Curious tourists, mothers with prams and workers on their lunch break walking down the Todd Mall yesterday were unexpectedly joined by three silent, bright eyed, pale clothed, ‘other-old-worldly’ strangers.
This was the Post Family performance, the third of the ‘Happenings’ in this year’s Alice Desert Festival. As we all know, the Festival features a vibrant program celebrating artists, dancers, actors and musicians from Central Australia – besides a selection of what I’m told are Australia’s hottest acts.
The ‘Happenings’ are enactments that appear to erupt spontaneously underneath The Sails in Todd Mall at midday. The idea is that sets of performers will appear suddenly, take surprised passers-by on a whirlwind of a show, and then leave. It’s as though the whole event was merely a coincidence, or even more confusing, that the recitalists are not actors at all, but the characters they play.
Yesterday, the Post Family – Brother, Sister and Little Sister Post – adventured down the Mall into the 21st Century after having been isolated in some dislocated reality of their own for who knows how long. They were dressed in white, lace, linen, overalls, bonnets and hats, as though they had stepped directly from the 1920s into 2011.
Wordlessly skipping, limping, or gazedly swaying from shop to bench, from grassy mound to tree, the family tried to figure out this new environment by labeling it with post-it notes. Everything around had to be observed and categorized by the post-its. Hence, of course, the title – Post Family.
Other than the fact that art-theater is just plain fun, the Post Family’s social commentary was on the compulsive need we, as humans, have to compartmentalize things. The concept was in part a study to consider how mislabeling might occur due to context, or background.
So the group would find someone, or something to engage with and would either mime, or label the topic to further understand the new world. A woman sat on a bench with her daily things, her water bottle, bag, lunch, phone in her shoe and The Posts covered her from head to toe in sticky notes. She just kept giggling and saying, “Thank you. I didn’t know that was my bottle of water. Lucky you put that label on it.”
The Post Family found this really satisfying, being allowed to put a post-it note on and have it appreciated. Brother Post put a label on a couple and just wrote ‘lovers.’ The two were awfully embarrassed and said immediately, “NO. No. No.” Brother Post watched the guy crumple it in his hand, but after he had left the man took it out again and drew a love heart on it, giving it to Sister Post.
Other onlookers, however, were totally disconcerted with the performance. One man, after Little Sister Post tried labeling his hat, said, “I know it’s a hat. I don’t need that note.” The manager from a shop had to be assured from a Red Hot Arts worker that the notes would be cleared up and that the ‘weirdoes touching and tagging everything’ really were a part of the Festival. Afterward Sister Post confessed, “Quite a few times my character was a little bit heart broken because people didn’t want to speak to me. In fact they ran in the opposite direction!” Another Red Hot Arts worker said, “It was so awkward to see people walk by and do a double take. It was awesome!”
In spite of this, the uncomfortable feeling that some had was really just a by-product of the family’s performance. The fact that the audience found it difficult to process and sometimes accept, though, meant the characters were conveyed authentically and were exceptionally realistic.
The Post Family could also tell by people’s body language if they didn’t want to participate and respected that silent ‘no’. Well, for the most part!
Eleven Greenstones, the creator behind the Post Family entourage, said, “When it all really comes together, especially in street theatre, is when you’re actually performing it out on the street because that’s when you’re engaging in this environment that you’re in. When you’re face to face with people – who are kinda creeped out because you don’t talk and you look at them a little bit funny and you might have a bit of a tick.”
The ‘Happenings’ embodies the theme of the festival, creativity and community, perfectly. Often spectators don’t even know that this is an arts event and then unintentionally they end up participating. They might have been in the middle of a theatre piece for several minutes before they even realize! Besides, it’s a little bit different each time because it’s about who’s there and the weather, as well as the concept.
Last year strangers were hugged and people pirouetted down the mall singing the ‘desert is alive with the sound of’ … you know the rest. And last Thursday we had two gunslingers dueling with broken hearts under the title The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. Who knows what the next one will be?! Not me! Expect the unexpected, I’ve heard.
But I’d recommend checking out the Alice Desert Festival website for the dates of the next ‘Happening,’ as it’s totally worth being taken on an unknown journey, seeing what alien planet you land on and if you’ll ever return before finishing your coffee and heading back to the office.
Pictured are The Post Family trying to figure out Todd Mall. Photo by OLIVER ECLIPSE.