As part of a bid to promote and develop new work by emerging performance artists, on Thursday night, the Birmingham Hippodrome played host to Pilot Sites, a series of works in progress showcased in collaboration with Pilot Nights.
Founded in 2003, Pilot Nights provides a platform for performers to test new ideas in front of audiences at special events held in venues across the West Midlands. Making its debut this year, Pilot Sites featured previews of a range of indoor, outdoor and one-on-one projects performed in and around the Hippodrome theatre. After watching the shows, audiences were then invited to offer their feedback to the performers at a “Talkaoke” round table discussion.
Over the course of the evening, I saw four shows, the first of which – The Tea Project – was a relaxed, intimate performance blending scripted action with audience participation and talking with tea drinking to create a truly organic, viewer-led experience. Though it took a little time for the participants to warm to the set-up, by the end of it, everyone was talking freely and interacting naturally. I really liked the concept behind this show, and am interested to see what it develops into. Its creators, Tara Buckley and Lyndsay Price, will be performing a full length version at the mac Birmingham on Tuesday 3rd June.
Next up were Artizani and Avanti, who presented viewers with a series of strange scenarios and encouraged them to indulge in a little silliness. This was a really funny and entertaining show that exercised all its participants’ senses: as well as watching and listening, we were given honey to taste and surprised with a jet of water. Sadly, because of the size of the audience, not everyone was able to experience every part of it. For the first half, some of the participants were passive spectators, while the other half followed instructions given to them in an audio recording through headphones. After this, the first group were showed round other things until the second group had finished with the headphones, at which point we left. Nevertheless I’m sure that this is something that would be resolved by regulating audience numbers in a full-length show.
Talking Birds next gave a comic performance in front of the Hippodrome, acting the parts of two hapless, would-be cricketers whose ill-fated attempts to begin a game outside the theatre lead to some trouble with a security guard. Audience members were involved as a wicket-keeper, fielders and an umpire. This brilliant little piece was the most well-developed show of the evening, and it was hard to believe this was still a work in progress: I could easily see it appearing as a piece of pop-up street theatre in its current form.
Finally, we were taken to Arcadian Square for an interesting, improvised piece called Osmosis. Created by Freedom Studios, Osmosis explored sound and movement in a simplified, engaging way. Colourfully clothed actors sang, made silly noises and danced around with actions partly inspired by the audience. Though the group of adult participants were initially a little too self-conscious to fully immerse themselves in the show, I could imagine something like this working well as a daytime performance for families: young children in particular would probably be quicker to respond.
Overall, Pilot Sites was a really interesting experience, and an event I hope will be the first of many!