Director of ZU-UK Persis Jadé Maravala talks about Multimedia Show Project Perfect Stranger to take place via WhatsApp and Zoom

With online platforms providing a means of communication and connection with the wider world during a time of isolation, a year on post the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a significant cultural shift towards utilising technology to work and interact. Drawing on this shift, ZU-UK present Project Perfect Stranger – a WhatsApp experience encouraging participants to work together to complete various tasks and The PlagueRound Game Show, a Game Show – taking place after Project Perfect Stranger – played out via Zoom whereby participants reveal who they are to eachother and viewers for the first time. Ahead of the experience, director Jadé Maravala tells us more about both experiences.

Project Perfect Stranger is a WhatsApp experience taking place over a five day period and involves two participants taking part in a series of collaborative tasks. What inspired the creation of this element of the experience?

Project Perfect Stranger is an investment into a connection to another human being who knows nothing about you, and who has no judgements, no prior knowledge, no historical or emotional baggage with you and vice-versa. It is partly a self-reflective mirror, partly a portal into another being, and partly an inquest into the possibilities of virtual intimacy.

The experience seeks to transcend the limitations of social-distancing / self-isolation / lockdown / quarantine and allow us to meet in a different register altogether. These are challenging and testing times to ask ourselves to place trust in strangers, so Project Perfect Stranger intends to exploit the challenging conditions as fertile ground for creative collaboration – it is precisely in these conditions that trust and invention gain traction.

The PlagueRound Game Show is the culmination of the five day experience on WhatsApp as contestants take part in a Gameshow via Zoom, and broadcast on YouTube. This’ll be the first time contestants reveal their indentities. What inspired this element of the experience?

The PlagueRound Game Show is a space of interactivity, participation and fresh ways of generating remote connection. We wanted to utilise game design to spark genuine human connection through the shared, global experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim is to crack open how collective experiences can link us, how we find a sense of ourselves in the post-normal and how we can define what the post-normal looks like.

You typically fuse technological elements within your work, having explored VR, audio and now WhatsApp, Zoom and YouTube. Why explore these forms further and how have you found doing so within your work?

Technology and its commodification have meant a race for artists to be more immersive than the other guy. To be immersed with a VR headset, for example, is to literally and figuratively escape the social and material space you occupy. It’s a kind of irresponsible unfreedom that only the most privileged in our societies can afford. Likewise, with Zoom, WhatsApp and YouTube – we need to ask ourselves constantly how these platforms relate to, include, and exclude the actual bodies behind the screens, as well as, of course, embracing their democratic functions as equalisers of space across the globe.

For all immersive performance to be measured against the one-upping technological standards that are so often brandished sets up an impossibility of meaningful social experience and participation. The notion that only through technologized immersion might we achieve true communion as we are freed from our bodies, our differences, our conceits is an ideology as pure and as old as monotheistic religion. Real community is made with bodies in proximity, different, divergent and heterogeneous – anything else is a whitewash. ‘Technology’ is not a new phenomenon: we try to use technologies, old and new, only in as much as they facilitate real intimacy and encounter between infinitely differing human beings. 

What can participants and viewers expect from the experience?

A range of opportunities for experimentation, silliness, collaboration, failure and fun, rather than old-school ‘competition’. A space and time in which to cultivate feelings, and validate admiration, approval, and gratitude for our bodies, senses and the chance to come together.

What would you like for participants and viewers to take away from the experience?

A sense that restrictions (of many kinds) have been relaxed through a process of levity, light-heartedness, and an opening out to allow in the whimsical. Plus, a readiness for post-normality: the beginnings of questions about the illusory and damaging nature of nostalgia for an old established ‘normal’, and an openness to change and uncertainty as a new norm.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Project Perfect Stranger will take place from Wednesday 10th until Sunday 14th February 2021 and The PlagueRound Game Show on Saturday 20th February 2021. To find out more about both experiences, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop