Wednesday 20 September 2023

Hamish Annan is having an outpouring of emotions with Access (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

A person has about 400 emotional experiences per day stemming from 27 basic emotions. In Access, performance artist Hamish Annan invites his audience to be faced with six of these as they sit across from him in a room and are asked to select one of the designated emotions: aggression, happiness, lust, fear, grief, or disgust. Once they've announced it, Annan takes on that feeling for as long as the attendee remains seated. Annan has performed Access across New Zealand and won the New Zealand Fringe Touring Award, and for the first time, he is bringing his show to Australia as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It's quite a journey for a show that began amidst the pandemic lockdowns.

"In 2021, a choreographer friend of mine invited me to present something at a spontaneous outdoor performance festival between one of Auckland's lockdowns. Access was an idea I'd had floating around for a while and given connection - at a distance - with others was so necessary at that time, it was the perfect opportunity to test something out. As I sat on a wooden chair under a tree in a park in a small suburb of Auckland, I didn't think anyone would join me. I was horribly nervous," he recalls. "And yet, there were probably only a few minutes in the hour I was there that someone wasn't sitting opposite me. People were experiencing a burst of emotion, and they were being moved and challenged and ignited by it. It was messy and uncertain and exhausting, but it was alive and playful and we had a dedicated crowd of onlookers for the entire performance. I realised there was something special in this rough version of the work, and so collaborating with director Katie Burson and designer Rob Byrne we took Access into a development workshop to really find what this piece could be."

Annan sees this as an exchange between him and the person sitting in the other chair, so while there are only six emotions to select from, the experience is vastly different from one to the next. "I consider each one as a spectrum of energy rather than a bold splash of colour. There's the gentle warmth and peace of happiness through to the cackling explosions of joy, the intense focus of subtle aggression that scales up to animalistic rage," he says. "The risk with such a limited set is the work becoming boring or repetitive, but if I'm working correctly, it's a conversation with the participant sitting opposite me. Their energy fuels my energy, so it is a true exchange rather than me 'performing at' them. This allows for nuance, intensity, and an immediacy that comes from being present with another person. I train hard to ensure I'm available for whatever comes at me."

Having staged numerous iterations of this work, Annan remains constantly surprised by the generosity of the audience in expressing themselves in front of others. "They always bring their own personality and their own emotional patterns of expression and repression into the space, and that is always deeply complex and varied. People generally fall into two groups: they go with the emotion, or they go away from the emotion," Annan explains. "Direct contact with someone experiencing fear will hit you and move you in a slightly different way than someone else. There's a beautiful energy that builds when two people journey together. It's not uncommon for lust to make participants giggle and squirm in their seat, which only fuels the desire, which only grows the laughter."

"Equally, the scepticism of low-level disgust growing to contempt and even revulsion can be met with a pang of deep sadness, a playful joy, or an equal helping of shared loathing for the more fearless amongst the audience. Our emotions move constantly, so it's a challenge to stay in one tone for an extended period, but that tension is interesting and adds another layer to the work."

"I hope I create a space in Access where people feel supported and safe enough to go there, to allow vulnerability. Coming from a culture of emotional stoicism, suppression, and the constraints we place on ourselves, especially in traditional models of masculinity, it's always a surprise when people allow themselves, even just for a moment, even just a little, to expand their expression. It's a privilege to witness."


1) My favourite meal is beef pad see ew. I can destroy a beef pad see ew.
2) A TV show I would like to be cast in is
Succession. Foul-mouthed business snakes are my vibe.
3) A little known skill I have is I used to work as a hypnotist.
4) My proudest professional moment is winning the New Zealand Fringe Touring Award for Access. That was pretty thrilling! Acting opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt is pretty up there too.
5) Happiness is the heart opening in all directions ... and cheese.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
In Person Season: 19 and 21 October | 7:30pm
Digital Season: On Demand for the duration of the Melbourne Fringe Festival
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $28 Full | $22 Concession | $8 Digital
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image Credit: John Rata

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