“Can I ask you a question?” – Forced Entertainment’s 24-hour Quizoola!

A few months before Forced Entertainment brought its 24-hour endurathon performance of Quizoola! to the Barbican’s Spill Festival, I got my first smartphone. Nothing special in this – I am probably the n-billionth person on the planet to have an iPhone to fiddle with, but I have noticed how unquiet the device has made me. I can choose to be switched on day and night. I have multiple social media apps with which to ignore people. Of course one can turn off push alerts and all these things, but actually who does? I have spent months fighting the urge to fiddle with it and I am not the first person to succumb to an obsessive-complusive-data tic. It’s unpleasant.

Terry O' Connor and Tim Etchells about 22 hours into the 24-hour Quizoola!

Terry O’ Connor and Tim Etchells about 22 hours into the 24-hour Quizoola!

I mention this because of two things: first, I’m thinking about listening and silence and stillness in preparation for a lecture I’m giving on John Cage in Brussels next month (see tenuous link below) as part of The Wire magazine’s Primer series; and secondly, because succumbing to the rhythms of Quizoola! was a relief. Like all of Forced Entertainment’s durational works, Quizoola! – a theatrical situation that is part quiz show, part interrogation – is, to some extent, informal theatre. You could enter and exit at will; there are no delineated seats to be kept to; and none of the codes that pertain to behaviour at more conventional performance, which means there’s the option of phone fiddling. Yet Quizoola! has always been a ritualistic performance – at any one time, two performers, smeared with clown makeup sit in a circle ringed with lightbulbs and ask and answer questions from a wodge of over 2,000 scripted questions (some, this time, submitted in advance by the public); a third performer sits disinterestedly on a ticket desk at the door of the auditorium.  Lies, evasions and truths are on show. And ritual, in the way it focuses and condenses that which is left outside, has a way of becoming that is real. Quizoola! is about endurance and about witnessing in real time: to opt out of it, once it’s begun is somehow to pull oneself away from any engagement. Sod the iPhone: Quizoola! – always brilliant, insane, funny and profoundly moving – is a network of its own devising.

How did a show that originated as a 45-minute performance commissioned in 1996 (by the ICA and the National Review of Live Art) turn into a 24-hour performance? It’s true, Quizoola! has been growing in length over its lifetime – six hours, 12 hours and now an entire day. (Tickets were sold in 12-hour blocks: the performance began at 11.59pm on the Friday and ended at 11.59pm on the Saturday – slouchy chairs were set out for the audience in the Barbican’s basement Pit space and Quizoola!-branded eye masks provided.) Possibly Tim Etchells and five other company members wanted to push the piece as far as they could and the occasion of the Spill Festival of Performance was a good platform to do it. And this was a push into new territory, out of tiredness into a hysterical creativity in which cascades of questions – at random: Name five lies parents tell their children; What are babies for? What is electricity? – generate ruptures, regroupings, shock. It’s sometimes vicious as well as very funny: this was about 20 hours in and Claire Marshall was being savaged by Terry O’Connor:

Q: What is the French for 12?

A: I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Q WHAT IS THE FRENCH FOR 12?

A: I  can’t remember. [Tries to count in French. Fails]

Q: What is the French for 20?

A: [miserably] I don’t know. In German, it’s …

Q: WHY ARE YOU LYING TO ME?

A: I’m not.

Q: What is another word for 12 in English?

A: I don’t know.

Q: WHAT IS THE FRENCH FOR 12?

A: Un, ooone, deux… I don’t know.

Q: When did you last go to Ikea?

A: Recently. A few months ago. It was in Montpellier, actually.

Q: [Incredulous] How on earth did you communicate?

The thing is compelling: a live webcast meant that I could watch Cathy Naden and Claire Marshall on stage at 7am while I was in my kitchen. At that stage, the performers were relatively fresh: it was much later that guards slipped. The frisson that went through the theatre when Catholic clergy were referred in one answer as “superstitious kiddy-fiddlers” was audible. It’s two weeks since Quizoola! ended and I still miss it.

The end of Quizoola! Forced Entertainment takes its bow

The end of Quizoola! Forced Entertainment takes its bow

Forced Entertainment is in the process of editing highlights of its 24-hour Quizoola! for its website. In the interim, here is an excerpt from an earlier version of the showhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGOr-DrXieU

Forced Entertainment http://www.forcedentertainment.com

John Cage: The Wire Primer series, Brussels, 19 May www.abconcerts.be/en/projects/p/detail/silence-is-sexy 

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Forced Entertainment ride again: 24-hour Quizoola! coming to the Barbican

© Hugo Glendinning

© Hugo Glendinning

Forced Entertainment, a performance company that is no stranger to durational work, is embarking on one of its longest sessions for a long time in April when it stages a 24-hour version of Quizoola! A question and answer-based show that was first staged as a 45-minute work in 1996 at the ICA,  Quizoola! takes interrogation to new levels. It’s playful, it’s nasty, it’s theatrical waterboarding without the water.

The original versions of Quizoola! used a loose script of 2,000 questions. For the Barbican event, Forced Entertainment has asked the public to send in some new questions of their own devising. I’ve sent mine in: If you had five minutes left to live, would you use Twitter or Facebook to record your last message?  Describe nuclear fission for a child of five. What is the plague? Would you work in a call centre? Give three delaying tactics. I wonder if any of them will make it into the performance. Here’s the address to send your own questions in to: http://www.forcedentertainment.com/page/3102/24-hour-Quizoola

In the meantime, here’s an interview I did with Tim Etchells, co-founder of Forced Entertainment, in 2000, just prior to a seven-hour Quizoola! being staged. I remember that we were diverted by a discussion about performance art and the first series of Big Brother on TV. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/its-only-a-game-show–and-then-some-638355.html

Tickets http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=14164

We’re Going Down: Forced Entertainment’s Void Story

Above: still from Void Story (© Forced Entertainment)

I must confess to an indecent level of excitement in anticipating the arrival of Forced Entertainment’s new show (I use the word hesitantly) at the Soho Theatre in London next month. The company’s blurb promise “haunted wildernesses, backstreets and bewildering funfairs”, a night so intense that stars themselves hide. It’s going to be fun.

If most theatre is about creating the necessary disbelief to summon the story it is telling into being, then Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment’s is no ordinary theatre. I’ve found them in strange places over the years: a wintry attic by the Thames engaged in a seemingly endless question-and-answer game; I’ve heard them confess to genocide and reading each other’s diaries; and on at least two occasions, they have predicted my death and those of many of others who’d attended First Night (2001), a piece of dark entertainment that naughtily masqueraded as a vaudeville show. In Bloody Mess (2004), I’ve seen them summon up the beginning – and the end – of the world, a process that involved disco dancing and naked men discussing types of silence; and a manic woman in a cheap gorilla suit pelting the audience with sweets and popcorn.

True, most people don’t go for a night out to be reminded of the inevitable, and the cod fortune-telling of First Night is met with gales of uneasy laughter. But in this Sheffield-based group’s carefully controlled pandemonium and dangerous humours, there is a strange complicity with the audience. Something strong is shared when the screen of traditional narrative structures is dispensed with. Watching Quizoola! (1996) one Saturday afternoon in 2001 in that rain-sodden attic, I felt like I’d arrived at the end of the world; and when the last light was turned off in Bloody Mess, the sudden loss was overwhelming.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Above: Excerpt from Void Story (© Forced Entertainment)

John Avery has written a sparse and atmospheric score that haunts Void Story all the more. In these surreal and decentered times, what could be more suitable than this bleak cautionary tale.

More details, snippets and oddities at: http://www.forcedentertainment.com/