For a company comfortably in its fifth year, the Binge Culture Collective (bingeculture.co.nz) still manages to seem pretty young, pretty new. Perhaps that comes from how unexpected, fresh and exciting their work is. And let me be clear, while unexpected, fresh and exciting are three words thrown at almost anyone who can whip together a work at BATS in a weekend, I use them here very precisely.
You never know what you’ll get in a Binge show. It could be a heartfelt, beautiful tone-poem like last year’s sublime For Your Future Guidance, or a scabrous acidic attack on injustice like 2011’s Wake Less, or simply some of the funniest jokes on the Wellington theatre scene like in, well, everything they do. Their work is always properly, actually unexpected.
Their work is always new, always surprising. While it does iterate and evolve, it always does so in new ways. Every night, their shows evolve, grow and change. I saw their first ‘official’ work (the company started in 2008 as Ralph Upton’s Honours in Theatre Research project and they did several showings throughout that year), Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish, in the 2009 New Zealand Fringe Festival three times over its season and every night it was different. Lines changed, whole energies shifted, new images emerged. Every night it surprised me. This, combined with the raw, electric, direct, audience-inclusive/interrogative style they work in, makes everything they do really, actually fresh. This is stuff you haven’t seen before, and probably won’t see again.
Someone much smarter than me once said that the collective’s work has “all the raw brilliance of a hunk of magnesium chucked in a bucket of water” (it was Thomas LaHood reviewing their show 2009 show Animal Hour on theatreview.org.nz, if you care). There is no better description. It is dazzling and bright – almost blinding, but attractive too. In this year’s Fringe Festival they performed a work called Break Up [We Need to Talk]. It was a six-hour-long break-up, nothing more, nothing less. A year ago they won Best of the Fringe with Whales, a show where they, and volunteers, pretend to be beached whales and got passers-by to help get them back to sea.
The constant development of their perspective and work across their half-decade history is exciting because it shakes up the whole Wellington theatre scene, daring everyone else to make more, and make it better. Binge are exciting because they excite our senses and our thoughts, and they fuel more of this city’s arts than you’d ever think.
They created and continue to curate monthly cabaret-style performance labs, in the Understudy bar at BATS (bats.co.nz), called Scratch Nights. By providing a safe environment for local theatre-makers to experiment – like a faster-turn-around Performance Arcade – they are creating a growing furnace in which more exciting local work is being forged.
So, where to now for Binge? Their future has never had a careerist force – they have toured work to festivals but only so more people will see it rather than more people buy it. When faced with questions about the future, they seem to choose the most interesting path rather than the most commercial or most public. For a few years Binge have been slowly easing their way out of traditional theatre spaces into community halls, outdoor festivals, classrooms and even conference centres. Sick of waiting for people to come to them, Binge are taking their work to the people. That’s another thing that keeps them seeming so young: they never seem to stop moving.
This month they’re presenting a heavily redeveloped season of their 2011 show This Rugged Beauty at BATS theatre (which, remember, is still Out of Site on Dixon Street) from 25 March to 5 April. A close analysis of all the icons and ideas that make up this little country of ours, this show promises to be, well, unexpected, fresh and exciting. Make sure you get to it – I promise you’ve never seen anything like it, or will again.