In of commerce or retail theatre. Throughout the recent

In this piece of writing, I will be examining my practice as an artist/designer/maker working the world of commerce or retail theatre. Throughout the recent years in this performance design & practice course that exposed me to the exploration of performance design through multiple disciplines, media and frames within the contemporary culture, ignited my interest in seeing things through a lens. Whether its been through shop windows, a camera or the cinematographer’s choice of framing, I have started to notice a series of connections that sparks my savour especially the shop windows in retail theatre. 

why the window instead of theatre ?

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xxx – about retail

But why and how did retail theatre evolve to what is it today ? In the context of the retail economy ( Pine ii & Gilmore, 2011), the experience economy is an tangible activity that a company intentionally creates by using service as the stage, and goods as props. To engage an individual, businesses and retailers, also known as the ‘experience stager’s’ can offer experiences that are rich with sensations. Such experiences are created within the consumers exposure to the staging and goos that has likely been a procedure of well informed marketing and smart advertising. All existing economic offerings remain outside the buyer, while experiences only occur within the individual who has been engaged on an physical, emotional, intellectual or even spiritual level which makes it inherently personal. Every single experience derives from the communication between the staged event and the individual’s prior state of mind and being. Now, people not only reduce on purchasing goods, but also spend their time and money more carefully on services to cater for more highly valued and unforgettable experience.

There has been a slump in business in recent years due to an economical collapse, that brought retailers to their senses and the need to pump life into their physical stores. I believe this was when retail theatre was widely introduced to mass numbers of stores. The journal ‘ The Intended Effect of the Performance’ about retail theatre by Steve Baron, Kim Harris and Richard Harris (2001), indicates that retailers use the theatre metaphors in retail by adopting the phrase ‘retail’ theatre’. Retailers use this in their public descriptions of their offers, and also included components of theatre into their store design and merchandise presentation. Retail theatre creates exciting environments to immerse and involve it’s audiences. During the process of purchasing, it has brought freshness and creativity into retailing, also sparking new consumer interest in stores and merchandise, and as a means of differentiation in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

As the journal ‘ The Intended Effect of Performance ‘ (Baron, 2001) suggest, there are four forms of theatre movements, that embody the ideas of four key theatre practitioners, these were suggested for use in retail theatre, they are theatrical realism based on the theories of Stanislavski, political realism related to Bretch, surrealism influenced by Artaud and theatre of absurd connected to Craig. I feel the four forms are littered throughout the experience economy, when applicable I will acknowledge these forms of theatre and how they have transcended onto the high street. I have reiterated the four forms to the best of my understanding on how they have a life beyond the theatre and exist in the retail economy.

Four Forms of Theatre Movements

Theatrical Realism – 
This idea stresses the close attention and genuity in the establishment of a realistic environment. The intended effect on the audience is that they were witness to a realistic world where the sets, props and costumes catch the accurate details of the environment. This excites the audience in a way that they are peeking into someone’s personal world that they should not be knowing about. For example : In September 2003, Chris Bovill and John Allison of advertising agency TBWA moved the entire contents of their office in Selfridges window, became the window display, worked on their ad campaigns, held meetings, demonstrating to the curious gaze of passers-by their method of working.

Political Realism – 
This movement separates both performers and audiences very clearly, the elements of performance would constantly be reminding audiences that what they see on stage is not real but only an imaginary presentation/show to illuminate one’s mind. This form of theatre encourages audiences to communicate, and stimulate critical responds of the performances. From my point of view, these movements apply mostly to the mass performance out there, whether its a West End Production or a play in National Theatre. It is also a norm in most of the shop windows we pass by everyday, where merchandises are places on a mannequin to inform the consumers that the retailers are trying to sell you something. For instance a mannequin at a charity shop could suggest financial options amongst the poorer.

