My encounters: Group Works #6

As the second performance in the program we are presented with John the Houseband’s In Concert. In the program, the artists describe themselves as, “A group of artists and friends. We met through our study in the Theaterschool of Amsterdam ten years ago and had a common wish to play music together”. The programmers continue “The band life of ‘the Johns’ is unfolded in holidays and summer camps. Utopian proposals and hippie-like feel-good-vibes flow through their songs and concerts”.

On stage we see four people dressed in a Diy-Kitschy outfit with glow sticks around their necks. Playing a great variety of homemade songs and covers in some sort of amateurish way that reminds me of Baktruppen performances or the post-dramatic trash theatre era with its’ cultivation of liveliness and mistakes.

Concert performances seem to have been quite popular lately in the independent theatre field (here I am not talking about the exhausted genre of Music Theatre that has been popular in Denmark the last decade). So it is understandable that WaW has included John the Houseband as an example of group work(s) into their festival program. Not only is a band commonly understood as collective group work, the group work between the band and their audience at a concert is quite different than the group work between the performers/performance and the audience in the black box. On the one hand, the concert creates a more equal togetherness between the band and the audience, but on the other hand, you can also argue that it is a more hierarchical togetherness because the band constellation is often connected to idolisation.

However, by cultivating amateurism and “non-professionalism” John the Houseband escapes idealisation, and can oppose the capitalistic music industry with the lyrics “this song is never gonna be a hit”, and probably they are right. The song is never gonna be a radio hit and neither is John the Houseband the new Radiohead, but they are a successful theatre band that is touring internationally showing their “amateurish skills” on highly regarded theatre venues. Everything can be capitalised as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak said at the symposium. Even DIY, amateurism and friendship.

When thinking about the theme of the festival, the non-professional band members (the Johns) and Alice Chauchat both exemplify a collaboration structure where everybody does the same tasks and have a good time. They represent the harmonious group. In the case of the Johns, the band and the audience are supposed to have fun. The kitsch elements function as markers of a space where we play around stripped of all self-importance. But what if you do not enjoy yourself in this setup? Are you then still a part of the group?

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