Z6QCQ6 CODE OF RITUALS Immaculate connection

Fremantle’s Existence Theatre have announced their latest production, Z6QCQ6 Code of Rituals, will premiere this month in the exciting new location of Fremantle’s Victoria Hall over four nights from Wednesday, September 22 to Saturday, September 25 (get more info and tickets here). BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Existence Theatre co-founder Elisabeth M Eitelberger to find out how the site-specific production represents the power of ritual in connecting people through music, dance, and a shared sense of community. 

Who are Existence Theatre and how would you describe the kinds of performances they put on?

Existence Theatre is a unique form of performance theatre, based in Fremantle, co-founded by interdisciplinary artist Bello Benischauer and me, Elisabeth M Eitelberger. Over two decades we have refined our creative practice by combining video projection, live sound composition, movement and text as spoken languages, while challenging theatrical and performative methods.

Influenced by our European upbringing and education about postmodern ideas, we learn from immediate environments and address urgent, everyday topics. In more recent years we have engaged with changing ensembles, depending on the project’s scope and intensity. The explorations are site-specific works.

Our audience calls them poignant, powerful, confronting, non-conventional, poetic and surreal. Existence Theatre productions originate from an existential approach to examine questions about human identity, meaning, choice and how we cope individually and collectively with personal responsibility.

This time we work with the wonderfully talented performers: Emma Benischauer, Sarah Healy, Rina Fadzlina, Gala Shevtsov, Daniela O’Mara and Sophie Regnier. The venue is the beautiful heritage building of Victoria Hall in Fremantle, which will be filled with an immersive soundscape, large scale video projections and the performers’ presence.

Where did the idea for this show come from and how is it different from shows you have done before? 

Poetic text and sketches were created two years ago. We then developed a concept of characters and a metaphorical story around that. We always work experimentally with a loose choreography. This project turned out to be much more complex and required performers to be absolutely present to follow the individual steps of the rituals that get enacted in six different scenes. Each performer follows certain tasks.

And then there is the important level of audience inclusion. We need to be prepared for the unexpected. For this show performers have been trained to react to unforeseen responses from the audience, and to be able to improvise in the moment of action.

How is the power of rituals central to the theme of this show? 

This work presents a poetic narrative that depicts archetypal characters, who meet in a fabulous story by embodying feelings evoked by power, trust, grief, jealousy, surrender and love.

It is the story of a kingdom and a queen, who needs to be sacrificed… A tale of life and death. The protagonists lead the audience from ancient times into the faraway future, accompanied by their queen that slowly fades away to remain a spiritual guide, ever present, wishing for her people to finally become united in love. So there’s a lot going on in 85 minutes!

The show is especially based on practical research: Bello, our director, has travelled a lot and spent years in different countries while studying those cultures and traditions, learning a lot about people’s ways and specific rituals. This new show includes reflections on his experiences of how he saw rituals performed in different places.

It also incorporates all ensemble members’ personal experiences, as we all have a different cultural ancestry. Z6QCQ6 Code of Rituals is like taking bits and pieces from different cultures and centuries to recreate rituals that make sense for us in present context. Rituals that help us live our lives in the here and now with meaning through connectedness.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt in researching and writing this show?

I think everyone in the ensemble will answer this differently. In my case, performing Troja, the queen, it is a quite intense and embodied process of facing my true self in relation to others. Each rehearsal I tend to learn something new about myself; of how I act and react to the situation and character that I represent.

As the story is told, I go through life, death and rebirth. I was confronted with existential questions concerning the meaning of life, the rights and wrongs of my own ‘being in this world.’ This has been a quite emotional, raw and challenging process for me. I look very much forward to have the audience there to get immersed with us in the story and the rituals we perform.

We probably have a perception of ritual as a historical notion, but what rituals do people engage in that they may not realise?

They can be little, ordinary things, like getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, walking the dog, going to work…rituals that we do without even thinking about it. But then there are the greater rituals of preparing for weddings or funerals too. A lot of thought and awareness goes into how we treat such rituals as special events, and they are filled with a lot of different feelings.

And is there a central message you hope audiences will take away from this show?

This show focuses on how rituals bring people together. It not only includes the audience on a deep emotional level, but physically as well. Really it is all about feeling. The audience gets drawn into the action, so they not only witness but also experience the performance up close.

Tickets include vegan curry and bread at the end of the performance. It is a crucial part of the show to invite the audience to have the chance to connect with others after the show, to be able to share their experience with each other, and also with the performers. Having a meal together, connecting through food is another ritual.

What’s next for Existence Theatre? Any more productions lined up to look forward to in the future?

Existence Theatre develops projects over half year periods. So, yes, the next production has already started with rehearsals beginning in October. The show will be part of Fringe World 2022, our fourth year of presenting work during that festival.