When the list of collaborators is that long you would hope that taking a gamble on seeing a Wharf 2 experimental piece of theatre is worth it the ten minutes it took you just to read the title. The odds of it being interesting, short, original and different are high and seeing the Border Project and Ontroerend Goed’s ‘Fight Night’ was like hitting the jackpot.
When host Angelo Tijssens says ‘that every show needs an audience and in this show we can’t do it without you’ he’s not joking. In ‘Fight Night’ the audience is the most important character in the play. Armed with remote control devices in which to cast their vote and relay information straight to the computers next to the makeshift stage, the audience are able to enter information and cast votes to determine not only the direction of the show but also vital demographics about themselves. Interestingly enough in our audience the 60+ middle-class married women were in the majority so if things don’t go your way in the show, you know exactly who to blame.
Enter the five candidates. Initially voting on physical impressions only, we cast our first vote and the first winner and loser emerge. They address us, there is some banter and then we’re told in the next round someone will get eliminated. Now it’s getting real. The stakes are raised. We vote again and so it goes. Don’t be fooled- even the most popular in one round can be eliminated next. Underdogs can rise, champions can fall and ultimately, you’re left with one candidate, whether you wanted them or not. The majority have spoken.
I’d love to know whether the voting is genuine, which would require seeing it more than once or comparing notes with friends. I’d happily see this show again but given the intention of this show, to allow the audience to manipulate the outcome, let’s presume it’s legitimate. ‘Fight Night’ is therefore a fascinating study in human psychology. Candidates exponentially lessened their chances of winning every time they spoke. In the end, giving a reason to vote for them was far less effective than giving reasons why we shouldn’t vote for someone else.
Aren’t humans curious? Even how we define ourselves in our answers during the show as a little bit racist, as spiritual more than religious or that we still find the ‘c’ word more offensive than any other word, candidates who mirrored the qualities of how we see ourselves did not necessarily make them appealing to us. The most honest or trustworthy candidates were sometimes the first to go. Apparently we love a shot of blatant dishonesty and self-interest in our leaders. Well there’s the political system defined in one easy sentence. We want rhetoric and lies that might sound believable and a healthy dose of a smear campaign. Thank you very much Murdoch Press for preparing us so thoroughly for this show.
So did I get the candidate I wanted? No. She went first and in the end, spurned on by my love of anti-authoritarian figures, I joined the peaceful protest group and was duly evicted by the majority. It doesn’t get more Australian than that. As tempted as I was to drop the ‘c’ word to the audience as I departed, I thankfully restrained myself.
I loved every moment of this show. It combines theatre, psychology and statistics to appeal to the experiential inquisitive nerd in each of us. There aren’t many shows where you can interact as audience in this non-threatening but integral way. You shape this show and decide its outcome and in the process perhaps we learn more ourselves than we do about any character on stage. We are easily manipulated, our votes can be bought, we are judgemental, hypocritical and fickle. We state what’s important to us and then act in the opposite way.
‘Fight Night’ has a limited run but you must see it and be prepared to come out really questioning how well you know yourself and those around you.
And for the record- I never trusted that audience.