Yesterday I watched Popcorn Machine by French company My!Laika, as part of the London International Mime Festival. Ironically the ensemble does not have any French performers: they come from Argentina, Germany, Holland and Italy, something they use to add to the chaos on stage as each performer speaks their language at some point.
Don’t get me wrong, the “chaos” is highly orchestrated to add to the “domestic apocalypse” in which the piece is set. As most theatre incorporating text, visuals, music, circus, movement etc, it’s difficult to decide which genre it sits in but this (luckily!) has become less and less important – who cares!
The piece is a mega-mix of highly-skilled acrobatics sprinkled with live music and flooded with dark humour. What holds it together is not a plot or a story but very well-defined characters, almost archetypes. We get to know the performers (he’s great at this, she’s great at that) and also the characters, who never cease to amuse us.
I loved the piece. It has stayed with me and got me thinking. What is it that holds our attention at the theatre? It’s not always a plot. Not always a “story” as we’ve come to expect it. Nothing much happens to the people in Popcorn Machine; they don’t really have a moment of realisation or of change. As characters, they probably leave the piece in the same way as they started. Maybe the characters are not much different from the performers themselves. Who cares? They still make us care for them – even if it’s just because we know we are going to love and admire what they do.
If you are creating a piece, be bold with your character choices. Start with an archetype. Start with someone who seems one-dimensional: the crazy one; the strong one; the lazy one; the studious one. Allow the audience to know where they are with your character so that then you can play with a more abstract performance style or work with a very simple storyline.
Stories keep us hooked – but that’s because they are about people. It’s the people that hook us. They allow us to project onto them our wishes and aspirations, even our own problems. They allow us to experience what we don’t dare to do ourselves. They allow us to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. Theatre is great fun to make but it also has the power to inspire; don’t forget that when you are creating your own work.
Popcorn Machine, with its dangerous acrobatics (which I could never even imagine myself doing), its dark humour (which touched the darker side of myself) and its absurdity did exactly that. Thank you.
Popcorn Machine is on at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London from Sat 12 – Tues 15 January 2013.