Review: Kontakt 3 by Sherman Youth Theatre

Kontakt 3
Saturday 6th November 2010 @ 8.30pm
Venue: St John the Baptist Church, Canton, Cardiff.

Photos: Andy Humer

On approaching the church I couldn’t help to think ‘what an odd location to watch a show’. The church itself is set in the middle of a street as a roundabout, this added to the ambiance of what I was about to participate in. The choice of venue supported the experience very well and also gave the Sherman Youth Theatre performers an interesting space to stop off at while the main Sherman Theatre building is being refurbished.

The concept of Kontakt began in 2008, introducing audiences and performers to a unique interactive experience; it is now an annual event for the Youth Theatre. Over 125 members of the Sherman Youth Theatre were included in creating the Kontakt 3 experiences for audience members over twelve nights. Birmingham Rep Youth Theatre and the Arcola Youth Theatre in London have also adopted the format and have created their own experiences for audiences.

I refer to it as an experience rather than a production or performance as Phillip Mackenzie points out in the programme ‘the cast are not playing characters, there us no script’. The audience was not confronted by the usual conventions of theatre, instead something real and accessible. As I stepped into the church I could feel I was in for a treat.

‘How often does an adult sit across from a table with 14 year old and have a meaningful interaction or conversation?’ (Phillip Mackenzie, director of Kontakt 3.)

The answer I thought was quiet simple….Never. However this experience has changed my viewpoint. This is an individual experience and a strange one at that. The concept of Kontakt 3 is very impressive, however the way in which elements of the experience were executed led to the experience not being consistent throughout.

List of Interaction/ Conversation
Staring across the table with three separate individuals.
Relaxed conversation.
Dance sequence by young people.
Holding hands.
Cards with topics on to talk about.
Participants dancing with young people.
More talking.
Back to dance sequence by young people.

At first glance it felt as though you were about to take part in a speed dating experiment, even though the venue was a church anything is possible in theatre. The venue created an instant intensity with the haze, candlelight and stage lights. This enhanced the mysteriousness of the cast as they came to take their seats.

(Setting for the evening)(Cast coming out of the darkness)

The first three young people that engaged with staring across the small table with a lit candle were fantastic at keeping the mood and intensity of the experience. The music accompanying this helped set the scene and keep the focus between the staring.

(Dance sequence) (Playing cards)

Talking to the young people was at times uncomfortable as it was difficult for them to relate to life experiences, this staggered the conversation and the connection was lost. It would have also helped if the person opposite had an interest in what you were talking about, as there were many times where it felt like they were waiting for their next cue or thinking about what else to say.

During one section I was confronted with a 17 year old male performer, he place his hands out and bowed his head, the music continued in the background, I looked around and saw that other participant had their eyes closed, had I missed something? As I closed my eyes and tried to relax a bell chimed and that part of the experience was over, I had missed something, the performer hadn’t asked for my eyes to be closed.

The cards created conversation and it was very short but also funny, the performer was very laid back and at one point didn’t know what one of the words on the card meant. There was a definite ‘realness’ to the cast, as it was time for this performer to move on he said ‘Shit, I’m supposed to pack the cards away’. Both these experiences took away from the staring that was well executed at the start.

(Drawing together)

The drawing was done with a different male performer; this exercise was not only engaging but created a clearer connection and brought me back into the environment. As it was non-verbal communication, it created something different for each participant; there were slight chuckles across the church, which echoed throughout and was chilling. Although I was slightly concerned at the start of the exercise when the performer resorted to holding the pen over the flame to make it work.

(Dancing with everyone)

After drawing freely between us, the performer wrote ‘can you dance?’, as the audience gathered on together to dance with the young people, there was a sense of hesitancy, but once relaxed it was good fun.

As we went back to our seats there was time for one last conversation with a different cast member. This was the most awkward of moments, as the male performer was only just twelve and extremely nervous, he also wasn’t quite sure what questions to ask. This made it very difficult to engage in the conversation; also the young performer was wearing a fake moustache, which was very hard not to laugh at.

(Going back to the darkness)

As the cast finished there last dance sequence, it was clear that the young performer was following another cast member, as in the previous dance sequence eye contact was kept through out.

I think it is important to address again what Phillip Mackenzie says in the programme to support the cast itself: ‘the cast are not playing characters, there is no script, everything said is the truth and each performer is different’. Then maybe this is exactly what I experienced.

As the cast retreated back to the darkness, I knew I had experienced something that I probably will not experience again from a youth group. There are not many occasions where youth theatres take a risk and expose their performers to a different environment, concept or experiences with audience members.

This experience has ‘stretched the boundaries of theatre’ but also stretched the boundaries of youth theatre. It was brilliant to watch and be involved in something that is not continuously churned out like the beloved musical. Although I felt different elements of the show needed to be rehearsed more, it was so refreshing to see these young people being given the opportunity to improve on their confidence, performance skills and interacting with an audience. I applaud their brave efforts and thank them for giving me an enjoyable and memorable experience.

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