Fictive Days Apartment, Griefswalder Str 220

It was the strangest 12th birthday party I have ever been to (granted I haven’t been to one for a decade but I presume this cannot be what’s ‘in’ or the norm?!). A birthday barbeque: bunting in the trees with the birthday girl’s name – ‘REGAN’- made out of boxed cardboard covered in shiny silver tinfoil hung within it, birthday sweets and sugar mice. The birthday cake piled high with strawberries, chocolate and pink icing hearts took pride of place. I took part in water balloon games, it was all innocent fun. It was enjoyable and Regan was slightly moody but excitable. Everything felt normal with not many inklings of the next hour except for when she bit the head of a gelatine snake and placed it ever so neatly onto the cake.

As the ‘happy birthday’ song developed louder and louder, Regan McNeil was brought her over to the lit candles. Suddenly all hell, quite literally, broke loose. She grabbed each flame lit candle one by one, ignoring the pain as they burnt her hands, and threw them on the floor.“My name is not Regan!” she screamed. Sinking her hands into the cake and hurling chunks at people, she fell to the floor and began to shake. Her arms were grabbed hold of and she was hugged her to protect her as she squirmed; her eyes wide open and body convulsing.

Fictive Days is set in a Berlin apartment, where 8 participants have been asked by Sergio Zevallos to take elements of a character from a mainstream film and act as them for 2 weeks. It is up to the performers when they want to act like their characters and how much of their personality they want to take on. Within the house, we have one performer taking on the role of Regan McNeil from The Exorcist – a film about a young 12 year old girl who becomes possessed by the devil, another as Alexis Zorbas from the film Zorba the Greek, another as Princess Aura from Flash Gordon, Queen Elizabeth from the film Elizabeth, Diane Arbus from Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, one performer playing both Elisabet Vogler and Sister Alma from the film Persona, Sergio Zevallos (the curator of this project) performing as Fiona from the film Fiona and another performer as Taeko Nasu from the film The Idiot (Hakuchi). None of these participants are these characters; the woman that plays Regan McNeil is not 12, and the performer that plays Queen Elizabeth is not British. This project is to see how far they can bring these ‘characters’ into their lives and thus how they interact with each other. With certain performers, they feel it is to their advantage to act like this most of the time in order to understand the character they have chosen more fully. All the characters have film equipment at hand to record the scenes they are living whenever they want to, which will then be edited into a film at the end. I and four others had been invited to join these characters at her party, where this specific performance must have been planned.

The two young children from the family barbeque to the right of us got freaked out, and in all fairness, I was finding it hard to remember not to believe my eyes! Truly unnerved and on edge, I watched as Fiona and Zorba took hold of her and carried her up the stairs to the apartment. As Queen Elizabeth stood back from the scene, completely unimpressed, Diane Arbus snapped away with her camera recording it all. I could not help but feel that perhaps they were not just becoming is the characters, but that they were acting up for us, the people who had come to watch and also for the film they were going to edit together.

Fictive Days is a very interesting experiment even if it wasn’t placed within an art context – to place a group of people in a situation where they are to take on the actions and personalities of someone other than themselves and see how this effect them and how they form relationships. Playing slightly on the Big Brother aspect, the audience is invited to come visit them at any time of day, to come play games, have a drink or just watch what is going on, yet here these performers are allowed to choose how much you see of them or even whether they want you to come it. Yet I do keep wondering whether this project is truly worth it? It must be messing with their minds and personalities. Speaking to the characters I asked what it was like sleeping in (the Fictive Days) apartment. I was told by ‘Sister Alma’ that at first it was difficult as Regan screams and has fits in the middle of the night but now it doesn’t really bother her as she is getting used to it. Perhaps when they leave the house and return to their original homes, they will find it hard to sleep without the routine of screams in the night; listening out for them in their own beds. I feel that within the apartment, Regan is the only one who is putting her all into it and acting as the character she chose. Perhaps this is because the character has a more extreme personality and obvious qualities to portray, and these really do take over the atmosphere in the house.

Two weeks: 336 hours worth of acting. When we see films or go to the theatre it tends to be the method actors that give the most convincing performance as they have attempted to become their roles. They are the ones we talk about after and who still get the same enthusiastic amount of applause for the 2nd and 3rd bow. However here in Fictive Days it is real life. It is an attempt to reach inside the mind of the character, almost into their fictitious soul, and pull or tease out aspects that performers wish to portray. But how can this be productive? Perhaps for the performers, who represent real people, for example Queen Elizabeth and Diane Arbus, they may possibly not need change too much but once you move through into the territory of Fiona, a drug addicted prostitute, the detrimental elements Fictive Days must begin to seep through. Moreover, ‘becoming’ Princess Aura; a fictitious princess with a lust for life who wishes to take Zorba to the Pleasure Plethora once he has built her a rocket (to take her back to the her father on Planet Cithera which will lead her to meet her one true love(r) Flash Gordon), or Regan; a young girl possessed by evil must be progressing this mind alteration into the extremes.

Following these characteristics fully, the Princess flirts incredibly with Zorba, each professing that the other is just one of many lovers and find myself questioning whether this is all an act or whether they will compromise their integrity to follow their characters through to the end. Looking into Regan’s problematic nightmares and having to wake up each night, pretending to be possessed (possibly even with the aid of an alarm clock to fulfil this behaviour) must have some influence on the performer’s emotions; such performing could be damaging to anyone.

Fictive Days does seem to be mainly for an ‘insider’ audience. I doubt that many of the non-artist public would happily walk in to their apartment, even though they too have been invited by the New Life Berlin festival program. Yet it is participatory as the performers have been chosen, and whilst I was there I felt part of it interacting and acting along, playing specific roles that fit into the present scene.

As I left that night, Zorba was helping Princess Aura to hang seductive red netting around her bed, for her boudoir; Fiona and Regan were having a heart to heart as the latter continued to ironically accuse Fiona of playing games; and the others had cleaned their teeth and gone to their rooms preparing to attempt to sleep. Feeling completely bewildered, I found myself worrying for the mindset of these people. For the humans behind the scene, behind the characters and behind the games they are playing. I hope that they will not ending up forfeiting part of their true selves for this project and that if needs be, will have counselling at hand!

Alexandria Clark is a freelance writer and artist based in the UK, and is also a member of the Nottingham based artist group TETHER.

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This text was developed as part of the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin critical writing initiative