Etiquette is a half-hour participatory performance experience for two people, conceived by renowned UK-based art collective Rotozaza, who coined the term "Autoteatro," a new performance genre whereby audience members perform the piece themselves, for each other. Participants – who may purchase tickets as a solo "performer" or as a pair – meet at YBCA, where they receive simple audio equipment and are guided to a nearby café. Other customers are not aware that there is a performance taking place. Participants sit at a table with carefully arranged objects and are given instructions about what to say and do and violà, the performer becomes the audience!
Etiquette exposes human communication at both its rawest and most delicate levels, and reveals that simple conversation is in fact a kind of theatre where the roles of "audience" and "actor" are imperceptibly assumed and exchanged. Etiquette offers a unique fantasy experience of speaking with someone you may or may not know without having to plan or even own what you say.
Part of my ongoing curatorial work is to aggressively research and explore performances by artists who are experimenting with new forms. I travel to festivals and conferences around the globe to discover work that explores new ways of working and thinking. I’m hungry for artistic experiences that surprise, confound and present unexpected scenarios and I seek experiences that stick in my consciousness long after the performance concludes — those are the kind of experiences I want to bring to YBCA.
About two years ago, I experienced a theater production at New York’s Under the Radar Festival that completely changed my perspective on what theater could be. It was an experience that shifted my sense of place and elevated my sense of the everyday. It was an experience that lingered with me for years. My experience took place at a diner in the East Village where I 'performed' the piece with a friend. I was horrible at remembering my lines, I laughed, I felt awkward and mildly embarrassed, but I was delighted and exhilarated to be the performer in this intimate piece for just the two of us amidst the familiar motions, sounds, gestures of the restaurant environment. That performance was Etiquette by Rotozaza.
This unique, participatory performance project launches our investigation of the Big Idea DARE: Innovations in Art, Action, Audience and is, in fact, the piece that introduced me to an exciting new kind of artistic practice. It also revitalized my curiosity and passion for experimental theater and compelled me to start researching other projects that integrate art and audience in similarly rigorous, imaginative ways. Since then, I have discovered a whole body of work illuminating these new trends that are surfacing not only in contemporary performance, but in the visual arts as well. I felt it was only fitting that this landmark performance piece serve as an introduction to how artists are rethinking conventions and experimenting with the role of the audience.
Pieces like Etiquette value the intimate experience over the epic. They reveal the significance of the interactions and exchanges that happen on a tangible and everyday scale. Challenging the notion of who gets to perform, the piece democratizes the theater going experience. This work, alongside a body of work that is exploring 'user generated' practice, plays with conventional hierarchies of creative control and flips the roles of audience and performer. What I think is most compelling about this work is how it demands that the viewer be an active participant in the creation, or fulfillment of the artistic piece. It also serves as a larger metaphor for how we at YBCA view the role of our audience. We want the audience to be an active participant, not simply a viewer. The audience’s energy, response, memory, ideas and experience of the work we present is, integral to how the work impacts the cultural community. As Etiquette so poetically reveals, the performance isn't complete without the audience.
Writer and director Ant Hampton formed Rotozaza in 1998 and joined with performer Silvia Mercuriali shortly afterwards to create [DUE] in Milan, Italy, 1999. Since then, they have been working together in different ways—and in different countries/languages—on over 20 Rotozaza productions from their early site-specific work in Milan and Paris to a deeply explored strategy of selecting different performers every night, who agree to take instructions and perform live and unrehearsed. This in turn gave rise to the ongoing Autoteatro series which explores a new kind of performance, whereby audience members perform the piece themselves, for each other. Each participant hears a different soundtrack, with different instructions. The different tracks are synchronized and pre-recorded, meaning the participants are alone with each other during the experience, with no human input beyond someone handing them the headphones or sometimes pressing 'play'. An Autoteatro work is a 'trigger' for a subsequently self-generating performance. Ant Hampton and Sam Britton (alias Isambard Khroustaliov) created their first Autoteatro work, BLOKE, in 2000. Etiquette premiered in 2007 and has been translated into thirteen languages and performed around the world. Rotozaza are based in London and Brighton, UK.
YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
The San Francisco Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Adobe Foundation Fund
YBCA Performance 10–11 is made possible in part by:
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 10–11:
Zellerbach Family Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts