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Q&A: ZU-UK on Immersive, Interactive Performance 'Binaural Dinner Date'

Images © Ludovic des Cognets

ZU-UK are leading immersive and digital performance innovators. Part interactive performance, part dating agency, Binaural Dinner Date is their latest project, in which individuals and couples are invited to Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Gerry's Kitchen restaurant to explore the failure of verbal language.

Eli Goldstone: ZU-UK are based in Brazil and the UK. How does working internationally influence your work?

ZU-UK: Well firstly it’s an absolute pain in the arse. We are always having to deal with the guilt and ethical preoccupations of plane usage – we try other methods of transportation these days like trains and boats and what would be an 11 hour journey turns into an expedition. We work on Skype a lot. We like freezing stock still so that the people we are meeting with think the screen has frozen and then we see how they react. This gives us a lot of information about those people that we can later use against them. But in terms of influencing our artistic practice we can see definite performative processes that have evolved from developing work for international audiences, eg. the constant need to not make cultural assumptions or in fact the opposite and make work based on cultural assumptions. We have become more attuned to ‘the spaces in between’ to use a wanky conceptual term that accurately describes our feeling of always being on the outside looking in.

Eli: What is the Binaural Dinner Date?

ZU-UK: You come on a date with someone you already know or come alone and get set up with someone. BDD is a beautiful little experience about the absurdities of dating alongside the wonderfully optimistic act of faith it represents. It's playful and touching and has at its heart a real genuine enquiry into who we are, who we say we are and why we say we are who we are when we are actually not. The binaural bit is what makes it extra special.

Eli: Is dating intrinsically theatrical?

ZU-UK: Probably? We are not experts in dating to be honest. But let's say yes it is. Dating IS intrinsically theatrical. That feels like a nice thing to say. If it is intrinsically theatrical we can think of a date as having ‘Acts’ Act I, Act II etc. We can think about props and make up. And of course all importantly the costume. What do you WEAR??? And then there’s the script…the do say this and the don't say this, etc.

Eli: ZU-UK specialises in collaborative live work - do you think that in today's fractured society people feel the need to be given permission to interact freely and playfully?

ZU-UK: People are finding all kinds of ways to express themselves and find that ‘permission’ to be playful in lots of meaningful and intelligent ways. From ZU’s point of view we do like to create temporary communities in which people have the space and a context in which to explore ideas. We do encourage people to go a little beyond themselves and push against the boundaries of their limits but we also accept that these limits are different for everyone. We actively do not like to humiliate or single out audience members. Everything we do is a gentle invitation and most people, when asked nicely, will always be up for it. 

Eli: As participatory and immersive work becomes more popular and is absorbed into mainstream practice, where does that leave traditional script-based performance?

ZU-UK: We don’t know and we don’t particularly care. But anything good will sustain. The only real categories that should exist in the world of performance and art is work that is good and work that is bad. Lots of people and groups we love and admire are in some ways traditional and script based and people are creating beautiful and poetic work in that area but we are interested in audiences and how to create meaningful, if temporary, relationships.

Eli: Do you think audience's expectations for what an 'immersive' performance entails can sometimes inhibit the process?

ZU-UK: We are in a Post-Immersive world now. ZU were at the forefront of creating so called immersive theatre when it wasn’t even a term because we were responding to our socio-economic situations. Our interest in the role of the audience was always paramount as our research and not as a style. Some audience members do arrive with a real hunger to play and let loose while others arrive with a sense of trepidation and fear. All this is good. Its good healthy energy that can be channelled into fruitful and significant experiences.

Eli: Could you tell us a little about the new MA Contemporary Performance Practice Programme at the University of East London that ZU-UK have recently launched?

ZU-UK: MA Contemporary Performance Practices is now 1 year old, and we are very proud. This MA seeks applications from those wanting to experiment with various creative modes in order to develop meaningful & unexpected experiences. We invite applications from those desperately excited by ideas and keen to transform ideas into performative and political and critically engaged experiences for curious audiences. A 'Contemporary Call to Arms' written by ZU-UK's Artistic Director Persis Jadé Maravala written for the MA can be read in full here

Eli: Finally, what is the best thing to say or do on a first date?

ZU-UK: We don’t know but probably best not to say: “I’m only here to make my ex jealous."


Binaural Dinner Date

Thu 16 Nov - Sun 3 Dec 2017

Theatre Royal Stratford East


‘WARNING: do not come if you are fundamentally opposed to falling in love’