This November sees Kate Hunter combine live and digital performance with a thought provoking array of analog objects to bring a lifetime’s obsession with eavesdropping to audiences in Melbourne. This week I have been fortunate enough to interview Kate about her latest work and get a sneak peak into her creative process.

‘Earshot’ aims to blur the lines between the ethics of personal privacy and the publicly available information which we readily project onto mostly unsuspecting bystanders on a daily basis. Only yesterday did I find out about a fellow tram rider’s grievance with a work colleague, her theory that this may be due to Mel in HR having Aspergers and sparing details about her sexual assault; all while I was actively trying not to listen and enjoy my book. It got me thinking about ‘Earshot’ and how much of themselves people are prepared to lay bare in a public setting.

‘Earshot’ will undoubtedly leave audiences questioning their own involvement in the lives of perfect strangers, as Kate’s verbatim inspired piece intertwines all manner of stories;  death, snoring, real estate bastards, colostomy bags, being Jewish, air conditioning and domestic violence; to name but a few. Over the past few years Kate has been experimenting with verbatim soundscapes; raising endless questions centring around the digital age in which we now live in relation to how our privacy is frequently compromised by our own obsession with technology.

Where would you say your obsession with eavesdropping began?

I think I’ve always spent a lot of time in public places staring off into space. This lends itself to a finely-tuned ability to listen in on the conversations of others.  People say the most unbelievable things within earshot, without realizing. But you do have to tune your ears to it. I’m an excellent touch-typer, and I’ve developed an eavesdropping methodology which is both poetic and (probably) legal. When I’m in surveillance mode, I place myself in public locations with laptop (or sometimes notebook) in hand. I tune in to salient conversations and type frantically, capturing as much as I can. I can never quite capture everything, though. What emerges is a curious, fragmented but strangely coherent narrative of the world. 

Why is the use of verbatim theatre so prominent in your work? 

I’m curious about the complex interplay between hearing, listening, reading and speaking that is implicit in the ways humans communicate through language. There is an authenticity to verbatim material that is unfettered: I’m interested in the poetry that can be found in everyday speech. There’s a sort of rough-and-ready poetic metaphor in Australian vernacular that I really enjoy. Only in Australia would someone understand the phrase ‘I fanged it up the guts of the Tulla!’, for example. 

‘Earshot’ brings a very particular focus to the spoken and written word. We are using voice-activated text, or voice dictation, as a tool to experiment with projecting words into the performance space. The predictive text element of voice-activated technology sometimes causes errors. These errors make for insightful, often comic, accidental poetry … and potentially a disruptive experience for the audience: what they see does not necessarily correlate to what they hear.

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Where do you find conversations to use in work and how do you decide which verbatim to include? 

I’ve been collecting conversations for several years now during various travels: some were gathered at a beach side bar in Koh Samui, many were recorded in New York City, and the rest here in Australia. Most have been gathered from public spaces – cafes, foyers, trams, parks – although I guess the definition of what is ‘public’ these days is debatable. I think I tread a fine line at times. 

Earshot innovatively journeys through a landscape where the audience is encouraged to consider how we as humans interact with the private worlds of others when they are projected into public spaces. This piece aims to interrogate the idea of our new position in the world as we move further and further into a digital age. Are we now more open to sharing personal stories in public because we know that the majority of people around us will be engrossed in some form of technology?

What would you say are your main motives for creating Earshot? 

I’m interested language, translation and communication, and also in investigating form in relation to the conceptual backbone of a piece. In ‘Earshot’ we work with analog, everyday objects (plastic pumps, long garden hoses, funnels) which are mediated by actors’ voices and/or digital technology. We play with homonyms and synonyms and very fast talking and gestures. Tin cans feature prominently, and I love that, because we all remember making tin-can telephones when we were kids.

How would you describe the ways in which Earshot navigates the idea of a shift in human relationships as we move further into a digital age? 

Marshall Mcluhan describes technology as an ‘extension’ of the body. Digital technology is radically affecting the way we communicate with each other, the way our bodies are as we move through the world, the way we remember and learn. We text each other rather than talk directly. We move through space with our eyes on our phones. We learn, remember and recall information differently now. I’m not a Luddite: I’m as obsessed as the next person with my devices. I just want to bring our attention to the shifts and changes, which may be insidious, or may be inevitable. 

Where do you think we are headed in 2017/18 with regards to our own privacy, violating others’ privacy and our dependence on technology?

I think we have re-defined the term, inadvertently, and I think that is reflected in the current interest in live art events, audio walks in public places and a general resurgence of site specific works in which artists make public and private experiences more explicit. I do wonder about the end-point of such an engagement with technology: whether we will return to a ‘slow’ movement in social life, or whether on the other hand technological devices will become such embodied extensions that we will just be able to think ‘I want a Big Mac’ and a Big Mac will appear. Not that I eat Big Macs. But you get the idea. 

Kate has also teamed up with electroacoustic musician Jem Savage and performer/composer Josephine Lange, in order to explore the rhythm and musical aspects of language in this verbatim based piece. Kate talks about the importance of language and rhythm in ‘Earshot’ and in particular the individuality of the Australian vernacular.

Have you worked with Jem Savage and Josephine Lange before and how did the collaboration impact on the creative process?

“Josephine and I have worked together quite a lot in the past: notably in ‘Company 13’, directed by James Pratt, consisting mostly of actors who attended the John Bolton school and wanted to create devised ensemble work grounded in physical theatre and bouffon. She is an hilarious and gifted actor. I haven’t worked with Jem before but we’ve developed a creative and exciting collaborative relationship over the course of this project which I hope to continue. Both Jo and Jem are musicians and this is important because in ‘Earshot’ we’ve adopted a kind of musical approach to the language.”

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How do you find devising, predominantly as a solo artist?

I think and write and research an idea over time, and then bring collaborators in when/if I can get the money. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a solo maker: I don’t have to adhere to the constraints of a company mission statement, but it can be a pretty lonesome process constantly slogging away at grants and project planning. The excitement and the satisfaction arises in the collaborative moments in the studio, but the majority of the time my job is about looking for and creating opportunities for myself. 

Are there any artists or theatre makers that you feel have influenced your work and this piece in particular? 

I’ve had a lot of influences over the last 20 years: Anne Bogart probably remains the most influential in terms of her compositional approach to making theatre… but right now I’m really into Robert Rauschenberg because of his collage techniques. I also love the post-production sound techniques that Jacques Tati used in his films. 

‘Earshot’ promises to leave audiences questioning their own position in modern society and raises a number of questions surrounding how we now communicate with each other in the modern day. This innovative piece has combined a range of contemporary theatrical elements to produce a post modern insight into a very present ideology. I for one am excited to see it!

Earshot by Kate Hunter and collaborators, fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; Wed 29 November until Sun 3 December, Wed – Sat, 7.30pm; Sat & Sun 4.30pm.  Q&A hosted by Deborah Leiser-Moore following performance, Sat 2 Dec, 4.30pm 

Bookings:  www. / 03 9662 9966