100 100 Word Plays was one of the oddest theatre-going experiences I’ve ever had in St Andrews.
The project is the brainchild of Rachel Tam and was developed out of a Royal Court initiative encouraging writers to create 100-word plays. This limitation allows even unexperienced playwrights to produce a complex piece of work. Various writing workshops have been held throughout the year on a number of intriguing topics, such as ‘The Multiple’ and ‘Memory and Witnessing’. Contributors—not only on the writing side but also on the technical and production sides—have ranged across students, graduates, lecturers, and poets. Having attended a couple of their workshops myself, I’d imagined that the end result would be some variety of “mega-script” composed from the various submissions, collaborated into one final performance.
When Sunday evening arrived, Venue 2 had been fitted out with two projection screens, one of which displayed the words ‘Rafael Rehabilitation Centre’. Upon entering, we were asked to write our names and ‘check in’ our belongings. Then we were ushered into a group and the main feature began.
A voiceover informed us that we were to undergo ‘empathy education’, which largely comprised of listening to and watching small scenes—a selection of the aforementioned 100 word plays. Many of these vignettes were delivered through voiceovers, with a few acted out by a few members of the project: Anastasia Nikolskaya, Luisa Hill, Surer Mohamed and Tamar Ziff. Some of these scenarios involved the audience, asking us to stand in a group or in lines. At one point we formed a long queue to board a plane.
Watching other audience members gradually became the most fascinating aspect of the event. Although there usually wasn’t much to see ‘onstage’, people naturally stared in one direction together, like they were on an elevator. It is typically rare to make eye contact with your fellow theatre-goers during a performance, so I had a lot of fun trying to meet people’s gazes, which most seemed unwilling to do. Admittedly, that might have just been me.
There was a beautiful moment when the voiceover announced that we were ‘free’ and that we should ‘start walking’ – one individual simply refused to move. I was so impressed by his steadfastness that I began to circle him. The rest of the audience paced around in an aimless manner for some time before congregating at the side of the room to watch the few remaining wanderers, as though attempting to keep an ‘audience-perspective’ on the event.
Then music played, the producer (Saeunn Gísladóttir) shook each of us by the hand and we left the room. Then we came back in, wrote down a single word and collected our things. And then it was over. The whole thing had lasted less than forty-five minutes.
It’s difficult to know what to make of this when the whole affair differed so greatly from my initial expectations. Rather than a showcase of the artists’ work, it seemed to be an amalgam, a totality, and—perhaps—an attempt to find congruity where there was none.
The ambitious scope of the project was evident, although it would have benefitted from greater organisation. It became hard to maintain interest in the voice-overs or the acting, neither of which displayed much ingenuity. Commanding the audience was an innovative idea, as was allowing them freedom to explore the space, but the absence of anything to discover within the venue was disappointing. Even having copies of the plays scattered around the venue would have encouraged more organic audience interaction. As it stands, the project felt too short and had too much empty space to really make a psychological impact. A tighter focus was needed to create a fully immersive experience.
As I said, this was one of the oddest theatre-going experiences I’ve had in St Andrews. That is by no means a bad thing. It’s excellent to see ambitious, experimental theatre that aims to push boundaries and draw together as many people as possible. Nonetheless, far more development and planning would be necessary to make full use of the project’s potential.
Photo credit: Olga Loza & Rachel Tam