There is a novelty to Ontroerend Goed’s Fight Night that keeps things interesting. That novelty though is only a means to an end. The real engagement comes from the realization that we are being subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated through the night.
Provided with electronic voting devices as we enter the theatre, these tiny gadgets become voting booths around our neck. The goal of the night, we are told, is to eventually eliminate four of the five actors (candidates) on stage. The boxing ring becomes the metaphor for the match where winner takes all.
From the innocuous to the increasingly controversial questions, it is in the collective experience that felt somehow invigorating.
The series of questions asked of the audience starts innocently enough, dividing our room into specific demographics (on opening night, the audience skewed to single women, aged 25-44, making less than $1,000 a year). From the innocuous to the increasingly controversial questions, it is in the collective experience that felt somehow invigorating.
Several times during the evening we were asked to look around at our fellow audience members. With voting done in secret, just like in a real democracy, there was a certain paranoia. Is the person next to me a little bit racist? Or violent? Or perhaps they thought the word “faggot” or “retard” was the most offensive from a list of uber-offensive words?
As the winner is eventually declared, and we realize how easily we have been manipulated into choosing a victor, the biggest impact of the night comes in how our votes are no longer secret. That cherished fundamental of democracy is thrown aside, as the protest vote exposes itself and the homogeneous rest are revealed. It is subversive and shocking. It is also very, very real.
Given the outcome, it may be tough to think it will change any long-held beliefs in the benefits of a democracy, but it is definitely eye-opening. That this particular performance fell on the eve of the final U.S. presidential debate made it especially relevant, even as most of us north of the border are simply observers. (The December 19 performance includes a pre-show debate party, including a live stream of the Trump/Clinton debate)
There is also a sobering moment in the realization that our voting may be inconsequential to any real outcome. As the questions continue to reveal more about ourselves than the five candidates, the scripted nature of Fight Night gets in its way. With a different vote, does the ending ever really change? That doubt eventually feeds into a giddy irony of Donald Trump continuing to spiral into conspiracies about a rigged political system.
By the end of Fight Night there is a niggly feeling at the back of one’s brain. Can we ever really be sure the results were not manipulated? I’m sure The Donald would agree.
Fight Night with text by Alexander Devriendt, Angelo Tijssens, and the cast. Directed by Alexander Devriendt. Produced by Ontroerend Goed, Border Project Australia, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Richard Jordan Productions, and Vooruit in association with Adelaide Festival of the Arts. Presented by The Cultch on stage at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until October 29. Visit https://thecultch.com for tickets and information.