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A Poster Of The Cosmos

IO Performance

June 2nd, 2021

Only a fortnight ago I was witnessing IO Performance’s first production after 2020’s COVID devastation; The Nether, and here I was so soon after stepping through the doors of another. Lanford Wilson’s A Poster of the Cosmos, directed and performed by Chris Jackson is IO Performance at their most experimental and this is when they are at their best.

A Poster of the Cosmos is a one man show set in a Manhattan police station’s interrogation room, where Tom (Chris Jackson) answers questions to unseen police officers who suspect him of murder. A Poster of the Cosmos is an important and thought-provoking work about the uncertainty in conjecture and the daunting truths we encounter when our perspectives alter. Chris Jackson performs this monologue with a heartfelt bravado, his New York accent lining his performance with a roughness that is delightfully contrasted by unexpected tenderness at the conclusion.

The IO Space is cleverly converted into an immersive environment of multi-faceted techno surveillance, generating multiple differing audience viewpoints. Located in various sites around the venue; five contrasting rooms, each with a screen and a comfy chair, house a disparate aspect of what the audience perceives. The performance is live streamed from inside the venue, so the immediacy aspect of live theatre can still be preserved and observed; however, audience are stationed outside the room and watch through a fittingly designed window. Whichever room we decide to inhabit conceives a contrasting personalised experiential intimacy to the rest of the spectators.

During study for my MCA at UTAS, I explored and interrogated various models and techniques correlated with Immersive Theatre and my proficiency and learning continued to advance with exposure to more information afforded me during my MFA at NIDA. One component that I find paramount when constructing an immersive experience derives from the delivery of information. Audience engagement occurs when numerous samples of information are released from a diverse and unique set of perspectives simultaneously. This develops an eagerness for the observer to become active in their participation and they determine what individually constructs the most important context. An Immersive audience should always walk a tightrope of lingering hesitation as to whether they are seeing the correct aspect of the story, and a fervour of curiosity as to what they are missing.  

As Jackson mentions in his director’s notes,

“In a world where surveillance and glancing observations allows for us to all too easily make judgements based on assumptions and face value – this play shows us that we cannot ever see the full picture.”

The success of A Poster of the Cosmos was exactly that. While the information released was unchanging in all rooms, the perspective of the spectator differed and altered the subjectivity. From either watching it behind the window or realizing it via one of the many screens scattered throughout the venue, each audience member experienced the production differently. For one spectator, they get to view the show in a uniquely individual capacity, being faced with the performer inside the room. While they can’t experience the show the same way others do, they also have their own solitary point of view that no one else can be privy to on the night.

Delving deeper into the conceit of “Never being able to see the whole picture,” I found the clever design of various effects applied to the video feeds to be a shrewd and subtle visualisation of “blurring the story”. Some screens were intentionally fuzzy or distorted; one frequently turned on and off, offering us only brief glances at the action. One room we could simultaneously hear a one second delay between the screens internal speaker and the theatre’s P.A. System, which forged a jarring but effective disconnect.

I think IO Performance delivered on multiple of the fundamentals of Immersive Theatre, however I would have personally enjoyed seeing occasions where action could only be witnessed if you were viewing it on a specific screen at a precise time. These individual revelations could have been used to employ intriguing divergence among observers and generate further the distorted misinterpretation of the character’s story.  By spawning this ingredient of distrust, providing audience with the potential to miss something, initiates the spectator’s desire to cease being passive and take the opportunity to immerse in every facet to get a clearer picture. I would also have loved to see a perspective from over Jackson’s shoulder, focused on the audience member inside the room. Spectator becoming Spectacle is an exciting conceit and one I think would have presented well in a vision developed from the context of surveillance.

I did find myself unfortunately detached at times from the character’s story through my desire to continually move and alter my experience. The amount of elements may have been detrimental to my focus, however in my opinion the experiential immersion appeared to be more desirable to Jackson’s vision than the story, so I believe the productions outcome was achieved.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the result of A Poster of the Cosmos, and I encourage all art lovers to buy tickets and see this experimental and immersive piece of work. In a cultural climate coming out of a year of personal disconnection; an Immersive experience, even one about being disconnected and alone, can bring us together like no other form.  

Review by Matt Taylor

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