Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
FLOYD B. BARISCALE

Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change

Theatre and film are some of the most celebrated art forms in history. While both share elements of dramatic storytelling, many enthusiasts would argue that they are uniquely different and incomparable. Theatre is special because it allows the story and its characters to unfold right before our eyes and the grand performances, as well as the actors’ interaction with the audience, make it an intimate, immersive, and irreplaceable experience.

In the 19th century, European artists such as Alfred Jarry have pushed the boundaries of art and theatre to criticize and amplify their convictions against questionable social norms and ideologies. This movement was known as fringe theatre or popularly known today as experimental theatre.

The most remarkable and prevailing characteristic of experimental theatre is the participation of its audience

Through the years, the art form has only grown and evolved as artists continuously find new forms and techniques to express their creativity and encourage audiences to ponder upon social notions and issues in order to challenge and influence their attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and values towards these ideologies. It aims to break the rules of traditional theatre performances, allowing artists to think outside the box and establish new artistic methods. The most remarkable and prevailing characteristic of experimental theatre is the participation of its audience. The people are the key component in the success of such an art form.

“Theatres and performances are trying to involve the audience in a variety of ways, as active participants. Audience participation can range from asking for volunteers to go onstage to having actors scream in audience members’ faces, the performer invites the audience to feel a certain way.”

The Disruptors Who Are Revolutionizing Experimental Theatre

Today, experimental theatre is still widely celebrated around the world. Festivals such as Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre, Shanghai International Experimental Theatre Festival, and MAN.In.FEST – International Festival of Experimental Theatre have been championing experimental theatre artists for decades by giving them a platform and making this art form accessible to audiences.

Fascinatingly, in the midst of the pandemic, The Scientific Theater Laboratory of the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Arts in partnership with Russian director Maria Staroselets and playwright Alina Zhurina, brought to life an experimental theatre performance entitled Continuous Mapping, which combines multimodal performance and sociological research. The artists used research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and quantitative data from Yandex.Maps analysts.

The remarkable aspect of this experiment is assembling a performance that is designed not only to pay homage to the city but also make its local residents the protagonists of the story. The team’s purpose is to create a project that aims to raise awareness and mindfulness to its inhabitants about the city that they live in. The director is curious to discover how different groups communicate and engage with one another as well as how urbanized environments tell a unique story of their own.

an experimental theatre performance entitled Continuous Mapping which combines multimodal performance and sociological research

Staroselets articulated that the project in its essence involves “a performance in the form of a podcast for a small group of people. The audience members put their headphones on and walk around the city in a particular route. The podcast hosts guide them throughout the route and give them assignments. Each member of the audience has a travel journal on their lap, stuffed with maps, postcards, vintage photos, and empty questionnaire forms. These are the tools to explore the city around you, look at certain locations through a different lens, and communicate within the group mindfully. This project was a unique collaboration of sociologists, multidisciplinary artists, and a major digital cartography service.”

The experiment officially began on September 18, 2021 at 16:00 (ECB) and concluded on December 5, 2021 at 23:00 (ECB). In the final stage of the project, the team will analyze the drawings, questionnaires, and various artifacts that participants wrote in their travel journals.

Below is a sneak peek of the initial responses taken from the travel journals of the participants:

  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
  • Harnessing The Power Of Experimental Theatre To Boost Mindfulness And Spark Social Change | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

These drawings demonstrate how people envision their usual routes at specific times of the week.

The Russian texts mean:

YOUR ROUTES
1. MONDAY
2. FRIDAY
3. DAY OFF

These are some of the maps of the city that were cut into different pieces, which the director and playwright included in the travel journals. It was the last task that the participants needed to accomplish. Each person was asked to examine the map that they were given, then put a pink sticker on the places that they believe are good and safe. Otherwise, they must put a black sticker on places that they think are loud and dangerous.

After three months of conducting the experiment, the team is now putting the pieces of the map together to get a better perspective and conclusive understanding of how residents perceive the city they live in. Staroselets referred to it as an “Emotional Landscape,” which is a beneficial tool to fully understand the heart of the city, to aid in solving underlying problems, and to make the urbanized environment safer. In 2022, the team is planning to organize an exhibition to showcase the comprehensive findings of the experiment to the public.

Staroselets is also currently in the process of bringing Continuous Mapping to the world stage. The exceptional project has already piqued the interest of collaborators in Portland, Oregon who thought the concept could be utilized in reimagining metropolitan cities and their local residents, most especially in the US where there is an abundance of cultural diversity, history, and socio-geographical spaces.

Despite the distance and time difference between Russia and the US, the team has successfully kickstarted the first few phases of pre-production such as interviewing residents, scouting potential locations, and looking for additional collaborators and investors. The director firmly believes that “games and theatrical practices like this can bring humanity together to solve some serious problems.”

As the world constantly evolves, our society is also faced with significant challenges that considerably affect our perspectives, behaviors, and our way of life. Experimental theatre is an important art form through which artists could express themselves and utilize the power of the arts and media to open our minds to the multifaceted environment we live in as well as to shed light on complex social issues in hopes of sparking social change in one’s local community or a global scale.

We sat down with Russian director Maria Staroselets to give us an exclusive look into the development process and concept behind the Continuous Mapping project as well as her inspiring journey as an emerging filmmaker who is trying to make a name for herself in the competitive world of entertainment. You can read the interview here.

Website: https://uralbiennial.ru/en/calendar/event32-pokaz-spektaklya-issledovaniya-nepreryvnoe-otobrazhenie

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