Surreal, uncomfortably hilarious and voyeuristic: the performative installation The Showroom took its audience on a journey into human aspiration and decay. Through performance art, director, writer and choreographer Tarren Johnson produced a piece of social absurdity which explores aspects of a materialistic world that alienate us from one another.
Revolving around two couples, Richard and Normandy and the younger David and Diane (all played by male actors), the show revealed the characters’ superficial weaknesses and flaws. Normandy, rich and beautiful, is bored of life and flirts with David to bring change into her routine; Richard’s only concern is how to make money and he disrespects David’s choice to be a writer; Diane expresses sympathy for Normandy – after all money brings comfort and security – but is also tormented by jealousy; and David doubts his character as well as his professional competence. All these elements are addressed in one and a half hours exposing the characters’ ideological differences.
The Showroom premiered at the Friends Space, as a site-specific performance at the new modular event location of Freunde von Freunden in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Presented as an immersive theatre with musical elements as well as a LARP (live action role play), the audience could choose which character to follow. Asked to dress in black-tie or cocktail attire, it was therefore part of the setting, blurring the lines between performance and reality. “The audience is not static but will be making choices about what they want to see at a given time. This is somewhat of a ‘choose your own adventure’ for the audience. Some people might want to watch the pianist for the entire duration while others might be moving around the space to catch the narrative unfolding throughout the space,” Johnson said.
Upon arriving, people were welcomed in a garage before entering the Friends Space via a candlelit staircase. By doing so, they also entered an Alice in Wonderland-like surreal world. There was an actor wearing a dog mask crawling from the sitting area towards a group of people having a LARP dinner. The audience could voyeuristically watch them eat, wondering whether they were a part of the show or just people having their dinner. “The LARP dinner that opens the show has game design techniques that give perimeters for interaction. The spatial design is considered in a similar way,” Johnson said.
Pianist Forrest Moody played for the entire duration of the show, and after the characters’ performance, the space turned into a party filled with amazed chatter about what had just happened, music and signature cocktails.
In an age which sees people being easily bored by static performances and struggling to concentrate, immersive and interactive art has become more and more popular as well as important. Giving the audience the option to choose which part of a show they want to experience, also designates responsibility to think about their decisions – choosing one setting might mean missing out on something else. In the Showroom everyone is part of the action.