The immersive theatre of The Boon Companions on anonymity, costumes and dancing.

While big-end productions like Cats rely on star power (even though the whole play is quite a boring production in itself), there are amazing little events who also conjure up those upcoming stars. But what is you had absolutely no idea on who was playing what was going to happen and only a smidgen of the theme that the ‘performance’ will entail?

The Boon Companions are an immersive theatre collective whose members remain anonymous. In fact, there isn’t any fixed promise that any event has the same performers each time an event is put on.

An artist from the collective however states there is always a theme that connects the artists performing. “(My artistic partner) has this very, very strong visual style. It came to be that we wanted to do our own work and last year our first immersive theatre event called The Wedding Reception came around… fake bridesmaids, best man speeches, a DJ – it was exactly what we wanted our Dance Magic Dance parties to be.”

Immersive theatre – where the audience is actively part of the performance – is not a new concept; it has been around for as far back as the 19th century. The idea is an exciting one for audiences that allow them to play a part. It’s one step away from just sitting down to experience theatre and forgetting about the troubles of the day. It’s actively running away from those troubles.

In regards to inspiration, the artist mentions overseas experiences as a catalyst to starting The Boon Companions. “The strongest reference for me was all the stuff that Punchdrunk does in the U.K. and the U.S. I saw their performances of Sleep No More in New York and The Drowned Man in London and they both blew me away. There is another immersive theatre group that I absolutely love also called You Me Bum Bum Train – yes they all have very imaginative and awesome names!”

The interaction between audience and performer is very much a focal point of the experience that The Boon Companions put on, however it is not always paramount that you do interact if you don’t want to.

“I’m an introvert and I hate audience participation with a passion. It makes me anxious and it makes feel sick. But I love live art and the idea of giving the audience choice. Everything I make is made to make someone like me feel comfortable, so if I went to a Boon Companions party I could happily just sit, glued next to my best friends all night, drinking and not having to go into a room if I wanted to.

“If I chose to however, I could have a one-on-one experience with someone it wouldn’t be with anyone watching. It’s designed for people to build their own experience.” the artist said.

The element of choice also allows for a variety of experiences. The artist mentions that “Two people who go to one of our events can go home and they’ll both have a very different experience. One of them could go ‘Did you see that room with the piano and the glitter cannons?’ In response someone else could go ‘What are you talking about? I was in a cab ride with a horse!’ It’s not about passively sitting there as an audience sitting there and watching what is being presented for us.

“You have to seek things out if you want to and depending on the time, where you are and how much you seek, you’re experience will be completely different to everyone else.”

The themes of all the collective’s parties all hark back to a time, where retro lights up the room. Whether it be the 30s or even the stunning shoulder pads of the 80s, there is a time, which the collective aim to celebrate. The theme associated with each night adds that extra element of playfulness and forget the drowsiness of the current decade.

“At the Wedding Reception they were all the reception guests. At our Parisian Salon, they were all artists, and the event looking at war, our audience were all saying goodbye to their men, or they were going to war.” Looking forward, the artists voice gets even more excited talking about upcoming events as well. “We have one coming up for the Festival of Live Art set backstage at a 1979 Bob Fosse musical. The premise for that event is that everyone who buys a ticket – the audience – is ostensibly in the cast.”

The faith invested in the whole affair from both the audience and with those various elements put in like the anonymity and lack of a schedule – although the artist talking to me does mention that there is a stage manager, so there is some order at least. The artist explains that it certainly was a jump. “So much that we do is so secret so it’s great that audiences buy into the premise, put on a costume buy a ticket and we arrange a cavalcade of delights for them. It’s such a trust exercise, as they don’t know who is on or what is on. It’s a surprise party for them however!”

A stirring element to the events though is messages that can be taken. Their upcoming event Dance Magic Dance: I Am Woman has a political element recognising the feminism movement that rose in the 70s. The anonymous artist explains this through the experience of their event Goodbye Wartime: at the Collingwood Masonic Centre in September of last year. “It’s about trying to capture the spirit of that time, whilst also nodding to the fact that we are anti-war and anti-conflict. What we did was our host on that night ended up being a pacifist. He tried to spruik how great the war was and how exciting it was.

“At the end of the night he gave this long speech about whether we knew what we were doing. So it had a sombre note there. We like to sometimes remind people of the politics of the times we recreate, but at the same time letting them dance their face off.”

The Boon Companions present Dance Magic Dance: I Am Woman at the Bella Union Bar in Melbourne on February 13. Get your tickets here. The Boon Collective’s is also putting together another Dance Magic Dance titled Cast Party at the Festival of Live Art on March 4. More information about that show can be found here.