Series of fake weddings that aim to get inside the myths of modern matrimony
Across the last 5000 years or more it seems that each new jolt of history has prompted a familiar cry: "Would not this be the total ruin of marriage?"
Whether it's the enfranchisement of women, liberalised divorce laws, Puritanism, socialism, Teetotalism, the unlicensed production of Gin, the building of the second temple, modern contraception, Pompey the Great, multiculturalism, slavery, the movement for the abolition of slavery, Byronism or any of a thousand other events or movements, it seems there's always someone who sees the imminent debasement of matrimony.
For the two co-founding members of No Show, a fledgling hybrid-theatre company, it's time for a reality check.
"See, we've romanticised this idea of marriage––"
"Imagined that it's always been perfect, that it's always worked, and that as an institution it's a continuous legacy––"
"When actually marriage has always been in flux––"
"And has always been evolving and changing."
These bright-eyed enthusiasts are Bridget Balodis and Mark Pritchard, and the project is Shotgun Wedding, presented as part of the Next Wave Festival.
It's an ambitious performance event exploring what marriage is, what it does, and why it is so important to some and unimportant to others.
At the project's core is the debate over same-sex marriage.
"We're both of an age where our friends are starting to get married," explains Bridget. "And we're also both gay. We started this project after we'd been to a protest for gay marriage. We were in this weird position where we were fighting for this right to marry, but then we were also having this really cynical conversation afterwards about what marriage is."
They realised that they didn't really understand the right they were fighting for. They soon discovered that they weren't alone.
"What the gay marriage debate has done," says Mark, "is to make people start to argue about just what is a marriage. And there's actually a lot of disagreement there. It's not so much to do with gay marriage, that's just a catalyst."
Shotgun Wedding, then, is an immersive theatre event where the audience is invited to attend and participate in a fake wedding. But is it just a bit fake, or outrageously fake?
"That's one of the questions we've got," says Mark. "What is real about a real wedding, and what is fake about a fake wedding?"
The problem is how to observe a wedding analytically, without getting caught up in the high emotion associated with a friend or relative's special day. How do you find that distance? Just turn up at the wedding of a complete stranger?
"Well, we did crash a wedding," admits Bridget, "for research purposes. We didn't crash the reception, but we crashed the ceremony. Which was nerve wracking."
"We sort of huddled up the back with four guys who looked like work friends," says Mark, grinning. "We sat quietly up the back and tried to look like we were a couple."
"At least we thought it was the back, but people kept filing in after us."
"So we were surrounded. Trapped in the middle of the whole thing."
"Then this little girl who was standing in front of us and obviously quite bored with the whole thing and she had been taking photos, she turned around and decided to take a photo of us. And we're like, argh, we're not here."
Apart from being immortalised in the wedding snaps of a complete stranger, the pair did learn a lot from being able to witness the event purely as performance. It meant that they didn't have to leave their politics at the door as they might with the wedding of a close friend.
"And what we're asking the audience to do in Shotgun," explains Bridget, "is to come in with people they don't know and sit there and put yourself in this position where you don't know the couple, so you're not personally invested. Suddenly you have to look at everything else."
Not that they expect their audience to be completely removed from the event. The pair are clearly interested in challenging the idea that the audience is just a spectator.
Early on in developing the project, they discovered that, as tolerant as many religious communities were of the questions put to them by earnest young artists, it was unlikely that they would provide said artists with access to a church in order to conduct a fake wedding. So instead they conducted their trial ceremonies outside. It established an interesting dynamic. Not only did the garden setting give their events a sense of ceremony and gravitas, it also drew a crowd.
"So we had our audience who knew it was fake," says Bridget, "but then it drew this extra audience from the general public who thought, hey, that looks like a wedding. And that did something to the original audience, because they then became aware of being watched, of being complicit in the fakery."
It's all part of their desire to take conventional theatre craft into the unpredictable world of the performance event.
They point to director Daniel Schlusser's work at the VCA as a starting point, inspiring them to explore various stripped-back, non-performative performance modes. Internationally, they then took cues from groups like Rotozaza, Coney and Punch Drunk, whose works emphasise the autonomy of the individual audient within an immersive spectacle.
"So there's a fair bit of audience agency in our work," says Mark.
"This is not a passive work," agrees Bridget
"It's pretty freewheeling. We really just want to create a perspective on this event. There's no moral to this piece."
"And we want there to be lots of contradictory points of view coming up all over the place."
"Linking the political with the personal, bringing people together so that they are encouraged to share their stories. Whenever we talk about the project with anyone, they've always got a wedding story, or a divorce story."