There is instant nervous tension in the air when the 16 audience members are told they will be ushered one-by-one into the production of I Know You’re There to be personally greeted by the performer James Berlyn. But then again, making an audience feel slightly uncomfortable before you share your inner-most thoughts is probably a fair exchange.
The doors are heavy at the rehearsal room at State Theatre Centre, and the lighting is dim. It takes a moment to adjust. If you like being immersed in the arts then put your slight apprehension of being part of an intimate audience aside, because this production offers a unique experience.
Sitting around a large table in dim light, Berlyn moves around the space asking what do each of us bring to the table – and then suggesting what we bring is our stories. From there he launches into the tale of his life, his childhood, his parents, his difficult journey into adulthood, his struggle to make a name for himself in the arts and his retrospection into the relationship between families through the generations.
At the heart of his story is the theme of suicide – that of his grandfather’s decision to take his own life, the consequence of that action on his father who was without a role-model, and his own thoughts of committing suicide as he struggles to stand on his own two feet. As daunting as that sounds, Berlyn’s approach is relatively subtle. He finds a positive in his story. The realisation that he needs to ask for help is what saves him from suicidal thoughts. Even the simple act of his father making him a cup-of-tea, is a sign that his father is there to help.
As Berlyn looks retrospectively at his life he realises that his parents’ philosophy of “the least said, the easiest mended,” is not always the best approach and some things have to be discussed to be resolved.
Adding an interactive element to the production and to cancel the sombre mood in the room, the audience members are asked to help “raise a sky of happiness” and at this point, feeling less self-conscious, they start to interact with one another in a relaxed atmosphere.
Towards the end of his production Berlyn uses screens made of recycled paper, situated around and behind the audience members, to project his own shadows – providing a nice visual experience and a break from the monologue, which characterises the majority of his performance.
The performance concludes rather suddenly with the audience invited to enjoy the symbol of fixing problems, a cup-of-tea served by a friend. Perhaps it is the sudden ending that had people staying put at the end of the performance, or like me, perhaps they thought there was more to come. However some of the conversations held after the conclusion of the show were quite insightful and Berlyn is happy to talk about his development of I Know You’re There.
Berlyn touched on his desire to reduce the carbon footprint of the arts and was happy to explain the materials used in his heavily recycled set. At least half of our audience became so settled that we had to be politely asked to leave – surely a sign of an interested audience.