor, working her way along the length of the set. As she could only see her own reflection, she was oblivious to us observing on the outside. The show lighting was on, transforming the interior of the box into a stage. The drama that was unfolding before our very eyes had us all gripped, because it was so real. A woman vacuuming a floor had us all utterly transfixed. In stark contrast to all of our own actions in the set, it had nothing to do with pretence, artifice, metaphor or design. It just simply was.
Of course plenty of visual and performance artists had put real people doing real things at the centre point of their art before, but to have such a cleaner example of the power of the real thrust into our faces in our set own set of triggered a paradigm shift in our approach to performance. We had previously used ‘reality’ moments in our work before but from then on we we changed our approach to how we wanted to perform and we always sought to place the ‘real’ at the heart of or work by giving ourselves genuine tasks.
For our next project, What Are You Looking At? We used the same set, the mirrored room, but simply set ourselves the task to ‘be’ in there, not performing, not saying lines, just being a buch of mates, having a good time, really getting drunk, really partying, really loosing it. All this within the physical frame of the reflective room and the framing devices of lighting and sound.
The live installation What Are You Looking At? Is a party in a mirrored box. Five performers are faced with the task or several hours to be in display in a kind of a public aquarium and to amuse themselves as best they can. There is alcohol, a well- stocked record collection, various board games, snacks and a TV. The scenes inside the box are banal. They show familiar domestic situations- a TV dinner, a festive meal or people playing a leisurely game or doing a puzzle. The action is interrupted by individual actors, who stand out for the duration of a karaoke song from the group. On closer inspection, the viewer discovers specific details: the set (the pattern on the carpet, the 80’s pen holder, a vase with flowers) and faces in close- up. The actions in the artificial context are real. There are no pre-prepared texts, no rehearsed or performative acts and only few rules. Over time the growing fatigue and drunkenness of the performers creates an element of reality within the staged situation.
In order to lend rhythm to this ‘reality’ and our improvised games we use the set and pre- arranged moments in time as a means of bringing all of the performers together in small choreographies or composed images or small moments of rest. To the audience member, these set moments occur surreptitiously, which is why the synchronisation looks ‘as if by magic’ to them. We call these moments ‘Magic Moments’ or ‘Harries’. This term was originally a code word which helped us refer to this agreed moment within the improvisation without it being understood by the audience.
The running order of Super Night Shot is based upon a tightly choreographed set of timed moments. The ‘Magic Moments’ are synchronised exactly so that they appear simultaneously on the four screens so that the unity of the four protagonists during the 60 minutes of the show is revealed. As if by magic, the four characters come together for short moments again and again along their individual paths though the urban night. In totally different places all four suddenly dance with umbrellas to Singing In The Rain rap together in a parody of a Hip-Hop video, turn around as if on a merry-go-round and let the urban backdrop fly past or transform themselves simultaneously with the use of animal masks into disco-dancing mythical beasts.
I want to return to the moments of the togetherness in your pieces. At first I saw four people on four screens walking alone through the city, then a synchronised moment comes and all at once there is a feeling of unity. They are sharing something; the same music or a movement that they all make at the same time. Something that makes me as an audience member happy. I am lonesome no more. Are these moments consciously placed? Is the idea ‘There has to be something here, so that you don’t feel so lost’.
-Yes. We found the exact positions and duration of the synchronised moments through a series of Try-Outs and feedback.
-When you establish a frame like this you don’t see it after a while. Another reason for using these moments is that you are able to see the performance space again. We come together and that brings calmness into the piece and/or a sense of magic. It is an effect.
Where do these effects come from? Do you want to create a feeling that things are coming together again? It is a desire for a symmetry in the image, an order in amidst the chaos.
-I think that it has something to do with the fact that the city and the streets are always in a state of flux, always passing you by. We bring these moments in to create a pause. In Saving The World we make portraits of passers-by. The people stand still and you can really look at them. I think that in this way it becomes tangible, a passing of time that an audience can touch, so to speak.
Often running orders in our work are similar to game structures. Rules describe the tasks for the individual performers and define the interaction between them. The list of tasks for What Are You Looking At? was simple but required an awareness of the other performers which was only achieved through working together as a group. This was particularly true for the following rules: 1 – Perform like you really enjoy yourself, let yourself go.
2 – Perform a consciousness for the fundamental voyeuristic situation.
3 – Do not refer to the fact that you are in an art context or that you work in as an artist.
4 – Perform a Karaoke song every seven to ten minutes or so with feeling.
