Sunday, 10 November 2013

Eye&I - Manchester Science Festival

[Booth at the Arndale!]

So for the past two weeks there has been a humongous series of events that have been popping up all around Manchester, all culminating into one glorious festival of Science. Hosted predominately by the Museum of Science and Industry, the Manchester Science Festival is a simply brilliant way for everyone of all ages to celebrate their love of science whilst learning and this year, I had the absolutely wonderful opportunity of being involved in a unique performance-exhibition known as Eye&I. 

Led by brilliant artist and scientist, Helen Storey (@ProfHelenStorey), the Museum of Science and Industry and also the 24:7 Theatre team, the piece was an interactive installation which was designed to 'investigate the science of emotion recognition and the relationship between emotion in the eyes and the brain', also allowing the audience to 'explore human behaviour, communication and authentic emotion through eye contact'. 

The installation (as seen above) was built with two huts, one for the actors, and one for the audience to pass through with a wall linking the two huts. In the wall there were rectangular shaped slots where the actors would put their eyes whilst 'emoting' at the audience. The audience would then walk through and could take as long as they wanted to analyse and reflect upon the emotions shown, before coming out the other side and writing their thoughts and any feedback onto the side of the installation. The emotions shown were happy, sad, anger, fear, humour and disgust. Each emotion were held for 2 minutes each per performance, which lasted a total of 12 minutes. There were two troupes of of six actors, five emoting and one to help with front of house. 

As an actor, I found this experience to be quite a challenge as it is unusual that you find yourself in a situation where you are holding an intense and exaggerated facial position for more than a few seconds at any one time, which created a slight muscle ache in my face and small headaches due to the sheer concentration I had for holding the emotions. We were all given regular breaks in which we could relax in and were even given money towards lunch, which was wonderful! I also found it very interesting that you feel the emotions after going through the physical movements and I feel that the knowledge I gained will be able to help with my ability to portray emotions not only more accurately, however also in a more engaging manner for the audience. 

As the installation was in the Arndale, the reactions we got were rather varied, as most people who came to the exhibition didn't know it was going to be there before they happened to see it and were led in purely by curiosity. I found it very interesting, having been acting, to see what the people then wrote as feedback as I felt that holding someone's gaze for an extended amount of time creates a sort of bond between us. I found in general that the people who rushed through the installation in a matter of seconds tended to write negative comments at the end, quoting the performance as 'scary' or 'weird'. I believe that this was because they refused to engage with the eyes and emotions in front of them and possibly felt overwhelmed at the experience. I believe the refusal to participate could be due to social conventions, such as societal pressures to keep certain emotions locked away. Also, holding eye contact with a stranger is an unusual experience and, again, most of society tend to avoid direct eye contact with people they are not familiar with (an example of this? Being sat on the the Underground!!). 

I also noticed that a few people, predominately children and teenagers, tended to dehumanise the actors, possibly due to the fact they could only see their eyes, and what would not normally be socially acceptable suddenly became fine. For example, despite there only being a thin layer of wood between the actors and audience, a select few members of the audience seemed to think it would be okay to suggest and joke about poking the actor in the eye! Of course non of the actors were hurt, however the fact it was suggested was something I found to be quite interesting. 

There were also people who were very responsive to the experiment and spent a while looking into the actors eyes, staying for set amounts of time. They tended to leave positive, more thought provoking feedback and were very open to letting the experience wash through them! Reading their thoughts were most interesting to me whilst acting, I found myself wondering what the person on the other side must be thinking about!

Overall, this experience has been completely positive for me and, although I was unfortunately unable to do all three days, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and found it not only helpful to my acting ability, but also engaging on a social and intellectual level and, given the opportunity, I would love to be able to participate in this event again, either as an actor or as an audience member!

Thank you to everyone with whom I worked with and hopefully I'll get to do more fun dramatical things soon!

Till next time~


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