9 Billion Miles From Home
video still by Christopher Hall
We presented 9 Billion Miles From Home in Scarborough earlier this month - a slightly reworked version from the original production we presented 18 months ago at Chelsea Theatre and Leeds Met Studio Theatre.
The way in which 9 Billion Miles starts is slightly unusual from a Front of House point of view. One strand of the work is preoccupied with attempting to draw a perfect circle - perfect mathematically, but also strong aesthetically - in a number of ways, both by hand and by foot. The opening task of the performance is for Gillian and I to create a 3 metre diameter circle on the floor, in talcum powder, using bakers' dusting cups, whilst attached to each other through a simple pulley system. This pulley system means that neither of us can move around the space without the cooperation of the other.
Whilst making the show we were discussing the making of this circle as a task to be done as part of the set up. I said: Getting this circle precise is going to be really difficult. Gill said a great thing: If it's going to be really hard to do, we should be doing it in front of the audience.
So that's what we do - but as it takes almost an hour, we start the task 40 minutes ahead of advertised start time, and the doors open about ten minutes later. The audience are invited in to see this set up, which is part of the ritual of the performance. The show 'starts' with the last 5 - 10 minutes of this task; with a completion, of sorts.
In Scarborough we had an after show discussion, and we were asked some astute and interesting questions, one of which was about how important it is to us that Gillian and I do that original set up task ourselves; i.e. could we get some help with the talcum powder job, start a bit later, and just let the audience in with 10 minutes to go? This is something we did talk about at some point, partly in relation to the question of whether or not we could take this piece to the Edinburgh Fringe (where it is usual to pay for your venue by the hour).
I think we knew the answer before we were asked, but being asked it certainly crystalised it for me. And that answer is that it is essential that we do it ourselves. It is part of the performance, even if ten minutes of it happens behind closed doors. The audience need to have been able to see, if they arrived early enough, that we did this first task ourselves. That this is something that the two of us, a woman and a man, have done. It informs all that follows.
So, if you're coming to Colchester Arts Centre or Norden Farm in Maidenhead this week, feel free to turn up a bit early.