5 – Pose as if for a family portrait or a record
cover and turn your gaze outwards towards the audience.
Dramaturgical rules often serve to increase and facilitate the possibility of development. One example of the rules in Kitchen was ‘SBS NO!’ which means ‘No Spanking, Boobs or Spilling Stuff.’ This reminds the performers not to get too wild or crazy too early on.
Rules are particularly important for the interactions with passers-bv or audience members. An agreement that lasts ‘for the length of a song indicates a simple rule that dictates the start and point of an encounter.
Sometimes rule not only serve as instructions for the performers but also define the essence of a piece. Two of the most important rules for Super Night Shot are: ‘1 – The cameras will shoot continuously. There will be no cuts or edits. If the camera stops running for any reason restart it and show your synchronised watch. 2 – You have the length of the tape before you return to base.
The challenge is to develop a set of rules that work consistently over a period of time and still leave room for development and the unforeseen.
The idea of repeating a performance exactly, evening after evening, in order to achieve perfection is foreign to us as performers. We are not actors or at least do not consider ourselves as such. In place of repetition and perfection we search for freedom, coincidence and risk. A key Gob Squad principle involves making use of the unpredictable, which inherently involves the possibility of failure. Reality breaks through and creates space for consistently new, unformed ideas and improvisations to take place. It is in these moments of suspense for both the public and the performers that the uniqueness of the performance, its evident. That’s the reason why our work priorities open situations rather than sat texts and structures. On the one hand it is a challenge for us but on the other it gives us greater scope to play with.
– In Super Night Shot each evening is very different. The hero could be allocated an exciting task at the beginning of the show and yet in the second half nothing happens. It can also work the other way around.
Risk has become an integral part of our work. The unforeseen and those elements that we don’t/can’t plan and aren’t able to predict make up a large part of what interests us about Performance and Art. In our work we often seek out encounters with passers-by, an interaction with the audience, and the conditions and contingency of the street. We do this because we want to surprise and challenge ourselves and because we want to grow and develop as artists and performers.
-The one hundredth show of Super Night Shot was still as exciting as the first. The uncertainty is still extremely high because you have to be open to what is going on in the streets and, unlike us, the passers-by have not had one hundred performances.
-In contrast to the streets, where the unforeseeable is all around us, we found that we need to increase the element of unpredictability when we are in a black-box space. It can be so rigid, the stage the black-box. You feel too safe.
During Kitchen the performers are gradually replaced by audience members as they consider and cast the spectators as better or more ‘authentic’ version of themselves. In a scene near the end of the performance a performer sits with their audience cast ‘Double’ in a bed and leads a conversation with ‘herself’. The performer speaks to her ‘replacement’ using their own name and asks the spectator intimate questions about their views on life which she then compares again with her own views and gently corrects. At the end of the interview the performer asks her partner if they could imagine doing something again in their lives that they had not planned, something that would surprise them. Directly following this she finally asks the last question: ‘Will you kiss me? ‘If the spectators agrees, a three-minute kissing scene follows (a re-enactment of Andy Warhol’s film Kiss)in which the two performer move their faces in a slow motion way towards each other until their lips finally meet. This kiss takes place behind a projection screen that separates the performers from the audience and it is obviously staged for the camera. Despite this, the situation remains an intimate encounter between two people who are, essentially strangers. The associated excitement is real. For both performers (performer and spectator) this moment represents a gamble that they can only respond to because the conversations between them which lead up to the kiss achieved a mutual trust. The audience witnesses an intimate moment between two people, who for a short while take the risk of opening up to on another.
We’ve got to be able to take risks and get it wrong. We’ve got be able to fall flat on our faces and say: Fuck! That was completely shit!’. The moment that you become complacent you get bored.
We have also made pieces where we realised after a while that they weren’t changing any more, something new wasn’t happening each evening. You realise then that you’ve fallen into a routine and you feel uncomfortable with it. In these cases it is often that the elements of reality have become too small. When this happens we try to change the parameters and ask ourselves ‘what can we make riskier here?’
During the working process we don’t just ask ourselves where the work will be shown but also how long it should it be. This is based on the experience that the time frame can be the driving force of the basic concept of a piece and therefore the duration of the piece can fundamentally change the character performance.
-with House there was a day when we did eight, twenty-minute performances in a day. We wondered what it would have been like if we had carried on.
-If that performance had lasted from morning till night of course it would have been different.
