Most recently, deputy editor Freya Gosling had the fantastic opportunity of being in contact with Unfinished Business, a theatre company established by Leo Kay and Anna Smith in 2010. Little Ghost were lucky enough to first interview Leo, then later in the week went to the first London performance of the company’s latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’, a project involving according to the company, ‘A meal, a conversation, a performance provocation….’1. How many people are invited to cook at the Only Wolves and Lions performances? Is it just the 16 diners, or is there any additional audience members too?
We have performed the show for 8 people and for up to 40 people. Those who participate as audience are also the cooks. These are the only people in the space alongside the company, who also join in as participants in the cooking experience.
2. How do you go about choosing a recipe for the meal? How important is the recipe to the nature of the performance?
The process of choosing what we will cook is an exercise in guided democracy; in listening, honouring each other’s ideas and then making strong decisions. Weaved in to this process are philosophical and psychological ideas surrounding choice, celebration of what we have and the letting go of that which we don’t in relation to the pursuit of psychological well being.
The final recipes chosen are not as important as the consensus arrived at and the commitment of the group to future execution of cooking tasks. The process reminds me a little of one that I came across when reading about the drama educationalist Dorothy Heathcote; very much about the need to elicit group commitment to the decided course of action, even if it is not your first choice. Intention and commitment are everything.
3. You have often used and referred to Brazilian culture in your work. How important do you find Brazilian culture to be (and/or other cultures) when discussing community? Do you, for example, compare Brazilian communities with British community- or the lack thereof?
Throughout the past 11 years I have been influenced greatly by my relationship to Brazil. I first went out to train in capoeira, then was invited to teach physical performance for a company In Salvador and ended up staying, teaching and directing for a year. During this time I met a woman and began a 6 year relationship. I have been back to run several projects and research Afro BrazilIan culture and religious ritual. My understanding of possibilities of human interaction, creative expression and ritual are heavily influenced by my engagement with Brazilian culture. I refer lightly to it in this event, but this project is very much about the relationship that myself, Unai, Anna and the participating audience have to community and isolation.
4. How are topics of discussion brought forward to the ‘table’ during performances of Only Wolves and Lions? Is everyone encouraged to talk while they cook? Is the discussion angled, to make sure everyone has a fair contribution?
5. Do you keep in contact with the people that attend and contribute to your projects?
We don’t keep in contact with participants unless they want to be on our mailing list. Though any suggestions on further post process contact would be welcomed! We are aware that with a project of this nature the experience begins before the event and ends well after the meal therefor a consideration of how people can engage with it after they have been involved would be a wonderful development. But as of yet this hasn’t been integrated.
6. Have you noted any strong differences between the reactions to your projects when you perform them in different cities? For example, how do Londoners come across in comparison to participants from Reading?
Not so much marked difference between the cities, but there are things that effect the work. The nature of the space effects the work. The more broken and ramshackle the space is, the more free and wild the event can be. It feels like the events natural home is Stoke Newington International Airport. A live art warehouse space in North East London. When we perform it in this chaotic environment the event has a very special energy. Another thing that effects the work is cultural context. We have performed it in Greece, The Basque Country, France and England and there are subtle difference in the way people interact with the making of food and the discussion of philosophical content. The Basques all brought meat and were incredibly proud and accomplished cooks. The Greek and international delegates at an art symposium in Greece were very creative and free, as were the London experimenters. But I don’t see the differences in English geographical location delineating different reactions to the work too much.
7. Do the participants of the projects generally relax into the atmosphere of the night, or do some feel they are only part of some social experiment?
The participants usually totay relax Into the atmosphere encouraged by the night and are surprised when it is over. It’s the ambiguity about what exactly the event is, that both intrigues and enchants audiences. Often they forget they are in a performance and engage in the very real activities presented and needed to be achieved for the performance event to continue. These undefined platforms of expression allow the audience to feel a sense of autonomy and a creative responsibility. This context of exploration really excites me.
8. How different do you think the atmosphere of the dining room discussions would be if Great Britain was experiencing a boom in industry and economic prosperity?
I don’t think I would have felt it a vital piece of work to make were Great Britain experiencing a boom. I think it is very much about the cracks that have been made in the wall of capitalist success that allow for the depth of discussion surrounding where we are and what actually promotes happiness and well being as opposed to what we are fed by the media and popular culture that surrounds us. It’s the cracks that let the light in!
9. How do you think this project is different to the others you have run since establishing Unfinished Business? Does it push more boundaries/challenge its participants more?
I think that in relation to form this project is a development in my desire to explore authentic communication with audience. I love the idea of interactive performance but it is seldom that I believe the character or performer that I am interacting with. This performance event is also about how far you can push audience interaction and responsibility within a clearly defined performance structure. I wanted to make a living example of the central discussion point of community, sharing and the positive effects of physical and psychological well being. The show is an example of the philosophies that run throughout it.
10. How does the next project you are running, Life: Making a Meal of It, differ to that of Only Wolves and Lions?
‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ is a participatory intergenerational project, so we will create the performance with a group of under 18 and over 60 year olds. It is the second project of this kind in this trajectory of work and seems to be forming an interesting project structure. In 2009/10 I created ‘It’s Like He’s Knocking’, an intimate performance about the men in my family and their journeys through life. It focused on ancestry, memory, migration and coincidence. Alongside this piece we developed ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’, an intergenerational interactive performance which explored shared histories through our relationship to dancing. The performers taught the audience couples dances, told stories, encouraged the audience to write down their own memories and finally shared tea and cakes with them.
As with ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’ for ‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ we are working in partnership with South Street Arts Centre. This project will look at uncovering significant memories and recipes from the lives of the participants. They will teach each other recipes alongside developing new performance and storytelling methods, as we develop a live performance, which will take place around a dinner table. A home cooked meal around a beautiful table, cooked by the performers will great the audience. Ideas surrounding community, the importance of the act of cooking and the celebration of memory are all themes that will be explored. Like ‘Only Wolves And Lions’ this will be an interactive performance, however the audience will be a little more pampered and the performers a little more supported, each according to their ability!