The director chatted to Emma Clarendon about Passenger, playing as part of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival from 21 June 2019.
Hi Jessica, thanks so much for talking to me. Could you explain a bit more about what Passenger is about?
Passenger is set on board a moving bus. It was originally inspired by the idea of using the windows of the bus as screens. When you are inside a vehicle you can easily enter into a similar mode to that of watching a film. The conversation and music inside your vehicle influence how you interpret the passing world.
As a group of artists we are also interested in how image and sound are increasingly used to manipulate us to buy into ideas and narratives. So we wanted to use the screens of the bus to subtly manipulate the audience into reading a city they are already familiar with, in a completely different way. We experiment a lot with the line between truth and fiction.
The show frames the passing streets as a filmic landscape. It is also loosely structured like a film and it draws specifically on the tropes of the Western. Our main character is subtly based on a cowboy seeking to right a wrong in a place where the law is broken. But this Western is set in 2019, and the frontier landscape is the world of corporate capitalism.
How did the concept for the show come about?
Ian Pidd, my co-director, and I had together made quite a few shows on board buses, that were
mostly playful participation-based projects. We decided to make something that used this medium in a more controlled theatrical way. We started by driving around Melbourne’s Docklands and playing music and text. We got really excited about how powerfully we could manipulate our own perceptions of the things we were seeing through our car windows.Then Baudrillard influenced our thematic direction. He likens driving a car to being in a bubble; the dashboard a console and the windows as television screens. Our thematics and story all grew from there.
What can audiences expect from Passenger? Passenger is both ordinary and extraordinary. There are some exciting pay-offs but it would be a spoiler to reveal them.
How did you get involved with the production?
I conceived Passenger with Ian Pidd, and then fundraised, produced and co-directed its development and eventual premiere production in Melbourne.
What was it that made you want to be involved with the production?
I like the way Passenger is embedded in the real world involving people walking on the streets, traffic lights, a real-life bus driver, cars and (sometimes) traffic jams. In order to make the narrative and theatrical elements hold up there has to be controlled dramatic structure, yet it has to give and take to accommodate unpredictable elements. The show is almost improvised onto the London landscape – that makes it very exciting to perform. I have loved working with such a great team of artists in Ian Pidd as co-director and devisor, Nicola Gunn as writer and Tom Fitzgerald who has created such a great composition.
How are you feeling about being part of the Greenwich + Docklands International festival? Loving it. The festival has really worked hard to make this show happen in London. It has involved resolving a heap of seriously curly logistical issues. Sited work is pretty challenging for a festival and GDIF has forged a particularly unique position in terms of its capacity and bravery to present works like Passenger.
By Emma Clarendon
Passenger will play at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival from the 26th to the 29th June.