THISISPOPBABY, Phillip McMahon and Jennifer Jennings, are “seven years young” with 14 shows, numerous productions for other artists, a tent at Electric Picnic (2008-2010) and Queer Notions- a mini festival of queer ideas and performance- under their belt. This Friday they bring their performance art club night WERK to IMMA for a once off art party extraordinaire HEAT RASH.
THISISPOPBABY is a theatre and events company that “rips up the space between popular culture, counter culture, queer culture and high art, providing both a vehicle for our associate artists’ dreams and an electrifying access point to the arts.” So how did all this start?
Philip McMahon wrote a play for Dublin Fringe Festival called 'Danny & Chantelle (Still Here)' in 2006, I was a fringe festival judge that year and it was a site specific piece in POD nightclub about friendship and clubbing. It won Spirit of the Fringe that year and stayed in my head for months afterwards so I went to Philip and said I wanted and be involved in bringing the show back, that was the start of a fantastic creative endeavour.
The idea of bringing a theatre audience into a nightclub and likewise with WERK potentially bringing a nightclubbing audience into a theatre/art space is a bold and exciting move to access and crossover different audiences. What is it that drives THISISPOPBABY to give theatre a dose of nightclubbing and nightclubbing a dose of theatre?
The affinity that myself and Philip have is a real deep passion for theatre combined with a frustration of how few people in our circles engage with theatre, they’re very culturally engaged audiences who might have incredible record collections or go to the great exhibitions that are on in IMMA throughout the year or spend more time at the alternative areas at festivals but would rarely darken the door of a theatre so that was our passion. That combined as well with a passion for really truly engaging with the audience and the idea that the communication around the show and every part of going to the show is a part of the show as well.
We give each issue of WERK a name, which is a kind of gut response to what is happening in the world around us at the time. The name, the graphic design and the brief we write then informs what the artists do and how the audience engages… And when everything comes together on the night there’s a real sense of community and catharsis.
Named as Best Night Out 2010 by The Sunday Times, WERK was 'born in the bowels of the Abbey Theatre, baptised in the fields of Electric Picnic and deflowered on the banks of the Yarra at Melbourne Festival, and HEAT RASH will be the 11th issue of this occasional club event.'
So from the Abbey Theatre through Electric Picnic and now to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, how and why have each of these venues been important. What does performing WERK in IMMA say?
"We started off doing theatre shows but the idea for Electric Picnic came pretty quickly so we started coming up with new contexts for theatre. Lots of people have seen drag acts or alternative cabaret acts at nightclubs or festivals but what would you do if you put a piece of theatre in the middle of the nightclub, if you invited a poet or an actress or an emerging writer? Around this time we had also developed a relationship with designer Niall Sweeney and his partner Nigel Truswell so design and transformation of space and the attention to detail began to play a bigger role in that it meant it was all experience directed. What the people behind the bar were wearing, what had been specified started to come into play in our outside theatre experience and they all started feeding into one another. I guess the brand became bigger than the genre in a way so people had a good time in the tent at ElectricPicnic and they then without realising it or before they knew it that they were going into the theatre and sitting at Alice in Funderland (Abbey Theatre 2012)or Elevator (Project Arts Centre 2012). For Alice in Funderland for 56% of the audience it was their first time in the Abbey Theatre which is something we’re really proud of. Everything started to speak to each other, it has been a very creative and exciting way to do things.
A really important quality to WERK is being a kind of Black Sheep in an institution, so the place and the space of being in the Abbey Theatre was very exciting because everything took on a resonance that it wouldn’t have had if it was simply in a nightclub so everything felt really loaded in a really great way. Likewise IMMA is this stunning institution that has always been on the dream list for WERK. It’s very interesting and incredible to work there and work with the team there because we’re so used to working with people who are in the performance industry and the team there are primarily in the visual art industry so it’s very exciting to have that energy."
Do you think that collaboration and energy is unique to Dublin? What do you enjoy about living and working in Dublin?
"What I enjoy about working in Dublin is that if people buy into an idea, or buy into the person, or buy into a collective then people are just willing to get on board and bring their own creativity to it which is really amazing. We’ve worked with so many extraordinary artists over the years that we just go to them or they come to us. Everybody is up for it and some of the most esteemed artists in the country are alongside the emerging and rising artists and everybody else that makes up an event team, so yeah that spirit of collaboration and spirit of family.
I think you can really make things happen in Dublin you know, I think that because it’s a reasonably broad city and people are pretty tapped into what’s happening in the city. I think you can make things happen and make meaningful things happen and that’s a very exciting place and time to be."
Jennifer Jennings and THISISPOPBABY bring WERK – HEAT RASH to IMMA this Friday 18th July.
Performance Sweatshop, Literary Frenzy, Dancefloor Riot & Art Wank.
More info: http://www.thisispopbaby.com/now/heat-rash