Written by Ioana Diaconu
As a foreigner in London I often find myself eager to explain my culture, to show what it is about it that is so great and worth sharing. Of course we could argue that there is no such thing as a foreigner in London, since it is the place of a hundred cultures and so on. Anyway, at home or not, I feel it a duty to share beautiful projects of Romanians worldwide, and this is my first attempt (followed, I hope, by many more).
I knew about Ioana Paun as an artist in residency at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, I heard bits and parts about her work in the past months, but I didn’t have a clear image of the project. Thus I left for Theatre Royal Stratford East expecting a theatre performance — wondering whether the subtitles to the show would be as expressive in translation, which I always found to be an issue with international plays.
What I did get from the next couple of hours was far from the linguistic debate. It was not whether the audience got the little inside jokes, they actually made them. And not only the jokes, but the action and interaction. Even the rules, at some point.
Photograph by Dana Popa
Through this project, Ioana Paun sets out to explore the social nature of our being – how do we react when given certain stimuli, why do we conform and why do we revolt? Through a hybrid of live art performance and social experiment, we are given the chance if not to answer these questions, at least to be conscious of our own behaviour and instincts, to start to question our own attitudes when faced with these realities outside of the artificial environment of the experiment.
Photograph by Inno Brezeanu
The prologue introduces the audience to a dynamic stock market account, culminating with the human value on the market – “You are worth nothing in the market. Unless someone buys you. Unless someone sells you!” We are brutally introduced to reality.
Ten members of the audience are randomly selected to enter a factory setting, in which they are to spend the rest of the experiment completely immersed in this new universe, as workers in a production line in a factory. The rest of the audience can see and hear everything that is going on in the house, together with statistics about the average worker’ s drive, productivity and downfall.
The sense of intrusion from the outside world gets even stronger when the new performers/subjects realize that the Big Brother like Voice handing them instructions has run a background check on them through their online profiles. Although it is no news these days, being screened through social media by a complete stranger/prospective employer startled me when experienced first hand, especially in an environment where I came prepared to be the spectator, the voyeur of other people’s stories.
Although at first aware of the audience and the vulnerability of playing one’s own person on a stage, the subject –performers soon forget about the outside world, as they get more and more caught up in the tangle of relationships that emerge on the scene – there are instant likes and dislikes, leadership emerges, so does the frustration of inequalities and unfulfilling work. Ioana Paun has created a complete experience, a set of feelings and thoughts that usually develop on a larger timescale in a person’s life, making it so much more powerful by condensation. As the lights grow dimmer, the heating more intense, the revolt climbs rapidly to a state of disruption. The workers refuse to work anymore. Partly aware of it as a spectacle, partly involved on a much more personal level, the subjects of the experiment contradict the prologue – Yes you are worth more than what they buy you for. Yes, you are more than a transaction, you do have initiative and the power to disrupt a system. The play ends on this note on this one occasion, we do not know how other series reacted and this is why the project as a whole is worth following.
Photograph by Inno Brezeanu
Photographs by Dana Popa
One of the lines going through the audience’s headphones as the play progresses is worth mentioning in this context – As a child, the human being questions everything. As a teenager, he still questions some points, revolting against them. As an adult though, the average worker complies with the instructions he receives, forgetting to question the validity of his own actions beyond the social and the economical frame pushed on him. (We did prove them wrong on this occasion.)
All in all, Muncitor is a strong statement for the socio-political context of the day, an initiative to engage the public in questioning the terms imposed upon him, as well as his own reactions to these conditions.
For more info about Ioana, have a look here.