As a group we organised our various performance pieces into a narrative about the contrasting environments experienced during an ordinary day in London. This was influenced by both the social and physical environment of Kings Cross - literally a crossing place for those making their transition between work and home life, familiarity and anonymity, commuter train and pavement, city and countryside. The other students in my group looked at corporate costume, the many overlapping personal stories of Kings cross commuters, and the contrast to be seen between old and new in the built environment. Mine was the last piece to be presented and I chose to do this as a live performance.
In order to prepare I collected props from my own home environment that had a specific use and familiarity to me - that made me feel 'at home'. I chose cushions and blankets for the audience and performer to sit on (the chairs were borrowed from the classroom), I brought in my own kettle and used the sound of it boiling at the beginning of the piece. I had a freshly baked lemon cake, tea, a cosy costume, a light and a projection (creating 'telematic space') of my actual living room. These elements provided a cosy atmosphere. In this way I managed to engage all the senses, taste, touch, sound, sight and smell. I didn't realise that I had done this until later - I just did what seemed natural to communicate my feeling of being at home - however, this kind of reductionist way of looking at it might be a useful one to take forward when considering how to put together an engaging environment in the future.
Before the performance I also asked a classmate to hand out some questionnaires to other member of the class who I didn't know very well. In the questionnaire I asked about their interests and relationships and then built these facts into a flexible pre-prepared script so that when I invited audience members in for tea I could chat and guide them as if we were already very familiar and had done this before. I had some interesting feedback to think about concerning the ethics and power relations in this part of my work; it was good that it was a total surprise to those involved because I wanted the highest chance of an immersive world and some interesting improvisation. However, it was potentially quite embarrassing for participants to reveal person info (e.g. name of boyfriend) in front of a lot of people without knowing what the info would be used for exactly - perhaps such questionnaires could be re-worded. When I had first though of the idea it was in an enclosed space, probably just one participant at a time and not in front of an audience which would definitely change this fact. I also thought of inviting audience members into my actual, not simulated home. This felt quite risky (if I was inviting the general public) because it might be too far to go and I think it requires a lot of trust between artist and audience both emotionally and practically, like Marina Abramovic allowing the public to do whatever they like to her with objects she had provided. Like the vampire myth where they can only come into your house once you have personally invited them over the threshold, a stranger could be anyone, and the home is a sacred space that you must be initiated into and the object in it are treated with a certain reverence.
I had spent a lot of time thinking about what best to do with my idea and it felt very personal too because I was revealing a part of myself in revealing my home and some of my own story in conversation- but I feel that it was good to step a little out of my comfort zone. I am really interested in the idea that an object or place can become something completely different because of an idea it is imbued with. Each item that I chose was a symbol or sign (a combination of signified and signifier); in some cases it has much more significance for me that the audience (the blanket knitted by my Gran, the plate - the last one of the set my little sister gave to me for my birthday, the sound of that particular kettle i hear every morning etc.). I think that a work of art can never totally portray all of the layers of meaning that go into creating a living environment, or the stories that have created these signs, but I was happy with having scratched the surface. I had feedback from tutors that it was 'pure theatre' which means that it was immersive, intimate and at the same time experienced as a collective.
I was pleased over all with the outcome of this project and it has given me a lot to think about. This includes my interest in the duality of symbols/ signs, creating an immersive atmosphere or world, and also looking at the significance, ritual and wonder involved in the everyday.
Elizabeth Kendal has not chosen a license for this content.