Proto-type’s Whisper was created in 2007 and 2008 and is currently available for touring. Click the photo to see images from Whisper.
Whisper is a visually decadent, aurally immersive performance that asks the audience to question ‘what is real’ in a world of increasing technological sophistication. Each audience member is given a set of headphones through which they hear the voices of three live performers narrating a fictional walk through a fictional city. Obscured behind a cinematic screen, the performers are seen as shadows, silhouettes or in stark clarity, creating a fully immersive sound environment to accompany their narration. Not only are the three performers narrating a walk that switches between the ‘here and now’ of the story and ‘dream-world’ of memory, but they are also creating a fully immersive sound environment through the use of a sound technique called foley. Foley is a technique employed in film, where a sound artist adds sounds to a film after the film has been shot, thereby creating a hyper-realistic world of sound for the film.
Perhaps most importantly, the performers’ text is written in the second person, which means that the audience hears the story as if it is about them. The combination of the immersive sound environment and the ‘you’ voice of the second person text literally places the audience ‘inside’ the performance as it can only be received through the combination of the sound coming through the headphones and the visual narrative of the performers behind the gauze. The visual richness of the lighting design, the specificity of the live and recorded audio, and the complex staging and choreography combine in striking ways throughout the piece: in the sudden visual shifts from a full screen image of bodies walking through space, to ‘sliced’ images of fragmented bodies doing a stylised swing dance routine, to the sudden emergence of birds, gigantic ladies and rain. As Lyn Gardner of The Guardian says, “…the mixture of foley soundscapes and the strange melding and disconnect between image and sound sucks you in.”
The theatre is one of the few places left where people are still abiding by the rules of the 19th century: they turn off their technology and attentively sit to ‘watch’ what is happening in front of them. This rare, shared belief in focused attention at a performance seems the perfect site of disjuncture to explore what it means to live through mediation. Whisper does just that: it asks us to question what experiences we consider ‘real’ and which ones we cannot trust by highlighting the mediations we all submit to every day. By using a common form of ‘tuning out’ (the headphones) in such a way as to actually increase awareness of the shared experience of being in a room together, Whisper asks the question “what is real?” in a world where our every interaction is mediated by technology. By subverting that same technology and using it as a tool for intimacy and personal connection, Whisper blurs the line between sound art, theatre and daily life. Whisper also pushes the boundaries of contemporary theatre without alienating audiences – the use of headphones intrigues audience members and immediately makes them comfortable.
Whisper was first developed while Proto-type was in residence at the Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow and was subsequently revised and expanded at Nuffield Theatre Lancaster where it had its premiere. Whisper has since had an Arts Council England funded tour to Alsager Arts Centre (Alsager), the Wickham Theatre (Bristol), greenroom (Manchester), the Bluecoat Arts Centre (Liverpool), The Patrick Centre/Hippodrome as part of Fierce Festival (Birmingham), BAC (London), PS122 (NYC) with the support of the Jerome Foundation, and Soho Theatre (London). Whisper tours with three performers, two technicians and Proto-type’s Artistic Director.
Written and Directed by Peter S. Petralia
Performed by Nicki Hobday, Gillian Lees, and Andrew Westerside
Music by Philip Reeder
Lighting by Rebecca M.K. Makus
Video Excerpt of Whisper: