Fight Night is a democratic theatre experience

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Fight Night – Ontroerend Goed (Belgium)

The Cultch | October 18 – 29, 2016

The host of this show manipulated the audience, asked us personal questions, and sent actors off stage based on arbitrary polls. And we loved it. The first vote of the evening, choosing our favourite of five candidates, happened before we even heard them speak. This emphasized the degree to which people base their decisions on appearance, and was the first of many polls that exposed the strategies and manipulations of election campaigns.

This show turned actors into candidates and audience members into voters, and it was the most fun I’ve had at a participatory theatre show. We all got a kick out of seeing the results of each audience poll immediately. Before the candidates came out, we were warmed up with some demographic questions, and the host, Angelo Tijssens, added his own witty commentary about the options and the results.

One scene involved a series of questions about principals. The poll results were compared to the candidates’ beliefs and the winners stepped forward while those with beliefs that were less popular stepped back. By the end of the scene one candidate was off the back of the stage.

These weren’t boring questions by any means. For example, we were asked which word we found most offensive out of this list: nigger, faggot, cunt, retard, or none of them. Nigger won by a long shot. Another question asked us to admit whether we were a little racist, sexist, violent, or none of those things. It turned out that the audience was a bit on the racist and violent side, but a large portion said they were none of the above.

After each round, one candidate had to leave the stage, but things weren’t always clear cut. One round saw the candidates form coalitions to combine their vote share, and the host decided to throw his hat in the ring once there were three candidates remaining.    

We saw the candidates cling to classic strategies such as portraying themselves as the underdog, appealing to our sense of humanity, or dismissing the entire system as corrupt. One round was set up like a talk show where the three remaining candidates discussed how they thought the campaign was going and who was winning. It was interesting to see what seemed to tip the favour in their direction and how their words really got to us.

Some audience members even ended up giving up their right to vote and boycotting the election. They left the theatre with the anti-establishment candidate who encouraged them to protest. The element of uncertainty, the fact that the show was essentially in the hands of the voters, was what made Fight Night thrilling, innovative, and one of the most intelligent works I’ve seen in a long time. Go get immersed in this microcosm of democracy and let it teach you a thing or two about yourself.  

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