Yo Future was an eclectic and emotionally gripping piece. From the flyer to the music to the performance itself, the show asked its audience to examine questions that are more easily swept under the rug.
The two grandstands were opposite each other, with the stage in the middle. This established the idea that, rather than a passive audience, we were part of a greater conversation. I’m not sure if this was purposeful or accidental, but regardless of intent, it was effective.
One by one, the performers enter the room. They’re confused. They line up, alternating between which side they’re facing. A bell rings – a school bell. They move, like they’ve been told they must, or face dire consequences. The bell rings again. They move, again. Each time, the wait time lessens until all that is left is chaos.
Then they’re distracted by the television. Nothing else matters. Sound familiar?
They’ve all left now, bar one girl. She’s struggling against some invisible force. Her sentences are just beginnings, reaching out to us. I find myself wanting to reach back to her; to comfort her, and tell her everything is going to be okay.
But she doesn’t need it. She finds her way through, and grabs hold of an invisible energy. It’s tiny. She holds it in the tips of her thumb and forefinger.
It’s entrancing her and us. Two members of the cast slowly join her and as they interact with this invisible energy, it grows. They’re playing with it like a basketball now. I loved this part. It almost looked like something out of an anime film: magical and surreal and innocent. Even the actress, with her childlike joy and slight confusion, could have been something from a Studio Ghibli film.
But it’s all ruined, by a dominating group of ‘cool kids’. Even the music, once magical and a little bit weird, is taken over by some annoying chart-topper. It’s harsh, and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.
The confusion, the chaos, and the unmistakable stench of fear permeates for the duration of the performance. The unpleasant aftertaste lasts a little bit longer.
The biggest challenge is that the scenarios presented are all too real, though exaggerated. We’re shown the spoilt rich kids, the giggling drunk girls, the disconnection from the real world through smartphones, and the blindness to climate issues.
We are allowed a brief glimmer of hope, though. In the aftermath of a hashtag-boozing-with-the-girls selfie session, actress / singer Kat Ratcliffe is gifted a guitar, and breaks the rut with her original song, singing, “All I do is fight for acceptance.”
Of course, the guitar, and even the stool she sat on is taken from her. She’s given a cellphone instead, which distracts her endlessly, and communicates not just rejection, but also the destruction of art-making.
The second half of the show centers around a sort of mechanical bull. My first thought is of the Trojan Horse, and in some ways it’s precisely that. It’s a gift, supposedly, from an overly-smiley 50’s couple, and a promise of a bright future with the tagline: “All you have to do is believe!”
It has their attention, at least. Their attitudes change by the second, from fear to desire to jealousy to loathing. No one is allowed to think individually from the group. We are forced to consider: is this what has become of society?
Eventually, the Trojan Horse is revealed to be a time machine, and when the hand-picked time-travellers return, screaming stories of disease and death and destruction, they are branded liars.
“In the future,” says one girl, covered with grey rags and topped with a silver hat, “THIS is the reality.”
We end up with a scene of sombre acceptance that the truth is not as easily faced as the false promise of happiness. It’s conveyed through a haunting a Capella chorus of Ratcliffe’s song. It is fitting that the individual voices can be heard; differentiated from each other.
Individuality is valued, and the millennials are fighting for the same thing. I’m cautiously optimistic that we have a happy ending, though doubtful.
The voice of doubt proves to be right, when one by one, the millennials are picked off to be distracted – once again – by the television. It takes us back to the start of the performance: watching the mindless entertainment offered is the only thing that brings them together and, more importantly, allows them to effectively ignore the potential perils of society, the world, and the future.
This depressing conclusion somehow leaves me more fired up to make art. I think if there is one thing we can take away from this charged performance, it is to connect with each other, and connect with oneself, and making art is one way to do so.
Yo Future was presented by BARBARIAN and SHOW PONY, and directed by Jo Randerson. The Auckland performances were held at TAPAC from 16 – 25 October, 2014.