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ANT HAMPTON DISCUSSES AUTOTEATRO

ANT HAMPTON is a writer, director, and theater-maker who founded ROTOZAZA IN 1998. Since then he has collaborated with many artists to produce 'autoteatro' shows FOCUSed ON THE USE OF INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO UNREHEARSED 'GUEST' PERFORMERS, BOTH ON STAGE AND IN PUBLIC SETTINGS. HIS WORK HAS BEEN PRODUCED IN OVER 48 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. HIS MOST recent PIECE THE EXTRA PEOPLE just premiered in Philadelphia and opened in New york this past weekend.

Odyssey Works: Why create experiences?

Ant Hampton: It's a good question, seeing as we cannot avoid having experiences, as humans, pretty much all the time! But therein probably lies the answer. Following the dictum that art should be a whetstone against which the mind is kept sharp, I like to think of the experiences I make (or more accurately, envisage) are something more like tools for navigating our own lived experiences and realities, interior or exterior.

OW: What are you trying to do with your work?

AH: I can't answer that question meaningfully without going on for too long - it's so wide open. I'd need to address particular works, and there are too many now.  But perhaps what I write above and below will go some way towards a hint of an answer.

OW: What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the artwork itself located?

AH: A lot of my recent work I've put under the umbrella 'Autoteatro' which basically means ‘self theater’: performances which are embodied by the audience itself. There are two key elements - on one hand, an automatic structure. There are no actors or anyone doing things for you once it has started. The performances are prerecorded structures as text, audio or video. The other element is that there is nobody really involved with you who isn’t sharing the experience or, especially, the risk. Nobody just watching who isn’t also in that state of not-knowing about what’s coming next. That is important for me because I think the awkwardness, or horror, of participatory theatre comes from situations when, for example, you get invited on stage and there are actors who know what’s “supposed to happen” and a big audience of spectators safely uninvolved and watching from the dark.

The Extra People, photo by Britt Hatzius

The Extra People, photo by Britt Hatzius

So behind Autoteatro there's a kind of contract, based on what I hope is a good understanding of what it means to be at risk in a performance situation. This also comes from the 8 years of work I did in / as Rotozaza - shows like Bloke (1999), Ooff (2003), Doublethink (2004) - where the performers were different every time and agreed to follow instructions in front of an audience. The idea is usually not for the performer to be clever or inventive in the vein of improvisation or actor games, but rather willingly exposed or disarmingly honest. As Tim Etchells puts it, "When we see performers making live decisions we get to see them revealed, we get to see them 'truthfully' in some way that is at the very edges and the very heart of theatre."  In my work, the audience is usually discovering everything at the same time as the performer.

There is nobody really involved with you who isn’t sharing the experience or, especially, the risk.

Where is the artwork located? This is interesting to me because a lot of my recent work is pre-recorded - you could say it's located on the iPod, or the hard drive - but of course that misses the point that the audio is just a trigger for a live event, which is embodied by the participants and taken away as memory. In that (final) sense, I don't see much difference with other forms of theatre or performance. Yes, this kind of work asks people to interact, but if it doesn't tap and expand the possibilities of liveness which we know from any number of theatre and performance practices, then the inter-acting audience won't have anything to go away with. I suppose what I mean is, it's about the quality of interaction and participation - they do not in themselves offer new forms.

The same could go for the term 'immersiveness'. In my experience 'immersive theatre' can often be simply an extreme version of conventional, representational theatre. I don't mind representation as such - but if I'm interested in the experience of being 'taken away', it's usually as something to build up in order at some point to break down. I'm fascinated in what happens when the strings are cut and we find the image falling away, and ourselves perhaps with it, back to earth, or back into the room, into the now.

The Extra People by Britt Hatzius

The Extra People by Britt Hatzius

So disregarding these words for the most part, and in a belated attempt to say something more to your question... I'm usually trying to create something where the focus is on the event: what happens, and how it unfolds, not necessarily what's said or told to us. This is what narrative means to me. Dramaturgy rather than anything to do with storytelling: and above all, I'm looking to structure an experience which NEEDS the particularities of live experience and bodily presence.

OW: What is the role of wonder and discovery in your work?

AH: I used those words more in my 20's than I do now, as you'll see if you peruse www.rotozaza.co.uk, but I think probably they're both still very important - I've just learnt to be a little less romantic.

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

AH: Forced Entertainment's 'Pleasure', and before that, a tiny production of Peter Handke's Kaspar at Avignon by Cie de Sablier. Both made me feel extremely uncomfortable for a while during the actual experience, but in a very urgent and somehow necessary way. The concerns behind both works were also beautifully expressed in different ways outside of the actual work, in Forced Entertainment's case by Tim Etchells thoughts in the program, and for Kaspar by an unforgettable public street intervention / experiment exploring the same issues as the play - the manipulation of the individual by the masses, language as a physical power / inertia.