How much would you have to be paid to make a fool of yourself on stage? Not wanting to be “one of those artists” who demands audience participation for free, Ivo Dimchev pays for it: £20 to write poetry, £40 to dance. The price escalates as the tasks become bolder and more humiliating in this uncomfortably brazen test of audience exploitation. By the end of the evening, we’re watching two naked strangers simulate sex for half a month’s rent.
P-Project (★★★★☆) is one of several shows at Glasgow’s performance art festival Take Me Somewhere in which the audience are expected to take more active roles than usual. There is something deliciously vacuous about Dimchev’s easily bored attitude. He largely ignores what’s happening on stage at Tramway, except to throw out the odd instruction: faster, more tongue, don’t stop. Though the audience is kind, there is a sense of cruel glee at watching other people embarrass themselves. How far is this funny and to what extent is this consensual?
A gentler form of audience participation is available a short train ride away in Paisley, where Brian Lobel has transformed a shopping centre’s old post office into a giant sleepover. Binge (★★★☆☆), a one-on-one performance, takes place curled up in bed. It expands on Lobel’s 2014 solo show in which he prescribed each audience member to watch an episode of TV.
I jump into bed with James Lee, one of the five artists working with Lobel. We have matching pink dressing gowns and piles of Haribo, and we’re instructed to watch the 90s comedy Gimme Gimme Gimme on an old laptop.
The covers are so silky we keep slipping, and at one point I turn over and pull the charger with me, turning off the laptop. We talk while it starts up again, and the pretence of intimacy briefly feels real. But as we watch, I’m not quite confident or comfortable enough to lean on him, as I see someone across the room doing with another artist, and a nervousness lingers between the sheets.
Elements of the encounter are disjointed, with a long survey seeming like wasted time. But I leave feeling listened to and cared for, with a long list of TV and film recommendations. On my way out, a man stumbles on the venue by accident, asking for advice about his bank card. They can’t help, but he gently gets handed a survey and lured into bed.
Back at Tramway, the audience are left firmly alone as four women dance in a metallic sheen of mystical feminist futurism in Sonic Séance (★★★☆☆). Patricia Panther, Letitia Pleiades, Ashanti Harris and Mele Broomes conjure a summoning circle, imagining a future where they regain total control of their bodies. Their limbs are kaleidoscopic.
In place of a recognisable language, they sing – mostly vowels and sounds that avoid the constriction of words. Bea Webster interprets in British Sign Language, signing the notes as if they’re full sentences, clearly communicating reverb and echoes. Tech also forms a language of its own, with Panther and Pleiades’ syncopated, intelligent soundtrack and Hana Allan’s intense lighting.
If at times it is too opaque, they don’t seem to care. They keep a brilliantly emotionless glare – numbed or possessed perhaps – as if at any moment they might cook and eat us. But they soften as they begin an overly expositional lecture on the history of séances, with the language falling into broad cliches.
The piece’s real power is in the movement. These women have too long suffered with being told what to do and how to move. In protest, they work against the beat.