What does it mean to be lonely in a world where we are never alone?
That’s a question local performance company Whiskey & Boots is asking audiences to contemplate in its latest work The Loneliest Number. Nina Levy chatted to the show’s creative team to learn more.
There’s no such thing as a person with one job in Whiskey & Boots. One half, Georgia King, is a performer and producer; the other half, Mark Storen, is a performer, director, writer and musician.
In keeping with this theme, Whiskey & Boots’ productions tend to cover multiple disciplines, evading easy definition. Their award-winning production, THE ONE, a play written and directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and produced and performed by King and Storen, is accompanied by song… but it’s not a musical. The most recent iteration of their Bystander project which sees King and Storen collecting real-life stories from people living in country towns and transforming these into a one-off verbatim theatre performance, brought together theatre, music and photography, and included an interactive installation.
So it’s no surprise that Whiskey & Boots’ latest work, The Loneliest Number, also weaves together three artistic disciplines into a single program… but this time the experience is immersive. Audiences are invited to bring a picnic into ART ON THE MOVE’s Fremantle gallery space, and listen to original and classic music played by Storen, and Holly and Tom Garvey, while taking in a photography exhibition (also by Holly Garvey), before the story-telling part of the evening begins (written by King and performed by King and Storen).
Though the various components of the work can be enjoyed separately, they are inextricably linked. “By using music, photography and storytelling/performance, you’ve kind of got three parts of the puzzle, and it’s up to you, as the audience, how you put them together,” explains Storen.
“Holly has taken the photos directly in response to the performance, so there’s a photo for each character in the performance, with a didactic [panel],” continues King. “So audiences can read the didactic [panel] and pick up the ‘clues’ about what’s going to be in the performance. And the original songs are also a reflection on, or a response to, the performance.
“The image tells a part of the story that the narrative doesn’t; the songs give you an insight that you haven’t already got from the text.”
“And it’s interesting to look at the conversations that happen between the three elements,” reflects Holly Garvey. “With the photography I’ve been trying to look at what hasn’t been told, at what we are saying if we layer that with Georgia’s text, and with the music performance.”
As the name of the work suggests, those three layers – music, photography and performance – are also linked by the concept of loneliness, an idea that came from King. “Loneliness is a state that is interesting to me,” she remarks. “I grew up as an only child, and I lived on a very large farm, so I was alone a lot growing up. I feel like I’m sensitive to lonely people and the sense of being lonely. It sounds like a cliché but we’re so connected now that I think people struggle being alone, more, perhaps, than they used to.
“I like the idea of pushing people to just ‘sit’ alone. I think we avoid that… I do, I’m totally guilty of it. We avoid just being with ourselves. I want to challenge people, to shake that up a bit, to feel that feeling of solitude.”
It’s a concept that it is very relatable – we all know how hard it is to resist the temptation to fill any spare time by picking up our smart-phones. As Storen remarks, “Loneliness is confronting. When the noise goes away, and you’re left with the quiet, that’s when it’s really confronting. So we fill it with white noise, strange noise.”
Confronting it may be, but the Whiskey & Boots team believe that there is something precious to be found in those quiet, ordinary moments. “It can be really beautiful to just sit by yourself,” points out Garvey. “And we’re celebrating that.”
When the company presented a showing of the work-in-progress last year, the feedback from the audience was telling. “People wanted more of the stillness,” remembers King. “Audiences are interested in details.” And people are curious, notes Garvey. “This show is like people-watching.”
“The show has got a voyeuristic feel,” agrees King. “The audience is getting a peek into this secret moment.”
Pictured top is Georgia King, in one of Holly Garvey’s images from ‘The Loneliest Number’.