Surrealism – 
Associating surrealism to theatrical movement, where acidness are charmed into a surreal worlds with subconscious experiences. The audiences responses are mostly stimulated by an environment created with staging effects that are put together to protect one or more themes inherent int he performance.  

xxx – (pina baush + surreal theatre)

Absurd Theatre – 
Absurd theatre challenges the audience’s mind by emphasising the minimalism of staging and plays with surround darkness and lightings. This movement engages audiences both intellectual and emotional level, provokes them to ask questions and also encourage an artist and individual response from the audience members. From a recent talk by James Barnett, a P:DP alumni who was on the Selfridges window display them for 6 years, I could make relations to one of the window campaigns he did and link it to the absurd theatre and make sense of the underlying metaphors. In January – February 2013, Selfridges introduced the new store-wide concept, No Noise. An initiative that goes beyond retail, the project invites audiences to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds. The store dropped its name from its shopping bags until the end of March that year, while brands removing their logos from products include Beats by Dr Dre, Creme de La Mer skincare, Levi’s jeans and Marmite. By forcing bemused shoppers to consult the discreet explanatory labels during the campaign,  the brands have proved themselves willing to experiment with their own image by entering into a dialogue with potential buyers, asking ‘ Who Am I ? ‘. This amusing and innovative approach vitally engages the customers/audiences, provokes thought and build awareness.

How Do Artist Contribute to Retail Theatre ? 

According to the picture below, I would like to discuss how retailers strive to outdo competition in a time of economic instability, they go to hiring high profile artist to demonstrate superiority in the market place, to attract the idea of brand longevity. It is also popular to create a narrative scene in retail to engage audiences, create surreal imaginary experiences that evokes reactions, by enlisting the framing that is widely used in film and photography. 

xxx  –  diagram

Example 1 : Filmmaker Wes Anderson, best known for films including The Life Aquatic and The Grand Budapest Hotel, was invited by Prada to create the main dining space inside its new arts centre, which occupies a converted distillery in Largo Isarco, southern Milan. The cafe named Bar Luc not only took references from famous Milanese landmarks around the city dated circa 1950s to 1960s, but also filled with the heavily stylised pastel colour palette that resonates with the aesthetic of Anderson’s film, form the veneered wooden paneling that lines the wall, to colourfully upholstered Formica furnitures. ‘ There is no ideal angle for this space. It is for real life, and ought to have numerous good spots for eating, drinking, talking, reading, etc. While I do think it would make a pretty good movie set, I think it would be an even better place to write a movie. I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in,’ said Wes Anderson. There is a funny dichotomy here between Wes Anderson and his audience/cafe visitors; while the visitors are clearly going to have a sensory experience while dining in a movie scene of Wes Anderson like the form of surrealism theatre suggested, Wes Anderson himself prefers to adopt the metaphor of theatrical realism where he takes his own interior design realistically, as ‘ a slice of real life’.

Example 2 : 
Set designer Rhea Thierstein, who created painstakingly detailed giant paper mache wasps and butterfly sculptures, a pirate shop made of ice sitting in a room and cascades of flower arrangements fit for the fairy courts of a Midsummer Night’s dream. Rhea is a frequent collaborator of photographer Tim Walker on most of his fashion editorials for magazines. Her way of design has adopted the form of surrealism theatre, stimulating sensory responses of her audiences with her oversized insect sculptures. She then brought these elements to the shop windows of Hermes and Selfridges. ‘ I was asked to do their Christmas windows after I’d met them as they were looking for new artists to collaborate with. They were really happy with them, so asked me to do their windows again. The windows i created are little portholes which transport you to a little world of tranquility and beauty. It took two weeks to create all the elements and make sure it had a luxurious but real feel to it.” said Rhea commenting on her work for Hermes.

Evaluation on artist’s way of work

Is the world behind the “glass” that dreamy ?

” … the shop windows, are merely a pane of glass that divides the shop from the pavement, but on one side, the climate-controlled interior welcomes those who can buy ; on the other, the intemperate street us where those who cannot buy may look without paying in the time-honoured ritual of window shopping. It’s a magical paradox linking the ‘real’ world with a world of luxury and the magical display behind it. The enclosed display window in which a temporary mise en scene,plays a role in a broad culture. Windows tell stories about us and desire that drives us, they express our ideals, evoke our nature, catalogue our inspiration and make us laugh at all three. ”  

(Shonquis Moreno, 2005 , p.8)