Flowstate is a new arts venue in South Bank, which praises itself on living in the space-in-between the real and not-real; a space in which creative collisions are made and seen for both the artists, creators and,most importantly, you the audience. It is a versatile space which allows for a plethora of works to be staged and encourages the staging of creative artefacts which break or expand upon the boundaries on the paradigm of conventional theatre. It does this by having not just one performance space but many, enrolling the audience as the navigators of the story, flipping from one page to the next.
And Elbow Room’s What I’m Here For did just that.
As an immersive, site-specific post dramatic work, we were given headsets which we had to wear throughout the performance, through which we could hear the dialogue and conversations of the actors performing in front of us. Although at the start it took me a while to spot who were the actors and who wasn’t, as they were camouflaged with all the other tourists and visitors of South Bank Parkland.
The storytellers were Colin Smith, Emily Tomlins, Merlynn Tong, Ngoc Phan and Robbie O’Brien and they all did a fantastic job. It was enjoyable watching the actors interact with individuals walking by but it was just as intriguing the passers-by try to piece together what was happening in front of them and there was a group of about twenty individuals staring at two or more particular people with headsets on. Some stopped to take photos, others tried to listen in but some just walked by…
The narrative explored how South Bank Parklands came to be;how it was a meeting space of the Turrbal and Jagerra people, how it became a business centre and how World Expo 88 influenced how it stands today. However,whilst I think that we should have more works which explore our motherland; the conversations between the characters often felt forced; like they were trying to feed us and each other all of the Wikipedia page in less than an hour.Whilst it could have been intentional, their individual purposes for suddenly talking about the history of South Bank was not made clear to the audience,which is what sometimes made the dialogue itself feel in genuine. The actors covered it up well though by being completely immersed in their environment,with their co-stars and with their enthusiasm, like ours, to know more about where we are and what we are here for.
The highlights of the performance were me were the moments of confrontation; whether it was direct or indirect which made me ashamed that I hadn’t taken the time, as a Brisbane-dweller, to research and ask questions about my surroundings. These moments included when the Confucius Statue started ‘talking’ to us through our headsets, telling us how we should know who they are, their contributions to the world and why he is standing where he is. I left the show
What I’m Here For is a contemporary work which makes you leave the show wanting to know more about your home and questioning why you didn’t know about it in the first place, uniting its audience in the one journey. I think everyone should see it, it has the potential to have a long life in the Brisbane theatre scene.
Virag Dombay attended What I’m Here For on November 28 2018.