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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Playing with their fronts to the audience Binge Culture and Elimination Rounds


This week at BATS theatre, explosive theatrical deconstructionistas the Binge Culture Collective (, of generally being awesome fame, are restaging two of their works from last year. Under the umbrella title of Elimination Rounds, they are revisiting, revising and revitalising the second and third parts of their informal Panda Trilogy—Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish (that won them best newcomers at the 2009 Fringe awards) and Animal Hour—into a two-hour two-part show. Salient theatre bastard Uther Dean sat down with Ralph Upton (director of Drowning Bird) and Joel Baxendale (director of Animal Hour) and asked them questions.

Uther: Why start with Animal Hour then end with Drowning Bird, when they premiered in the opposite order?

Ralph: The metaphor is prime time versus late night. Animal Hour is the theatrical equivalent of a fucked-up Dancing with the Stars, whereas Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish is more of an afterparty. It’s the party you go to at 11 o’clock at night.

Joel: The project is really about how they play against each other. We really want to make these two flow together and work together—as opposed to just restaging them. We’ve got a lot of stuff coming back from 1001 Things* in both Animal Hour and Drowning Bird. We’re bringing back that more raw playing that we had in 1001. Because, well I wouldn’t say we got more polished, we did get more obsessed with narrative as we went along. So, it’s kind of like if you took Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and then threw in bits of A New Hope. Just the best bits like the band playing in the cantina.

Ralph: We’re looking at the things that really worked about the very first stuff we did. Stuff we kind of went away from in the first version of Animal Hour. Layers of stuff, if you’ve got eight people on stage they can all be doing different things at the same time, so that there is a kind of chaos, a layered chaos.

Uther: Since you directed the first version of each show separately from each other, how have your roles as directors of the individual parts of Elimination Rounds changed with them being one show?

Joel: Well, we talk a lot in rehearsals but it’s still, I think, very much one person directing one thing, and I think it’s quite important to have those roles defined, especially as a devising group because there is a thing as too much democracy. We’re all inputting constantly into both shows, but there has got to be a final someone to make the decisions. Someone who’s ultimately responsible for the show.

Ralph: It’s just good to know that you’re gonna panic in the last week. We’ve done enough shows now to realise that this is going to be a really tough week. That it won’t come together until the last few days. It’s just how it happens. It’s between knowing that and not relaxing too much.

Uther: So, why theatre? Why would anyone want to do theatre?

Joel: One of things I feel that theatre can do almost more than anything else is get other people in with that same sense of enjoyment. A lot of people get it from going to gigs but there is some more… I mean, you can go to a gig and be stimulated intellectually or emotionally or physically, but I think there is a way that theatre can do that in a more… I see a lot of similarity with gigs.

Ralph: Yeah. One of the starting points for Animal Hour was you turn up to a play and there is a band just playing. And what that does to you. It’d be great for theatre to put you in a similar space as when you go to a gig. When you see a band you don’t have appreciation anxiety that you get at the theatre sometimes. “Am I understanding this?” When you’re listening to a band it’s just about how there is something happening and how you’re enjoying it together.

Joel: It’s a shared experience. That’s the key. That’s the difference between live performing and something that’s got a bit of distance between the artist and the…

Ralph: …and the encounter. I want to make theatre that feels that there is something completely different that happens when it is in front of an audience to when it’s in a rehearsal. So you’re always looking for what it is in what you’re doing that will change when there is an audience there. Not ignoring them. If you have an event you get people witnessing it as opposed to just watching it.

Joel: There is a lot of theatre that does the theatrical equivalent of playing with your back to the audience. Being like “Oh, we’re so good. Well done us.” And not really engaging with the audience. I think that the excitement for me is in engaging with the audience and I think it’s quite primal.

Ralph: Just stop pretending that you’re doing something that’s sealed on the stage. Don’t think that if the audience reacts to it that that’s bad. Basically we have a philosophy that whatever the audience does has to be part of the show. And it’s rough. Theatre is rough. And it’s ready. You should make it so that it’s able to be changed by the audience. Not something that is “We’re going show you something perfect and you’re going to watch and clap at the end.” This brings us to the idea of gameplay which is something that is really key to us. That we’re always playing games, whether they’re hidden games or overt games, and so the big question that came out of Drowning Bird for me was, how do you get the audience to play? If the audience is playing the game with you, you’re in a position to fuck with them.

The extended interview will be available on the Salient website ( You can even download the audio!

Elimation Rounds runs from this Tuesday the 30th of March to Thursday the 1st of April at BATS theatre ( at 7.30pm. It costs $20 or $14 depending on various factors. Book at or by calling (04) 802 4175.

Binge Culture would like to point out just how awesomely supportive the VUW Theatre Department has and continues to be.

*1001 Things You Must Do Before You Die was Binge Culture’s first performance, made as part of Ralph’s Theatre Honours research. Drowning Bird is a very clear evolution of it (to the point of basically being a reworked restaging of it) with Animal Hour being very much another step along similar thematic lines. Together they form the informal ‘Panda Trilogy’.


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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