I’d packed my bags. I’d squeezed 24 interactive sonic spheres into two large suitcases and I was ready to get on the 12 hour flight to Shanghai when I had a sudden panic. Does GPS work in China….?
I’ve presented Congregation and its spheres in many different locations but never on the other side of the world. The G standing as it does for Global in Global Positioning Satellites did encourage me, however, I like to be certain about these things before I embark on a long and expensive journey. And evidently the US had ‘tuned off’ GPS over China once before….
Arriving in Shanghai after being awake for 24 hours my first act was to take a sphere outside the hotel and see if it worked (it did!). I don’t tell people how Congregation works. My team and I like to pretend we have no idea, that we are just the agents of the spheres, doing their bidding and passing them out to the audiences who then allow the sphere to guide them with sound to a secret location. Perhaps there are little homing pigeons inside….
After my slight panic over technology my second thoughts were how would this highly unusual piece of participatory art, novel for most European audiences, be received in China? The answer was with a big smile. Usually when I present a performance of Congregation I am convinced that the seventy interactive spheres that we give out to almost complete strangers will never be seen again, and yet every time I am proved wrong. Thousands of people have been taken on journeys by the spheres and we are yet to lose one. This is largely due to the amazing programming skills of Steve Symons and the carefully worked and psychologically worded briefing script by performance artist Stavroula Kounadea who successfully wove a sense of responsibility towards the spheres into the script so that audiences started to relate to the spheres more as creatures to be looked after than inanimate pieces of technology.
As my Chinese audiences found their way to the final destinations, guided by the singing spheres, I was overwhelmed by their joy and delight on arrival, and by the endless selfies that they wanted taken with me and their sphere.
I was invited to China by the wonderful Shihui Weng of Tempest Projects, and supported by a grant from the British Council we brought 24 of my 100 spheres over to Shanghai for its Performing Arts Fair where we made two performances of Congregation in the French Concession area of Shanghai for delegates and then stayed for a week at Wuzhen for the Theatre Festival where we presented another 12 shows to a mix of public, theatre festival attenders and programmers.