The audience on the floor in the gallery. Picture by Cem Altınöz

I was old before I was young by Teddy shouldn’t smoke, Show Pony in collaboration with Terrorkittens and Ko de Kok – as seen on 1 April 2023 during CAMPSITE Festival in TENT Rotterdam

Lees het Nederlandse origineel van deze recensie hier

In a cold corner at the back of an art gallery, a crowd gathers in a long, narrow corridor. Within 15 minutes, the normally quiet space is filled by enthusiastic murmurs. People stand crammed together at the beginning of the corridor, coats and bags draped awkwardly over their bodies, hesitant about pushing through because it could look like jumping the queue. There are some pictures and texts on the walls, but they only get attention from those trying to look busy while waiting.

Toeschouwers staan voor de voorstelling te wachten in de smalle gang van de kunstgalerie.
The audience in the narrow corridor. Picture by Cem Altınöz

Teddy shouldn’t smoke’s audience often uses unusual venues that lack the comfort of an ordinary theatre. A few years ago, we saw Seven Years, which was set in a traditional black box, with a non-traditional set-up.

By merely shifting a few chairs and lamps, the audience was able to show what kind of personal dilemmas one can experience when it is temporarily not possible to peep at performers safely from the dark. Psychological discomfort around seeing and being seen was made visible through the use of hunched over silhouettes, frozen poses and, similarly, the use of coats and bags as props to add to the overall tenseness.

During this new performance, a white cube is used to enhance the physical state of the spectators.

When the door at the end of the narrow corridor finally opens, the audience slowly trickles into a new room. On a white ballet floor, a dancer and musician wait for them to position themselves. Opposite of the improvised stage, there are cushions and beanbags scattered on the concrete floor. People in the doorway try to take in the space for a moment, but feel the pressure of the crowd behind them, so they quickly find a cushion to plop down on in rather inelegant fashion, or a piece of wall to lean against semi-nonchalantly.

Unlike during Seven Years, the audience chooses their own set-up, but this provides a new set of challenges and dilemmas. Where do you leave your bag when the floor slowly fills up? Can you take off your coat without hitting someone else in the face? Wouldn’t it have been better to leave your coat on? Is there a comfortable way to share a beanbag with a stranger?

The ensemble is relatively young, but nevertheless their performance highlights all the physical discomforts that come with aging. We see a repetitive movement sequence of repositioning, stretching, shaking, scratching and wobbling, which sometimes seems to mirror the dancer’s movements for a moment.

Foto van de voorstelling. We zien een danseres op de grond en een muzikant die tijdens het spelen kussens om haar nek gehangen krijgt.
The musician is being dressed with cushions live on stage. Picture by Cem Altınöz

Some chuckle at the musician constantly getting new clothes and even cushions attached to her body, perhaps because it provides recognition, perhaps because one needs a distraction from one’s own ailments.

The moment a new performer emerges and starts reciting a poem, the audience finally seems to relax. As if they think, thank god, text, I can stop worrying about that body not cooperating for a minute. But as soon as being inside one’s head starts getting comfortable, the physical catches up with us again. Some start the uncomfortable movement sequence again, others sway along to the music as if in a meditative state.

Their apparent relaxation is interrupted when the performer steps into the audience after his recital and ostentatiously starts looking for a space to sit down on the floor. Then again, we see that familiar spatial awareness sink in. The feeling of one’s own presence in the space, the mise-en-scène with other audience members and the performers. There is some nervous glancing around, some shifting of buttocks on cushions, backs are overstretched and limbs twisted into strange positions.

Once people find a new pose, they hold it for a while, until the  music stops and the musician and dancer flop down on a pile of cushions. This apparently causes a sense of release in the audience. There is clapping and cheering, the sound echoing through the hall and reaching the corridor, where by now new audiences have gathered, who try to peek in through the blinded windows to see what is going on.

Spectators rise from the floor during the applause, shaking the stiffness out of their legs, some giving their neighbour a little empathetic nod. As soon as the applause stops, an almost perfectly timed loud sniff can be heard, as if someone had been suppressing a cold the whole time – followed by a few understanding giggles.

This audience receives three stars out of five.