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Interview: David Rosenberg talks about his latest show Ring, and the psychology of perception

'I am hoping that the audience will find love' says David Rosenberg on his latest production, Ring. But don't let that lull you into a false sense of hope. Ring takes place in total darkness, in a silent room - but, you'll be wearing headphones, leading you in an experience that is both insular and collective. Consider those headphones as a pill - a pill that will take you to another place. It's your choice if you want to put them on. It's your choice if you want to go along at all. Choice - this is what Ring is all about, kind of. What else do you need to know? Rosenberg is a co-founder of the performance collective shunt, a practicing anaesthetist, a rationalist - and his doppelgänger is the German actor Thomas Wodianka. Here we talk science, injecting his colleagues at shunt, sex parties, parallel universes - and how the audience for Ring are the protagonist. He's a Doctor, we can trust him, right? Fuel presents 'Ring' by David Rosenberg and Glen Neath at BAC, 11-28 March.

Run-Riot: 'We have all come here to be transported, that is the purpose of the group. To imagine something, together. Something better' - reads the promotional trailer. How does Ring work with the collective consciousness?
David Rosenberg:
The audience take their seats in a dim room - there is no stage, nothing to look at except each other and the person who will be leading proceedings.

Then the lights go out (not suddenly and unexpectedly - but gently and predictably) and everything that then happens is still happening in the room, or what appears to be the room, the same room. But something has changed and it is very difficult to put your finger on what has changed.

You are in the odd position of being very much alone - isolated in the blackness - but also linked to the other similarly lonely people in the room through the sound in your headphones. The performance then creeps closer and closer to you; pointing its filthy fingers at you.

One of the tag lines for the show is that Ring is ‘an antidote to choice’. Sure, we all appreciate being able to choose from exponentially increasing lists of stuff but there is also a tremendous relief when someone hands you one pill in a tiny cup and says ‘Take this’. You don’t even know what it is but you trust that person (or you want them to stop hitting you), so you take it and you don’t worry what would have happened if you had taken a different pill (or the same pill - but in the form of a suppository). You shut up and take it.

I am increasingly unsure about this particular analogy and I would now like to distance myself from it: let’s say that Ring is nothing like I’ve just described. Ring is the antidote to violent and authoritarian prescribing - it is, in fact, the antidote to choice antidotes.

Often the shared experience of theatre relies on the acknowledgement that we are all audience members watching this thing or we are all audience members exploring this thing.

In shunt shows the shared experience plays with an additional role given to the audience - we are all the audience but we are also victims of a plane crash, conspirators at a conference, unwilling participants at a sex party...

In Ring you aren’t sure what your place is and who the other audience members are - this is all part of the mystery. What are you are doing here? And the show gradually reveals this to you.

Run-Riot: By taking place in the dark, is Ring some kind of experiential meditation, or journey designed to heighten our senses?
David Rosenberg:
In order to achieve the blackout you need to seal the room completely, then you sit in this darkness for 20-minutes and as your eyes adjust you begin to see additional tiny glows coming from cracks or LEDs in electrical fixtures. All these need to be covered and you then repeat this process several times until there are absolutely no visual locators in the room. Just sitting in this level of darkness for an hour is already an unusual experience.

It is long enough for your eyes or your brain to play tricks on you (each has different tricks). And you can focus, in a much more intense way, on the quietest sounds: the creak of a leather shoe, a whisper from the other side of the room.

In all my work I am looking for the gap in the performance where the audience fits in - an audience shaped hole. Sometimes it is through an incomplete or disjointed narrative or in Ring the darkness provides another hole for the audience to place themselves; from where they can create the image; the image that also includes themselves.

The auditory equivalent of the darkness is not a completely silent space - it is more like not being able to hear anything because of the deafening white noise.

There was a bit of a vogue for sensory deprivation tanks in the 80‘s: large baths of very salty water at body temperature in a sound proofed and blacked out room. You then float in this bath and enjoy all the promised deep relaxation and mind expansion. I went to one that an old biker had built in his flat in South Manchester. As he was shutting the door of what had previously been his bathroom he shouted - ‘Whatever you do - don’t touch your face!’ This experience was not as relaxing as I’d hoped.

Run-Riot: You're removing all visual aspects of performance, giving the script a highly prominent role - can you tell us about your collaboration with the writer Glen Neath.
David Rosenberg:
We’ve been working on this project for a few years now - and it has had various incarnations as we’ve been developing the show. The main challenge was to create a script that couldn’t be listened to in any way other than in a room full of people; that wouldn’t make sense if it was taken out of this context and also to find a way that the audience can become the protagonist. A few weeks ago I came across one of the first drafts and there was hardly anything that still remains. Glen has written and rewritten the script in direct response to a live situation and this has been completely different to any other writing process.

