Celebration, Florida is a planned community in Osceola County, Florida. It’s near Disney World and was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company. It features a town square, houses modeled on a variety of architectural styles (Victorian, Gothic, American plantation house) and a fully integrated graphic design of everything from street signs and shop signs to manhole covers, golf course graphics and fountains. To some, Celebration is a dream come true; quaint nostalgic Americana brought to life. But to others it all seems inauthentic.
Because of the temperate Florida climate, autumn foliage can be rare, so every October leaf-shaped confetti is pumped into the Celebration, Florida town square.
I’m obsessed with The Falling of the Leaves. It’s like this genuinely exciting moment even though you can see all the fakeness. The device pumping out paper leaves, everyone gathered to catch them. To me it feels fun and funny and strange and maybe a little bit sad.
My performance called Celebration, Florida, for me feels like this moment, only with people instead of paper leaves. Where the paper leaves are standing in for real leaves, in the performance two people who are unrehearsed and have never met both stand in for me. That’s quite a big difference, actually. Even though the unrehearsed performers are standing in for someone else, they are also their own people–they are self-consciously themselves and someone else at the same time, constantly slipping off one and onto the other. As a performance idea this is constantly interesting to me, as anyone who might have seen my previous work like The Ted Bundy Project or Comeback Special can clearly see.
photo by Matt Cawrey
The performers are wearing headphones and hear my voice in their ear guiding them on what to do and say via a prerecorded audio track. They know almost nothing about the show beforehand. Maybe this seems a little gimmicky. The idea of unrehearsed performers guided through a show is certainly not original. I’ve seen it before, notably in Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree and in Glen Neath and Ant Hampton’s ROMCOM. For Celebration, Florida, though, this felt like the only way to do it. Not just because of the exciting on-the-same-team relationship this creates between the performers and audience, but because it speaks to playback delays, disconnection, missed details, a voice that’s *just* out of hearing range, a sense of the odd, the off-centre, the peculiar. As audience members, you’re not only invited to see what is being enacted onstage, but you’re being asked to imagine and to try and access what has gone on in another place. My hope is that the form of the piece can help create a portal to this slightly strange other place. Celebration, Florida isn’t really about Celebration Florida. It is sort of about an anyplace.
But what I always come back to is a sense of doubleness. While you’re invited to access this other place, this Celebration, Florida anyplace, what we actually see is two people–who didn’t know each other before the show started–slowly form a real relationship as they interact and perform various tasks together over the course of an hour. That can be a fun thing to watch.
photo by Jonathan Potter
In the end, Celebration, Florida is about all and none of these things. It veers between feeling ‘about’ a relationship between me and the performers, the performers and the audience, me and the audience, each performer with the other. And hopefully in the slipping and sliding in between, you can bring to it whatever is going on with you.
I made the performance with an energy of reaching out for connection with other people. That reach itself requires vulnerability, and it can feel thrilling, confusing, comforting, maddening and impossible. Like the Falling of the Leaves x 100.
Celebration, Florida is on at the Albany in London on 1st and 2nd March with a post-show talk on the 2nd, followed by national touring.
By Greg Wohead.