Today’s archive feature revisits critically lauded performance artist Nicola Gunn and her 2012 participatory work HELLO MY NAME IS.
Set in a room called the “Community Centre”, HELLO MY NAME IS cast its audience as workshop participants with a single mission: to build a community. Carefully leading them through a series of activities (including but not limited to conga dancing, knitting, playing scrabble and cutting sick on a karaoke machine), Nicola Gunn presents as the groups volunteer team leader. She has her own mission: to change the world.
HELLO MY NAME IS looked at some of the most mundane features of social interaction and worked to turn them into thought provoking revelations about everyday life. The physical construction of the community centre unfolded across the season, with the intent that no two performances should ever be alike. Audience members were therefore totally immersed within a theatrical experience in which they actively contributed to the creation of a unique social moment complete with glitter, group sing alongs and table tennis.
Part–personal confession and part–astute social commentary, Gunn took participants beyond the passive aggressive bitterness of a community worker and into a world where the barriers separating the personal from the performative began to blur. Within the presentation of various ‘characters’, Gunn drew from both lived and fictionalised experiences that chaotically and humorously described ways to have a conversation and socially connect.
As the performance progressed, the complexities and mysteries of everyday life were unpacked and participants were asked to rethink the way they connect with strangers. The world and structure of performance inevitably unravelled, slipping between seemingly alternate worlds; life and work, real and representation, fact and fiction.
Is it a workshop or a performance? Or a social experiment? Or just a game?
In developing the work, Gunn acknowledged the hard sell that audience participation can present. Perhaps wisely, she opted to ultimately craft a work which eased the audience in, presenting them as her companions rather than puppets to humiliate through the manipulation of a predetermined plot.
“I don’t like audience participation, but I also don’t like solo shows. And the great dilemma is that I am a solo performer. So it’s about using the audience to perform with me, and to acknowledge the fact that I need someone to talk to. And that, unfortunately, will have to be the audience… Also out of an audience of 50, I only get maybe, 15 people up to do things, so there will always be people watching. So there is still the sense of a show and being watched.”
HELLO MY NAME IS marked the second collaboration between Gunn and Theatre Works with At The Sans Hotel (a psychological detective story) receiving presentation two years prior. In both works, character was presented through fragmented backstory, absent of traditional narrative, and leaving audience to piece together anecdotal overshares like a puzzle.
Gunn articulates this approach below:
“The show again is playing with that kind of form, because there is no narrative, and people really have to infer their own meaning. I had this eureka moment of actually realising what I was making was a retrospective of Nicola Gunn’s life and work, as if – not as if I was dead, but as if I was someone who was really important, because I’m interested in how we value things, and how we value and don’t value people. And that’s kind of when the show started coming together for me. Because I am personally going through a bit of a career crisis of actually just quitting.”
Mercifully, Gunn did not quit.
She has continued to tour nationally and internationally to critical acclaim for her genre of bewilderingly surreal performance, addressing themes of identity and transformation in both the social realm. Frequently utilising the art of autobiography, a recurring notion within Gunn’s work in the investigation of the ‘the self’ as character, and the capacity for lived experience to exist as both fiction and fact. HELLO MY NAME IS marked the first inference of explicitly exploring this. She explains:
“I’m discovering this autobiographical thread, along with this sort of gothic sensibility. This is the first show where I’m actually being myself, Nicola Gunn, and not having a mask or a character or a funny accent. So I think every show leading up to this has been this gradual unmasking. And this is the final one where it is actually just me. It’s following this performance art tradition of making the artist the art. It sounds really self indulgent to say that well, I am what I’m making, but it is me.”
In 2012, HELLO MY NAME IS won Best Experimental Performance at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Blue Room Theatre Judge’s Award for Outstanding Theatrical Experience, in addition to a nomination for Best Production at the Green Room Awards. It was presented in a variety of cities across the world, including Perth, Adelaide, Edinburgh and Melbourne.
Critics applauded the work for its unique, accessible and memorable execution of a wholistic, but theatrically engaging participatory experience.
“Gunn’s quicksilver wit and the fearless eccentricity of her stage persona superimpose the tongue-in-cheek and the fearfully earnest in an utterly unique way… This is an uplifting and effortlessly clever show. Nicola Gunn is an extraordinary comic talent.”
Hello my name is leaves no space to hide in the dark, but don’t be scared of the light because this hilarious, confronting, beautiful and weird show will leave you smiling and feeling so much better for the experience.
“When you wake up in the morning singing the first tune from the performance you saw the night before, you know it was a memorable experience. To say the least, this is exactly the impression Nicola Gunn’s shockingly unique and bravely quirky Hello my name is leaves on its audience… It is an ingeniously crafted and brave piece of work that offers an enduring experience.”
-Australian Theatre Magazine (Perth Season)
“4 stars out of 5! Far from conventional theatre fare, Hello my name is is liable to leave some scratching their heads, but is a memorably delightful outing for those entering with adventure in their hearts.”
-ARTS HUB (PERTH SEASON)
Nicola Gunn has an extensive body of diverse and innovative works across various art forms. For more insight into Gunn or her work, her website is listed below.
The team for the Theatre Works season were as follows:
Directed and Performed by
NICOLA GUNN, LISA HÖBARTNER
2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year for all but especially those in the live arts and entertainment industry. At Theatre Works our struggle has been fierce and enduring, but it has not worn down our commitment and passion to champion independent artists and their work. Your support, no matter how large or small, can make a huge difference to what we do. As we celebrate our 40th year, please consider donating.