Run-Riot: Can you tell us about the sound technology you're working with?
David Rosenberg:
There are a combination of different technologies that combine to create the sound environment of this performance and we move between these different methods to prevent the audience becoming too familiar with a particular technique. It is important that the audience remains in the position of not knowing how things are happening but instead feel the effects of those techniques.

One of these technologies is binaural sound recording which Ben and Max [Ringham] have worked with in several of my previous projects (Contains Violence, Electric Hotel and Motor Show).

This technique employs a dummy head with tiny microphones stuffed into its ears, and when you listen to the feed with headphones you hear things and locate sounds from the perspective of this head. He is your avatar, your alter ego, he is a good listener.

Run-Riot: Which are your all-time top-3 parallel universes?
David Rosenberg:
The greatest is depicted in World on a Wire - a two part film made for television by the German Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1973 - in which the world is nothing else but a simulation of a real world one level above.

In Haruki Murukami’s latest novel, 1Q84 there is a brilliant and terrifying alternate reality that is accessed by one character when she climbs down an emergency exit from a Tokyo highway.

My own would be one that is identical in every detail to our own universe but with more heaters in outdoor smoking areas.

Run-Riot: Does science influence your work?
David Rosenberg:
Certainly Ring has a very technological aspect and in its conception I have directly engaged with the physiology of hearing and psychology of perception.

I am, by nature, a sceptic and rationalist and I would tend to steer away from magic being a driving force in my work. I enjoy things that don’t make sense rather than things that make sense due to mystical assumptions which ultimately make less sense to me.

I would love to see more art that advances science rather than art that uses or disseminates science. I can’t actually think of any art that has advanced science. If I could take the liberty of asking one question to Run-Riot: ‘what art has advanced science?’ [Well, for starters - for a possible answer to that, we refer to the 16th century German artist Albrecht Dürer with regard to his rather good anatomical drawings as discussed in this lively article from Harvard University here.]

Run-Riot: Do you have a doppelgänger?
David Rosenberg:
My usual answer to this popular question has always been Buster Keaton which is admittedly more aspiration than proper lookalike. Incredibly, my attention has very recently been pointed to the actor Thomas Wodianka in the film Snowman’s Land. When I watched this I was amazed at how my German had come on.

Run-Riot: Are you a qualified anaesthetist? If so - how does this influence your work?
David Rosenberg:
I am a doctor registered with the GMC [General Medical Council] and a member of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (which essentially involves little else than me coming up with my subscription fee each year).

I still work as an anaesthetist and do a range of other medical jobs. During the rehearsal process for the Architects (the last shunt show) I gave the cast and crew flu jabs. They still got sick but not from flu. Actually I think one of them did get the flu - maybe I didn’t stick the needle in far enough.

Run-Riot: What would you like the audience to walk away with having seen Ring?
David Rosenberg:
Well - preferably not with the headphones. Not that there is an assumption of criminality, I am just aware that there is a temptation and I am a realist and I am myself an opportunist who has also taken advantage of peoples’ trust in the past.

Now I am worried that in my attempt to soften the preemptive accusation of theft I have somehow legitimised it and I now need to strongly reinforce my initial sentiment.

I am hoping that the audience will find love - but there is very limited opportunity for this. Maybe it will still happen despite the limitations and be worth more as a result.

Run-Riot: Any last words of advice to those who will be attending?
David Rosenberg:
Did I mention that it’s going to be very dark? Well, do everything before you enter that will minimise the need to leave half way through - and if this includes a little bit of the thing you take to stop you feeling anxious - then so be it.

Fuel presents 'Ring' by David Rosenberg and Glen Neath
at the BAC
Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TN

11 - 28 Mar 2013
7:30pm (and 9pm on 27 & 28 Mar)
Running time: 1 hour
For more info and tickets call 020 7223 2223 or visit bac.org.uk

For more info on David Rosenberg, visit fueltheatre.com

Read the Run-Riot interview with David on the shunt production The Architects here




COMPETITION: Win a pair of tickets to Ring on 11th March. To enter the competition, send an email to katie@run-riot.com with the correct answer in the ‘subject’ box. The winner will be randomly selected

Q: David Rosenberg is co-founder of which company?

A: .1) Shout .2) Shunt .3) Stint .4) Stout

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