Institute’s director and performer talks physical theatre, the universal language of movement and the audience’s role in creating the work at each and every performance.
1. Who are ‘Gecko’ and what do you do?
We make theatre that is visual, visceral and ambitious, and we always aim to create world class work that inspires, moves and entertains our audiences. Gecko was founded in 2001, and is now an award winning and internationally acclaimed company. With our expanding ensemble of international performers and makers, we create work through collaboration, experimentation and play. We have taken part in theatre and dance festivals all over the world from Bogota to Beijing, and we have performed extensively across the UK on the national touring network.
2. What is your trademark style of performance?
We perform very physical, epic pieces, which highlight the complexity of human nature. I have now spent 12 years making work, developing a style of exploring and physicality on stage. This style is very athletic and honestly emotional. We use the breath as an anchor for all exploration.
3. How would you define physical theatre?
Physical theatre usually involves more of a focus on movement, imagery and diversity in performance styles. We use very little text to make our work but the piece is ‘written’ and ‘storyboarded’ like any other piece – we just use different visual styles to explore our themes and characters in the rehearsal room. For us, it’s about using whatever tools we have as performers, designers and writers to bring these powerful moments to life. In the modern industry, movement, puppetry, imagery is incorporated into work across the board. The Royal Shakespeare Company regularly uses ‘physical theatre’ – perhaps the term is becoming less and less important. Maybe we are all just making theatre to the best of our unique individual ability?
4. Institute, one of your best-loved shows, premiered in 2013. Have you made any changes to the show since then?
No Gecko show ever holds its shape for very long! Institute has been on a massive evolution since 2013 – this isn’t in any way unusual for us or an indication that the show wasn’t working, it’s just how we work. As the tempo and journey of the show starts to play out, it becomes clear which elements need to change or be cut in order to accommodate the shows’ new form…
5. You’ve taken Institute to tour abroad – do you notice any difference in non-UK audience’s reactions to the show?
This is a hard question because every audience member who sees Institute authors a very personalised version of the show. This means that there are extremely varied reactions in any audience group regardless of where we are.
6. What makes every performance of Institute a unique experience?
The central idea of the show is that the audience will input the narrative of their own lives into the piece, it is by its nature, re-authored every night and by hundreds of authors – this makes it unique and personal. Also I think people have been back to see Institute several times and because of the complexity and richness of the world of show, they find that they see elements they’d previously missed or had interpreted very differently.
7. The characters of Institute speak in different languages yet no translation is provided for the audiences. Why is that?
I have never been that interested in a verbally communicated world and by that I mean that I don’t want the audience to intellectually discover the show by verbal interaction as the core tool for understanding. I want to bypass this level of interaction and engage the imagination and the emotions. But I do want the performers to speak because I think speaking is very human and the performers/characters should be human. Therefore I try to use as many languages as possible in order to disconnect that relationship with the audience – the speaking then becomes just another layer, another flavour rather than the key ingredient!
8. You say you want to leave Gecko’s shows open for interpretation. Institute is a great example of that as each audience member can and probably will have a different interpretation of it. How does Gecko communicate with the audiences? Have you ever come across an interpretation that you found to be drastically different to yours?
Because the interpretations are, in a sense, an amalgamation of the narrative we create mixed with the personal lives of each audience member – it would follow that the interpretations would be pretty diverse – which is precisely why I make the shows the way I do! If ever I found that the show was generating the same interpretations across the audience, I would look to change the show immediately as I would have failed to leave enough space for the lives of the audience!
9. What is, for you, the difference between dance and physical theatre?
I think the difference is a lot to do with expectation, and by that I am revealing that there is no difference in my mind – I don’t think about the distinction. However, with physical theatre the process can lead you on a journey and into a world of symbolism more intrinsically than dance does. With the unfolding of a narrative in physical theatre you’re more bound by the rigours of construction.
10. Gecko has been praised for their use of ‘total theatre’. Could you explain what this term means to you and why it is central to Gecko’s work?
The difference to more traditional types of theatre might be a synthesis of multidisciplinary forms and a collaborative/ensemble process between actors, writers, directors and production team.
Gecko’s style is holistic, meaning that all its parts are only explicable as a whole. There are five main devices operating at the same level – choreography, lighting, sound, design and ‘performing style’ (of each performer). These all have totally equal responsibility in telling the story. I suppose Gecko’s most powerful storytelling ‘device’ is the ability to pull all these elements together in every single moment of a show. Our style is something that requires the whole of a person’s expression. Of physicality, the mental approach, the imaginative approach, spiritual approach, emotional approach and it’s the bringing together of all of those things so that all engines are turning the same revs at the same time, altogether.
Institute plays at the Seymour Centre, 25-28 January, 2017. Buy tickets and get more details here.