This won’t be your typical review, because pvi collective‘s Blackmarket isn’t your typical show.
It’s not a show at all, it’s a happening.
Set in the streets of Subiaco, participants are invited to play a game of survival. Don’t worry, it’s not The Hunger Games, no one is at risk of being bumped off by their fellow players, and though pvi might be watching you, tracking your progress, and possibly filming you, you’re not going to be subjected to a million people baying for your blood or anyone else’s.
Blackmarket is an immersive, intimate, highly self-directed street theatre experience. I’ll walk you through it as best I can without giving too many secrets away, but given that each player will have a completely different experience, spoilers might not be too much of an issue.
I arrived at the preordained location in Subiaco, filled out a form and joined a processing queue. It sounds duller than a trip to Centrelink, but never fear, it’s only a make-believe processing queue, and that makes it fun. The woman at the desk asks me to hand over my credit card and gives me a number so that I can go through the debriefing in the room behind her and pick up my “survival tool” in the next room. I hand it over gladly. I’m ready to sign my life away for this experience.
I move to the next room and watch a short video on a tablet mounted to the wall. It explains everything we’ll be required to do, how the “survival tool” works, what to look for once we’re in the game. I’m sure I will forget everything I watched once I hit the streets, as I am a bit of a bumbler and a fumbler and sometimes slow on the uptake, especially with games. My palms are already sweaty as I imagine failing miserably at this whole thing, confounded by the technology, or worse, confronted by one of the performers and forced to negotiate my way out of a corner. I imagined myself hiding defeatedly in a dark doorway while the other players ran around with glee, past the Regal, past the hotel, under the canopy of the Witch’s Cauldron, really winning at it all. I sighed and moved to the next room.
A short walk down a corridor takes us to the trading room. Each player is requested to bring in five items to trade on the black market; mine were: 2 plastic razors, 2 sanitary pads, a small LED torch, two large adhesive bandages and a bottle of some cheap champagne that would never be drunk. When our number is called, we step up to a table where we are asked to present our items. We have our picture taken and are set up in the game’s system with a unique username and password. The attendant logs in our items under our user accounts and explains how to use the “survival tool,” which is a phone loaded with the game’s app. They tell us to find a quiet space outside to begin listening to the instructions on our survival tool and send us out into the night.
The night in question is cool and cloudy, with a full moon presiding. I place the earbuds in and turn up the volume while a woman’s voice counts me down to begin. There are some last minute instructions and assurances, and I’m starting to feel like I might not end up huddled in a doorway. I start tapping and swiping things on the mobile screen, and let it tell me where to go, what to do. The learning curve is fairly short, and after one guided task, I think I’ve probably got the hang of it.
In the blackmarket world, you choose to secure things for yourself. In order to secure those things, you have to trade one of your items with a “trader,” or one of the game’s performers. Then after a couple of successful trades, you can become a rookie trader yourself, and you offer services to other players. The trading points are located all over Subiaco’s centre, mostly along Rokeby Road and the train station.
I hiked up and down Rokeby at least three times in the given 90 minutes of play time, and I was glad to have worn sensible shoes, as per instruction. The app played task-specific audio for me, sometimes spoken word, sometimes just music that pertains to the subject matter. For instance, I traded my bandages for some “tenderness,” and on the way up the hill, a particularly wistful and slightly distorted rendition of “Edelweiss” played, whose significance was to be revealed later once I met the trader. As I walked past a restaurant, I turned my gaze towards an older gentleman sitting alone at a table facing the street, slowly pushing his dessert around the plate. It seemed a significant moment of poignancy, me seeking “tenderness,” the lonely man and his dessert, “Edelweiss” in my ears.
In fact, there were many of those moments along the way where the game’s audio, my surroundings and my internal monologue ran in harmony as I moved through the dark, still corners of Subiaco on a subdued, moonlit Tuesday night. And I think this is one of this project’s key points: it’s up to you to make the most of your time on the blackmarket.
Because you have most of the power to shape your experience, you can let yourself get caught up in the atmosphere as much or as little as you want. I suggest going in whole hog. Suspend everything about your own reality for 90 minutes and jump right into the game’s reality. It’s an immensely rewarding experience too, because not only is it fun, but the creators have made sure to give you little packets of knowledge at each step.
Not only will you learn how to “hustle” within the project’s parameters, but you will also get a sense of how fragile our socioeconomic infrastructure really is, and you’ll hear a few survival tidbits to boot. What you choose to take home is entirely up to you, but rest assured that you will walk away with an impressive understanding of what is possible with one-on-one performance engagement.
pvi has developed a unique treasure with blackmarket, and its potential for permutation is endless. I highly recommend you throw your credit card in the ring and get in the game.
Blackmarket is officially sold out, but if you keep watch on @perthfest twitter feed, you may find a ticket or two has been released on the night.
It runs until Saturday the 27th. More information here.