Interview: Gob Squad

Interview: Adrian Bhagat
Tuesday 31 May 2005
reading time: min, words

An innovative performance company originating from Nottingham but including members from Germany


The Gob Squad are an innovative performance company originating from Nottingham but including members from Germany. Their shows make use of video technology and usually involve a lot of audience interaction. Recently, they returned to the city with two productions as part of the nottdance05 festival. Room Service took place in the Park Plaza Hotel where the audience watched and interacted with four frustrated commercial travellers spending another lonely night in stark hotel rooms. They also performed Super Night Shot by taking cameras around the city and involving the public in making a 'live film' which was then shown to the theatre audience.

Can you tell me a bit about how the Gob Squad started?
Some of us were on the Contemporary Arts Course at Nottingham Trent University and got together for a show at Glastonbury. We'd met some of the German members, Johanna and Berit, through a university exchange programme and together formed Gob Squad.We stayed on in Nottingham for a long time but then we were invited to be artists in residence in Berlin so now we have bases in both cities.

As touring actors, you must spend a lot of time in hotels. Is Room Service based on your own experiences?
Yes, we found ourselves talking about the hotels over breakfast and I always had really nice chats with the cleaners. We thought we had so many experiences and references that it was time to make a production about them.

The night I saw Room Service, about an hour after you started two comically drunk girls turned up in little black dresses and dominated the audience interaction. A lot of people thought they were stooges. Were they friends of yours?
No, absolutely not! It's funny, we had no idea what they looked like or who they were. Some of my friends were in the audience and afterwards they were asking us 'Who were those girls?'. I wonder if they'd just wandered into it. They weren't typical theatre audience members and apparently one of them had to be escorted off the premises for being too drunk.

You've performed this play in different cities. Do you find you get a different reaction in different places?
Yes, we do. I don't generalise about it, but some people would say that people are more reserved in Germany, but it varies night by night. When we are in Frankfurt, we might have a great audience who were really lively and entertaining and another night which is full of press or theatre people who don't want to participate, it makes a totally different kind of evening.

If you get two people like those girls in the audience, that changes the whole evening. If there's a small percentage of the people in the audience who are able to go for it and who are comfortable with participating, often other people are inspired by them. It depends whether the audience want to invest, they get the show they deserve.

In England, I think people are very much more prepared to let down their guard and have a go. The Friday night show in Nottingham was one of the most interactive that we have had. I think it might be because in Nottingham there is a real history for this stuff. The Contemporary Arts course has been really amazing - it has been going for ten years and there has always been an audience for it.

You take the piss out of the soullessness of hotels where all the rooms are the same. What do the staff think of you doing this in their hotel?
We tell it like it is. People who work in hotels know all the rooms look the same and they know there are people there who are lonely and isolated. I always love it because you go into a hotel like that and first of all the staff are a little guarded and by the time we leave they are really friendly. At Park Plaza people from the bar came and watched it and the security staff absolutely loved it. One in particular was talking to us at the end and said he'd never seen anything like it. Some people would never go to a play and definitely not an experimental performance so it's great to make contact like that.

What amazed me about Room Service is that it lasted five hours and was never boring. How do you keep the audience's attention so long?
We rehearse all the time and we keep trying different things. When we first started creating Room Service, we took turns doing 20 minute slots and getting feedback from others and we found that when we were observing someone, we were all totally absorbed, so we thought if we enjoy it then someone else will too. There's no trick to it really; we just tried it and it's good.



When I saw Room Service, Simon was asked to do naked cartwheels by the audience. What's the strangest thing a performer has been asked to do?
Nottingham was the first place we'd been asked to do nudity and Simon got asked to be naked all three nights. In places like Germany that's so low down on the list of audience desires. It's very hard to shock us because when we were rehearsing we were making up all sorts of things. We all thought me being asked to give birth in the bath was a good one.
I remember in Zagreb, there was a really young audience of arts students and, right from the beginning, they started phoning the room until we had to abandon the structure and just go with it and let them take the lead. That was probably the craziest performance.

How would you describe Super Night Shot?

We would describe it as a live film and its very much a development of Room Service. Again there are four performers who meet in the theatre an hour before the audience arrives. We all have video cameras and at first we all go our separate ways through the city. Our mission is to save Nottingham from anonymity and banality by giving it a supreme moment of beauty.

One of the performers sacrifices himself or herself for the cause and becomes the hero; another becomes publicity and lets everybody know that there is going to be this moment of pure beauty; another one takes on casting and tries to find a co-star from the general public and the fourth performer looks for the best location in the city for it to take place. So, we all meet up at this location.

If casting has found somebody, then we have this screen kiss and the film is a romance; if they haven't, then it becomes a tragedy. Then we all go back to the theatre and film the audience who are waiting to go in. We stop the cameras, rewind the tapes and show the four films simultaneously on four video projectors, totally uncut and raw. Of course, it's strange for us because we're watching our own film.

Again, there's a lot of public interaction and improvisation which must be one of the hardest things for an actor, so what makes you want to put yourselves through that?
Well firstly, we don't see ourselves as actors. We all come from different backgrounds and none of us have acting training apart from Bastian who is a film actor, but we're trying to knock it out of him. We're artists trying to make contact with the audience and the improvisation doesn't scare us.

Are you worried about being on the streets of different cities?
Yes! I was outside the Council House in the middle of the day a week before Super Night Shot with Elyce, who is our guest artist from America and who doesn't know Nottingham. I was explaining to her that a lot of the action will probably take place in the Square and, literally an arm's length away, some guy walked up to another bloke and punched him to the floor and we were both completely shocked. We want to bring a bit of softness and let people express themselves another way – sometimes it is scary but really it's OK.

When you are improvising, are you always doing something new or do you find yourself repeating things?
With Room Service, we all have a kind of suitcase of tricks that we can use for different situations. If the audience don't pick up the phone we have to do something ourselves. But, there are seven performers who change between the four roles on different occasions and we can all play different parts. That's how we keep it fresh and the performances in Nottingham were the first time we'd had that combination of actors in those roles. That's the same with Super Night Shot as well – we choose from seven performers and we can all take on different roles.

Are you saying anything about reality television with your productions?
The idea of voyeurism and who is watching who has always been a big question in the study of performance art. The question was around before reality TV and before we started as well. I would say that reality TV took inspiration from performance art and created Big Brother rather than the other way around. Like everyone, I was fascinated by the concept of Big Brother at first but I quickly found that I wanted more interaction.

Where did you go out in Nottingham when you were younger?
I grew up in Lincoln but moved to Nottingham and lived for 15 years in Radford, Forest Fields and Hyson Green,  the dirty end of town and I loved it. I used to like Fever at the Sky Club and Dubble Bubble. I always used to go and see friends who had bands even if I didn't like the music, whether it was at the Maze or the Old Angel or wherever. All of the people in Gob Squad are film addicts and the Broadway has had a lot of our money over the years.

What will Gob Squad do next?
We are going to Berlin to do some performances and then back to England for a bit of a tour. So far we have dates in London and Cambridge for both Room Service and Super Night Shot. We will also be taking a new performance to Paris and Holland and we'll be doing our new play, King Kong Club, where we just hold the cameras and film the audience.

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