It is a sure sign something interesting will unfold when you have to sign a disclaimer, prior to a show. So it is with Charlotte Spencer’s Is This A Waste Land? Initially, a feeling of dread akin to ‘if we were in the Tundra, who would be eaten first?’ grows in the pit of my stomach.
We gather in a patch of industrial ground as an audience, and are each asked to select an interesting looking object, and a set of headphones. A woman brandishes a shovel with worrying glee; one man cradles a piece of foam insulation as if it’s his firstborn, christening it ‘Peanut’. I’m trying to focus on my simple choice of Chinese lampshade, to remove all thoughts of a potential Lord of the Flies scenario.
What follows is both a mindfulness exercise and task-based immersive performance, using raw materials to hand in this former bus depot. Soothing voices from the team, and music and sound from James Keane and Tom Spencer, plays on headphones. Gathering into groups, like dystopian Wombles, we join Spencer’s team and create towers with discarded things from the patch of ground; come together in a circle using lengths of rope, bamboo poles and so on. We work together, and separately, as instructed. Others receive different rules, and it’s bizarre seeing other teams doing tasks different from our own.
Then, a more sinister set of rules emerge, such as ‘follow two random people, but don’t let them know you have picked them’. This of course plays into feelings of paranoia. The real joy lies in the fact that each participant’s response will be as individual as a fingerprint- no two people will experience it the same way. As this is true of most performances, it is more pronounced in this situation- some are born to lead and have issues with following authority; others go along happily.
It’s not difficult to see this as a political metaphor- of people gathering together as a collective for the good of humankind. Others, though, just see it as team-building, and doing frivolous, fun tasks. I was reminded of working for a children’s charity years ago, and the sadness of house clearances- so much stuff left behind when people pass away- humans reduced to mere detritus.
Art does not exist in a vacuum, and often thrives when pushing against conservatism, so Waste Land? seems timely. What Spencer and her team do is reinstate the need to connect, if only for a moment, with the space and new people.
Part of Dance International Glasgow
For more information on this and other projects, head to https://charlottespencerprojects.org