Imagine if every time somebody won big on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? the prize money came right out of Eddie McGuire’s back pocket. It’s hard to imagine he’d be handing out any helpful hints, and there might be just a little more sweat on his brow as the contestant sneaks closer and closer to the top prize.
This is the type of situation performance artist Tristan Meecham has chosen to tackle in the latest instalment of his “Coming Out Trilogy”. As part of Melbourne’s inaugural Festival of Live Art, Game Show is exactly what it sounds like: a game show. For each performance, Meecham will be joined by 50 contestants who will participate in simple physical games to become the ultimate winner.
It’s pretty standard game show fare, but there’s one major twist: the prizes on offer are Meecham’s own belongings. “Everything that I have in my apartment will be available for you to win should you be the winning contestant,” he says. “I’m in here now; there’s chairs, plasma televisions, art works, knives and forks, bottles of gin, speakers, washing machines, electronics. We’ve got a whole gamut of trash or junk, right up to treasure.”
Although game shows arguably had their heyday a decade or two ago, they still dominate the 5 to 6pm time slot on commercial networks. They’re as much about competition as they are about entertaining their mid-afternoon audiences with sparkling lights, sleek production values and the vicarious thrill of the win. Meecham felt the game show environment would be perfect for his exploration of moral dilemmas and large-scale community works, and dove head-first into research.
“We visited different game shows, which was thrilling and depressing at the same time. It felt like Groundhog Day where they lock you in for a day to film six or seven episodes. It’s really about the experience of the factory and the mechanics and the machine of the game show world rather than the studio audience. The studio audience appears like a prop; it’s like they’re part of the set.”
Last year, there were development workshops held for Game Show – which Meecham says are invaluable for a work of this size – involving around 30 contestants. What emerged was something surprising.
“People instantly clicked into a mode of competition and the actual prizes ended up being almost completely irrelevant,” Meecham says. “Even though the circumstances were quite ridiculous, people really had that amazing streak of wanting to go right to the end and be the last one standing.”
In association with arts company Aphids and director Bec Reid, Meecham has become known for large-scale participatory works, and was last year one of five recipients of the British Council’s Realise Your Dream awards, which saw him travel to the UK to work with international artists.
He recently performed Fun Run as part of Sydney Festival 2013, after successful season at Next Wave Festival, Melbourne and Darwin Festival. The performance featured Meecham running a marathon on a treadmill.
“Instead of dealing with physical endurance, we’re now placing me in a strange emotional and sentimental place as well,” he says of Game Show.
Many of the belongings on offer as prizes are mementos Meecham has brought back from his childhood home; things that define his youth and who he is as a person.
But Meecham is quick to point out that Game Show won’t be all about watching a grown man crying over losing his teddy bear.
“We’re combining the live studio element, live filming and also the theatrical experience in one. It’s really about making sure when we’re filming — which happens live in the space — that the audience, the contestant and the performers’ experiences are considered.”
And what exactly do the games entail?
“If I tell you I’ll have to kill you and put you in game show land,” Meecham says. “They’re all accessible and easy, but a little bit ridiculous. People at the age of eight and people at the age of 88 will be able to play.”