The idea was first conceived around the notion of the teleprompter, that blinking light of alleged knowledge without which eyes would be down and information would be slow to reach us. Yet as a technology, it’s rather archaic. “I got really interested in teleprompters because of how they combine new and old-world technologies to simulate authenticity and liveness and personal connection, while someone is just reading a script to camera,” explains Fox. “I made a few one-to-one performances using teleprompters. But I really want to explore something more complex and long form and initiated the collaborations that have led to Prompter. In the [early] phase we worked with a broadcast producer with a background working in the field with foreign correspondents and we found out the core situation for Prompter – moments when a journalist finds themselves with a massive, horrifying scoop on their hands. And then we combined this situation with the problems of live, real-time reporting and using teleprompters on location. And then we thought about the audience watching something like this from the bedrooms, and rather than being an alienated or desensitised audience, we thought about them reacting with extreme empathy and hypersensitivity. This epidemic of caring is explored and problematised in the work and unfolds in lots of modes of performative action.”
Hydra Poesis has always been invested in social and political commentary, with Fox forming the company in an extremely divisive time in this country and polarised opinions have been ever-present ever since. “I founded Hydra Poesis in 2006 with two focuses – to create work through interdisciplinary collaboration and to explore critical politics in performance,” he says. “We started with polemical protest actions – against the Howard Government – and then moved into more open ended work for a long period. But recently our work is coming back to direct action. In April we launched a project called Dance Journalism and covered the National Refugee Rights Convergence at Yongah Hill Detention Centre in regional WA using a literal combination of live dance, journalism and editorial statements. We’ve also just made a series of video and sculpture based performance artworks exhibited in Sydney as part of SymbioticA’s Semipermeable exhibition and ISEA. Prompter is the biggest project I’ve ever worked on. It’s taken about four and a half years to get to the stage. This included research and trials, assembling the team (which is quite massive), writing with my script collaborator Patrick Pittman, the design team featuring Tarryn Gill and sound artists Dave Miller and Kynan Tan, developing software throughout with our programmer Matthew Gingold, and collaborating with the 10 performance artists – online and in the studio. We were mentored through the process by Dicky Eton, a UK-based producer and artist whose works with Duckie and Pacitti Company.”
As the world has gotten smaller and regionally-specific issues have been more and more acknowledged as global concerns the relevance of news no longer ends at a nation’s borders. Fox and the team have also taken a global approach to the creation of this production. “Our network of colleagues overseas recommended people to us and then we began with discussions on Skype,” he says. “We were able to assemble an incredible team of performance artists including Marcela Fuentes who is an incredible Argentinean performer and theorist, Dickie Beau who has been making celebrated works of contemporary drag-fabulation in London, Allison Wyper from Los Angeles who is one of the most committed and rigorous performance artists I’ve ever met and does a lot of work with La Pocha Nostra. We’ve been working for almost three years as an online chorus and this exchange has fed all Hydra’s recent works.
It would be impossible for Prompter to avoid undergoing a metamorphosis during such a long development time but being open-minded has been the key to success. “The form and nature of it has changed a huge amount. Although we didn’t really know what form it would take from the beginning. It began as sketches of many different things but was never conceived as a single fixed thing like a traditional play. I wouldn’t have been able to envisage or dream up what it’s become without going through the process,” he says.
Viewing the presentation of news through a critical lens has always been at the heart of the piece though. “We are being critical of mainstream media allowing the speed of technology – and other pressures like finance – to impact the research and rigour of reporting,” he says. “But we also see the audience changing and the economics have changed, so the show is not really a [negative] criticism of media. The critical aspect applies to all of us really – what does it mean to watch an event from afar? How does our empathy or concern get used or co-opted through the combined power of media, government, corporations? And how should we be engaging with stories and acting on information? The international cast allows us to explore ideas of internationalism and cross-cultural solidarity but also the problems of re-colonial outcomes or interventions. We pose questions about local versus international priorities. The audience might not pull out all these things, and that’s fine, there’s a lot embedded within the narratives and action. You won’t leave without hanging questions though.”
BY KRISSI WEISS