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Susanne Dietz

Interview with theatre director David Rosenberg

4 July 2013 Charlie Kenber

With his latest show ‘Ring’ returning by popular demand to the Battersea Arts Centre, director David Rosenberg’s unusual work seems to be striking a chord with audiences. We caught up with him ahead of the revival…

If you go to see any of David Rosenberg’s work you’re certain to see something unique. Whether his shows question space, or create new ones – as in Electric Hotel – they will always provoke and challenge. This is just as true of his latest endeavour, Ring. The project sees the co-founder of art collective Shunt use sound technology once againin an innovative way.

The show takes place in pitch darkness, the story told solely through audio played through audience members’ headphones, recorded using binaural sound technology that creates a 3D listening sensation. Ring’s first run at the Battersea Arts Centre in March was so successful that it has returned, before playing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. We caught up with Director David Rosenberg to talk about the show.

London Calling: Where did the original idea for show come from? Was sound design the starting point?

David Rosenberg: I’ve been working on various projects using binaural sound recording for a number of years. The way it has previously been used is to try and create intimacy in a large-scale outdoor event, so a way to bridge the gap between the audience and distant action. The first show I did using this technology was Contains Violence at the Lyric Hammersmith, where the performance was taking place in an office block over the road. People sat on the terrace outside looking through the windows of the office block and listening in to a very intimate audio of what was going on inside.

So I’ve been using binaural sound to try and transport the audience into a place that they can see. This project really is a continuation of that, but this time it’s for the audience to create those places in their own mind, their own imagination. And in pitch-blackness, this technology works particularly well, because the audience are really able to imagine what might be going on in the room based on just what they’re hearing.

So the show came from quite a technological starting point, but also the desire to create a show where every audience member finds themselves in the centre of the action. Every audience member finds themselves referred to increasingly more, until they become the subjects of the piece.

LC: What role does space play in your work?

DR: One of the first questions is what effect the audience will have on a space, what role do they play within it. With all of the shows that I’ve done they’re not interactive in that the audience have to do stuff or say things, but there is a reason for the audience being there. For instance when the audience sees other audience members around they are both an audience – always - but also there is another reason why everyone is there. In some shows the audience have been passengers on an aircraft, unwilling participants in a sex party or potential investors. In this piece the audience have all come to some kind of a meeting, which they don’t quite understand when they come in, but they understand that they are part of that environment.

Being in the dark, a lot of attention has gone into crafting the space through sound. Even though there isn’t a big warehouse or a railway arch or a constructed hotel, there is a world the audience enter when the lights go out that also has its architectural basis.

LC: Would you say you have a target audience? Do you think your work appeals to everyone?

DR: With this piece there are certainly people who are excluded: it’s quite a terrifying experience for some people. It’s a very rare thing that we’re in that level of darkness for song long, so some people have found that difficult to be able to tolerate the sensory deprivation. So I do think that those of a nervous disposition might have some trouble.

But on the whole there’s not a particular age group that the work targets. I always think the stuff I make is fairly accessible in that it doesn’t require any previous knowledge: it’s not a vintage wine! It just requires an openness, and a desire to allow the show to take you somewhere.

LC: Is there something in particular you try and change in your audience as a result of seeing your work?

DR: There’s always a hope that somehow the world looks a bit different afterwards, or that you yourself feel a bit different afterwards. It’s quite difficult to really put words around what the objective is, of what the experience will be like, because there is no message in the work. There isn’t information that is trying to be imparted, or an opinion that is trying to be put across. It’s something that is profoundly unsettling – having that experience there is the possibility that the audience go out into the world and there is something that is changed in a small way.

LC: So it’s more about the experience?

DR: I’m wary if the word “experience” because it’s bandied around with everything. You can’t even go to a f***ing restaurant without it having to be an experience! So the word has been a little soiled, but still as soon as the lights go down then the audience are involved in something. It becomes quite difficult for you as an audience member to maintain that position of a safe and passive observer of something. That’s quite an interesting position to be in.

LC: You’re often labelled as an experimental theatre director. Do you like that tag? Is it useful?

DR: I’ve been an experimental theatre maker for 15 years, so it’s about time I started showing people some of the results of these experiments! The problem with the term is I think it kind of overstates it a bit. This is the case with all these terms: all theatre is immersive, all theatre is site-specific even if it’s on a stage, all theatre is experimental with the majority of it. People are always trying to create new things with the work that they’re making.

I feel these terms might be helpful to give a flavour to an audience, to try and define something so they might know the kind of thing they’re getting, but I don’t think it helps that much.

I’m certainly very interested in looking for new ways for audiences to do things. Whereas a playwright might be doing that through the narrative and through the actual situation of what’s going on on the stage, my interest usually starts more with an audience’s position within a room and their perspective on an event or series of events.

LC: Apart from the Edinburgh run this summer do you have anything else in the pipeline?

DR: At the moment I’m working on two other dance projects with Frauke Requardt who I did Electric Hotel and Motor Show with, and they’re hopefully to open in 2014. At the moment we’re in development phases for those shows.

Ring runs at the Battersea Arts Centre from 30th July - 3rd August. More details are available here.

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