Caravan Chronicles: Urban Reunion (FringeTIX)
theater simple @ Outside Fringe Factory Theatre
5:00pm, Fri 30 Mar 2007
Under sullen skies we gathered for a family reunion of sorts; a battered old caravan, a relic of the 50s, is home to relatives from out of town. Upon arrival at the Fringe Factory, we roll dice to determine our connection to the gathering – I became a cousin, my SO a friend-of-the-family – and then we slap on our nametags and sit back. We cast our eyes around the elaborate outdoor setting of the Chronicles, bordered by a shed, the Tiki Bar, and the Fringe Factory Theatre; the caravan, the BBQ, the clothesline and A-frame adorned with scribblings from previous family gatherings, all atop a cheerily bright fake grass matting that seems absurdly at odds with the grey skies overhead.
We start chatting with other peeps in attendance. Friendly words around a circle of people – hello, what-have-you-seen, what’s-your-nametag-say – and all of a sudden you realise that the conversation has been subverted in the smoothest possible manner; you’re suddenly caught up in the first of three set-pieces with Cousin Mo, who – with a glint in her eye as she parlays in the arena of gossip – gushes forth details of your oddball relatives… madcap aunts addicted to matrimony bring a guilty grin, before Cousin Lisa beckons us into the caravan for the second stage of the gathering.
It’s a tight squeeze inside the caravan, decked out in paraphernalia of bygone jaunts, and the compact surroundings mesh well with the discussion that Lisa leads (and it does feel like a discussion, as we – the “audience” – are frequently queried, our responses used to drive the discussion further along). It’s quieter, more intimate, focusing on the contemplative joy of family – melon balls are munched and there’s knowing smiles and nodding of heads. It’s all so familiar.
Cousin Drew, the family (through defunct marriage) genealogist, drags us out to the BBQ where we roast Peeps in sickly-sweet family tradition. Drew’s stories are dry and analytical, but the enthusiasm in his performance is utterly, utterly convincing. Once everyone’s indulged in charcoaled and sticky roasted marshmallow, it’s time for photos of the assembled throng – and then we’re encouraged to write thoughts about our family, or compose a haiku (a running thread in the performance) and peg it for posterity on the clothesline.
Caravan Chronicles isn’t a traditional piece of theatre – rather than presenting a performance for you to absorb, it presents a framework for you to explore. Within the confines of the (largely) fictitious family gathering, you feel compelled to integrate the tales that are being woven around you with your own experiences; this means that a fair whack of the performance goes on inside your own head, with your Cousins just providing the cues for further misadventures of the mind.
But the best thing about Caravan Chronicles is that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a performance; it’s so incredibly easy (and occasionally tempting!) to believe that you’ve just been adopted into a new family. There’s constant nudges of recognition to draw you in; there’s constant throwaway lines ingratiating you into the unfolding expanse of a family. But here’s the best bit; you’re part of the show. Whilst the theater simple crew and their roped-in extended family (excellent performances all round) provide the foundation of the experience, it’s the little side-comments they’ll make that, while initially appearing innocuous, push the audience front-and-centre with their replies. And it’s a wonderful experience – all of a sudden, you realise that you’re “performing”. You catch your breath; are you “on”, are you “in character”? The moment of bewilderment passes when you realise that you’re so utterly comfortable with the environment – hey, it is family, after all – that you just roll with it.
Yep, you’re “on”. And it feels bloody great.
Suddenly it all makes sense;
We are among friends.