-We thought, what would it be like to do a piece over a week, every day or to show a whole day in the house? So that’s why we thought about the forty-hour week which became the starting point for Work.
Time for us is never arbitrarily chosen but is intrinsically linked to the theme, circumstances a place or a specific situation. Here are some examples of Gob Squad work in which time was the main structural principle. The idea to extend a performance about work over the period of a whole week and, in this way, experience the average eight-hour working day in its entirety was the starting point ofWork. With this increased duration, the performance took on the character of real work. Work could no longer be considered a piece about work, it was work. The performers didn’t go into the office in the morning with the feeling that they would take part in a theatre piece there but rather that they had a hard eight-hour day in front of them and the priority was to get through it.
The time duration of Minutes To Comply was consisted with the title of the performance in that it lasted exactly 15 minutes (the duration of time between trains on the platform where it took place) but it was also a re-appropriation of Warhol’s 15 Minutes Of Fame’ and a comment on the high profile context in which we as group of young artists were being presented.
In Room Service the audience is invited to spend night in a hotel. The performers are isolated in hotel rooms and ask the spectators through phone and camera contact to help them to pass the time (subtitle: Help Me Make It Through The Night. The world outside becomes quieter and quieter. Who can her you now? Who can you call now? Room Service does not tell a story but rather talks about states of being. What is happening is happening in real time. The game is to try and shorten the night and eliminate the loneliness.
The audience members are free to come and go as they please. They can have a drink at the bar or Wander out for some fresh air but often a real bond develops into a commitment that they are willing to share and often they stay.
The duration of Super Night Shot is limited by the length of a video cassette (60 minutes). The film, which we shoot an hour before the live screening(without edits or interruptions), has a clearly defined length that cannot be changed or manipulated. The struggle is to battle against anonymity before the video tape runs out and this time pressure contributes to the drama of the mission.
For Saving The World we restrict ourselves to the length of an entire day (sunrise to sunset) in order to record everything there is in the world and preserve it for posterity. The recording is started and stopped in darkness and condenses one day(form the dawn chorus through the rush hour, lunch time, dusk, the evening mood and nightfall) into a panorama of seven ninety-minute video tapes.
The Dramaturgy of Sound and Music
In the performance of Super Night Shot the sound accompanying the images is faded in and out selectively. It means that we see four performers on four screened but hear mostly from only one of the sound sources at a time. Who decides when each sound source is heard and from which camera it will camera it will come? Is there a sound-mixer boss behind the controls or do you all sit at the mixing desk during the screening?
-With Super Night Shot the sound is the only post-production possibility that we have. The sound designer is seeing the video footage from the four cameras for the first time. They see it at the same time as the performers and the audience. The sound designer dictates the dramaturgy of the evening by turning the sound levels for each camera channel up or down as the film progresses. The performers sit directly in front of the sound designer during the playback. We have worked out a way of communicating with them through hand signals. We give them signs because we know happened to us out there on the streets. Shortly before an interesting moment is about to appear on your screen you raise your arm. If you think there is a moment that shouldn’t be heard you make a time-out sign. In this way we try and help to steer the whole thing. It often happens, however, that all four performers raise their arms at the same time or all give the time-out sign. Then the sound designers for a very long time and have learnt to trust them.
And the music is also done by someone outside the group?
-In Super Night Shot it is the same person
– There is set music for the moments of synchronisation. Sometimes it is totally open what happens these moments for four or five minutes. At these points the sound designer tries to support things with a musical score.
– The sound designers we work with have a bag full options just like the rest of us. In this case, it is a bag of music
Because the soundtrack for Room Service is comprised predominantly of music, atmospheric and background sound, the different room activates could be perceived alongside each other like different video clips or silent films as running parallel to one another. At the same time, the soundtrack gives rise to a wide variety of possibilities: the performers, on hearing the same soundtrack in their rooms, can join in sign the lead part of the song, dance to the music, speak or read rhythmically to it or purposefully choose an action that counteracts it. The performers can decide to follow the soundtrack for a while, only to leave it in the next moment, so that the audience is confronted with images that are diametrically opposed: a soft, smoochy song becomes the background to a suicide attempt, the sound of the sea provides the background for an orgy of screams, a heavy metal song becomes a lullaby…the audio element in Room Service is comparable to the effect of film music but the principle works the other way around: the images are not written over with music after the event but rather made up of reactions to the music. The soundtrack forms a unifying context through which we perceive these different images as part of a whole. We see things from different perspectives under the common title ‘One Night in a Hotel’.