Signing Up For a Crash Course

Crash Course. Pictured James Berlyn. Photo Richard Jefferson_high resAward-winning artist James Berlyn is presenting ‘Crash Course’, at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts this month. 

The show is described as a participatory theatre experience that takes the form of an emersive language class. Each session twenty four members of the audience will attempt to re-learn a language they have lost after an undisclosed trauma.

In the production, the performer and the audience will speak Winfein, a fully functioning language as Berlyn takes his audiences on a journey that asks how we build resilience?

“How do you make a show that talks about resilience, and let’s an audience get on board with, in a way that’s more than just observational?” Berlyn asks as we meet in the bar at PICA.

“I’ve been making small scale work for six or seven years because I’m not into the suspension of disbelief. I have ‘not fond’ memories of  trying to find a car parking space in January, sweat trickling down the back of my neck, and then I go into a theatre – and then having to pretend it’s ‘Poland in winter’”.

In recent years Berlyn’s work has been focussing on inviting the audience to participate in an experience. Berlin notes that while this may cause some trepidation for some audience members, the experiential rewards usually win through.

‘I wanted to talk about my experiences, on and off, over the last twelve years of teaching English as a second language. I’m fascinated by language,” Berlyn declares.

The former dancer jokes that he knows two languages, a little bit of bad Spanish he picked up when he lived in the country for a year, he also professes to be fluent in IKEA instructions.

“I wanted to create a genuine opportunity for the audience to have an experience with having no clues,” said Berlyn. In designing the show’s language and alphabet Berlyn said they deliberately chose sound and symbols that weren’t similar to what we known in English.

Berlyn acknowledges that he’s lucky, to be of the few performers locally who can sustain a living just from performing. He says it’s a privileged position to be in, where all he now does is focus on creating work and sharing ideas.

While Berlyn is careful not let out too much information about what the audience is in store for, it’s clear that what lies ahead is a theatrical experience that is likely to stand out from your traditional night at the theatre.

“‘Crash Course’ both excites me, and terrifies me in equal measure”, said Berlyn ahead of the shows launch.

Crash Course, a participatory theatre experience is at the Perth Institute for Contemporary Arts, 14 – 30 November 2013

Graeme Watson, image: Richard Jefferson


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