The Melbourne Fringe Festival is gearing up for its 2015 season, its newest unique and mixed comedy/art lineup presenting explosive shows that both challenge and change the way we think. The Reality Event, a show created by Daniel Gough and the Suicide Ensemble does just that; their enthralling show pitting the audience against each other in a controversial game of theatre politics, social norms and reality. We sat down with creators Daniel and the Suicide Ensemble to chat about their inspirations for the show, the best audience reactions and their eclectic press photography:

As this is your second time performing at Melbourne Fringe, What is it about the Fringe that attracted you to be part of it?
Last year the Melbourne Fringe was an enlightening and extraordinary experience. The Fringe audiences proved to be so welcoming of confronting and controversial work, which is exactly what The Suicide Ensemble have made this time. It’s not that we’re in the business of going out of our way to upset or confront people- our interest is in elasticizing what theatre can be and molding it into new and interesting shapes. The Fringe is a place that enables you to experiment with the materials of theatre in what is undoubtedly a whirlpool of arts and culture.

What were your inspirations for the show?
Initially, The Reality Event began as a piece of research. For the past 18 months, it has been our job to investigate the way that people can encounter theatre and suddenly become uncertain that what they are seeing is theatre at all. We are inspired by the things you can do in theatre that cannot be enacted, particularly events and ideas that invite the involvement of the audience. That said, The Ensemble and I are inspired by something new every week. Our work is constantly in flux and sometimes its content is subject to change based on what we may have read or seen on the news on any given day.

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You touch on some very tough subjects within The Reality Event. How did you initially decide on this being a comedy show rather than an experimental art piece?
I would have to say that The Reality Event is by no means a comedy. It’s funny. Hilarious, in fact, when the mix of people is right, but we take the work very seriously. The outcomes of the show have varied significantly, though the content of the show varies significantly too. In one instance, you may be watching someone defend their game title with a dildo, but in another, watching someone tape their face shut. The comedic qualities of The Reality Event are completely incidental; though I must confess we’ve toyed with the idea, we’re in no position to ‘be funny’ about people killing themselves.

Do you feel that society is leaning more towards a constructed reality than real life? How does the show test these theories?
The basic principle here is that people consider their every day worlds to constitute reality. The Reality Event (or indeed theatre in general) is an example of a circumstance where it is accepted that the action taking place is constructed; rehearsed, organized and repeatable. What the work does is attempt to position the audience to engage with the work in such a way that it becomes something that could never be rehearsed, organized or repeated. The Suicide Ensemble are engaging real actions with the help of people (an audience) who have brought their own complex everyday realities with them into a constructed, contrived space. The challenge is causing the audience to interact with the thing we call ‘theatre’ as though it were something not at all theatrical; to accept and understand that what is happening in front of them is significant to their everyday temporal realities. The Reality Event causes the performance space, the performers and the audience members to become the same thing.

Have you all performed together before now? (Daniel Gough + The suicide Ensemble)
Together, we have been working as theatre and performance makers for over 18 months and intend to continue. What’s interesting is that this is the first project we ever worked on and it is still making contact with audiences. Initially, the work was called “The Suicide Show” and facilitated the same investigation. Game show was devised as a means of investigating how the same effects could be achieved without such grisly content. This is the first time have presented the two performances back-to-back. We have worked on smaller side projects, though our time has mostly been consumed by presenting this work. We’re looking forward to investing time in a few different projects next year.

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You say that you’re never quite sure how the audience will react to the show – what has been your best/worst reaction?
That’s tricky! I’d have to argue that some of our best reactions have been the best because of how bad they have been. My favorite response thus far was an exodus of around 10 people who were very upset about having lost a game. A combination of outrage and sorrow led them to follow their exiled team member outside. They were eventually coerced back inside. We’ve seen people run from venues, cry and shout expletives as well (at us and each other); people sometimes undergo a strange synesthetic experience where peoples senses lie to them and they feel things that aren’t happening. These can be a little scary and a little exciting – we like these reactions because it means that the show is working.

Some of the worst responses are from people who believe that the work is insensitive or offensive simply because we’ve not given the content any thought. People who come up to use afterwards asking, ‘have you even thought about how this might be affecting people?’ are sometimes frustrating because, we absolutely have and we are very conscious of keeping our audience members safe. Part of that is positioning them to be as aware of what they will see as possible and empowering people to know that they are in control of their experience.

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The images for the show are an amazing proliferation of the event – what was the inspiration/creative process behind them?
Thank you! We are quite enamored with how well they turned out also. We decided that they needed to reflect and embody the chaotic nature of the performance. In a rehearsal (which intensely lacked concentration) we ended up playing with a big pile of garbage bags that we were able to turn in to exciting costumes. We call this fashion explosion Trashè and it featured in the images alongside the pouring of various awful liquids and smearing of dirt. We become quite filthy throughout the course of the show, but never quite as smelly as we did pouring milk on ourselves under Queensland’s afternoon sun.

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Mixing the two parts Game and Suicide together is an extremely interesting psychological test – Do you have any experience within this area?
I suppose I’ve not thought about the work as a ‘test’ of any kind, but truthfully, there is a level of endurance that is required to bear it. Whether fun or serious, the performance is completely unrelenting. For everyone involved it will be as taxing as it is completely and utterly rewarding as an experience. As for our experience in the area of physiological tests, I think that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with extensive experience in such things in the practice of theatre. But I hope that the rarity of such an opportunity, to experience something as bold to watch as it is to execute, will draw people toward the work. The human mind is a very robust and capable machine and we would be foolish not to exercise it’s potential with experiences like this.

What can audiences expect from The Reality Event?
Few things are certain in The Reality Event. Dildos, tomatoes and fat suits. Knives, tape, blood, milk and genitals. Bleach. Audiences can expect excitement and competition. Audiences can expect violence. We are thrilled to be a part of whatever else an audience may invite into the work with their presence. It starts with them and it ends with them.

 See The Reality Event at The Melbourne Fringe Festival from the 24th-29th September @ The Tuxedo Cat.
Tickets are on sale via the Fringe Festival website.