With the 2015 Auckland Fringe Festival opening this week, Element spoke with the co-director of one show putting the ocean and the audience at its center.

If you happen to be passing through Queen Street tonight, en-route home after a day at the office, be warned. You might just find yourself with a bucket in hand, working alongside other unsuspecting passer bys, to save the 20 or so whales stranded in Aotea Square.

Whales, an outdoor performance from Wellington theatre company Binge Culture, officially opens the 2015 Auckland Fringe Festival - running until March 9. The one off show will see six Binge Culture performers join 20 or so members of the public who have volunteered to don wetsuits and be whales for the evening.

In 2013 Whales won the best of New Zealand Fringe Award at its premiere in Wellington. Originally developed from a scene in Binge Culture's 2011 This Rugged Beauty, a commentary on Kiwiana culture, it has since been performed on the beach at the 2014 Splore Festival and at the opening of the National Whale Centre in Picton.

Co-director, producer, and member of Binge Culture, Fiona McNamara said her company aimed to "have the audience at the centre of the work" and Whales did just that.


She said, as Whales takes place in a public space, anyone walking past would be considered an audience member and could be approached by one of the actors playing response team workers, given a bucket of water, and asked to help "save the stranded whales".

Although McNamara said some people were initially hesitant, audience members generally committed to the the "fiction" of the situation. This was helped by the fact that all instructions given by the response workers were based on the recommendations given by the Department of Conservation for a real whale stranding.

"We are immediately throwing people into this performance that weren't expecting to be part of. They weren't even necessarily expecting to see a performance - so it's quite different from audience involvement inside the theatre," she said.

"A big part of it is about community building and making connections between people who have never met each other before and suddenly find themselves working together really hard with a shared purpose and quite an important task to do".

Whales marks the first time Binge Culture have performed in Auckland. They also bring their six hour durational show Break Up (We Need to Talk) to the Basement Theatre, on Valentines Day from 11am.

Whales plays tonight, 6-7pm, in Aotea Square.

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