Writer and director of Project Perfect Stranger and PlagueRound Persis Jadé Maravala tells us about the projects and what ZU-UK have coming up next.
Tell us a little bit about what Project Perfect Stranger and PlagueRound are please.
Project Perfect Stranger and PlagueRound are two experiences that can mesh together as a whole, or be experienced separately.
Project Perfect Stranger is a 5-day experience with a complete stranger via WhatsApp. PlagueRound is a live, interactive, post-normal game-show played on Zoom.
And what inspired you to make them?
They are both attempts to ask ourselves what we can learn from what we experienced collectively in 2020, and what tools can help us to rediscover a sense of ourselves in the post-normal.
Project Perfect Stranger is an investment into a connection to another human being who knows nothing about you, and who has no judgements, no prior knowledge, no historical or emotional baggage with you and vice-versa. It is partly a self-reflective mirror, partly a portal into another being, and partly an inquest into the possibilities of virtual intimacy.
As for PlageRound: Game-Shows are a mixed reality format that started back in the late 1930’s. They suffered in popularity when most were discovered to be rigged. But a revival of the format in the 60’s has seen them remain a continued staple of our cultural lives. Our faves are the ones that have their emphasis on the silly, leaving the points as mere formalities. With the recent rush online for meaningful engagement, we found the game-show format to be a fertile ground for us to collectively re-design intimacy and challenge privilege.
How did you come to be making work like this? Were you always interested in interactive and immersive theatre experiences?
When I started in what would go on to be defined as ‘immersive theatre’, I thought of its participatory aspects as the only honest way to acknowledge the reality of the situations in which we were working, and of respecting the commitment of those who came to experience it. The primary motivators that tend to go hand in hand with the term ‘immersive’ these days are a little different. From games distributors to shopping centres, just about every organisation seems to be discussing how immersive events can give their product an edgier public profile or increase sales. This is totally against the spirit with which we built these encounters – which are purely evanescent, fading into the past as soon as they’re over, but leaving a memorable legacy of their personal impact. That impact requires so much work and an extraordinary amount of personalised care to get right. The blurring of the relationship between audience and actors has always for us been a way of creating temporary but genuine communities of resistance.
Has this piece changed at all owing to the shifting restrictions of COVID-19?
The piece in fact developed from the situation we found ourselves in, faced with the pandemic and the sudden impact of restrictions on the ways in which we could meet, play, and express.
The global pandemic did two things at once – it connected us whilst creating an even more atomising effect on society. This project seeks to transcend the limitations of social-distancing / self-isolation / lockdown / quarantine and allow us to meet in a different register altogether.
Project Perfect Stranger is an experience that merges your personal experience via WhatsApp with that of a stranger in full and complete anonymity. Together you will cultivate a relationship through discovery, conversing, small creative tasks, telling stories, and sharing problems as much or as little as you prefer. These are challenging and testing times to ask ourselves to place trust in strangers, so Project Perfect Stranger intends to exploit the challenging conditions as fertile ground for creative collaboration – it is precisely in these conditions that trust and invention gain traction.
PlagueRound is also an event designed to match the times we find ourselves in head on. The key thing about a silly game show, and using silly as a methodology in itself, is that silliness does not have to deny the gravity of the situation but can be used as a way to get to a place of “shedding norms”, i.e doing things in unusual and unexpected ways can often open our eyes to a new way of seeing the world and ourselves. (Try eating under your table, sleeping in different places in the house, wearing all your clothes inside out, or going for a walk blindfolded.) The University of Ontario has published stuff about how humour and playfulness can function as a way to reframe a situation, it can be a mechanism that creates psychological distance from negative events, and becomes a tool of resilience. Cultivating a sense of the absurd through this project has been crucial for us at ZU in terms of dealing with this moment of ‘out of lockdown but into social fear’ – it has helped weather the uncertainty of these weeks and months and, who knows, possibly years.
What do you hope audiences get out of taking part and/or watching?
A range of opportunities for experimentation, silliness, collaboration, failure and fun, rather than old-school ‘competition’. A space and time in which to cultivate feelings, and validate admiration, approval, and gratitude for our bodies, senses and the chance to come together.
What’s next for you and ZU-UK?
We’re currently deep into research for a game app, called DATUM, that is played on smartphones in shopping centres. It’s a 3-player game, and is audio-based, and locative – which means it maps onto the actual space of the shopping mall the players are in, as well as incorporating and reacting to the live movements of the players themselves as they play. It’s first and foremost a framework within which friends and strangers can make fun, meaningful connections in public space, as we emerge from lockdown and extreme social-distancing into a climate of rawness and fear, and also a way of sparking questions and reflections on how we can SLOW DOWN to understand our consumer and ethical choices in new and better ways moving forwards post-pandemic.
Project Perfect Stranger runs 10-14 Feb 2021, and PlagueRound is live on YouTube on the 20th Feb 2021. For more information please visit https://zu-uk.com/project/project-perfect-stranger-and-plagueround/