Watching Paint Dry

doesn't sound like an action-packed evening out but the show - part theatre, part installation which involves exactly as its name suggests - looks set to have a colourful future.

After two performances at the Basement Theatre this week, it's booked for a New Zealand tour — at least, to Whangārei, Dunedin and Wellington — and then, next year, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The show was seen by Edinburgh theatre-maker Sam Gough who immediately asked creator Anders Falstie-Jensen to bring it to the Scottish capital. Falstie-Jensen spent part of last month checking out what it takes to make a splash during a festival where some 4000 shows are performed, pretty much around the clock, in three weeks.

Advertisement

He reckons Watching Paint Dry could have what it takes because it's easily the most unique production he's been involved with since cofounding the Rebel Alliance Theatre company 12 years ago.

Performed and designed by award-winning lighting designer Sean Lynch, it starts with Lynch announcing what the "colour of the night" will be and proceeding to get on and paint a wall. The reveal of the colour of the night (paint courtesy of very willing sponsor Resene) isn't the only surprise, though.

During the next hour — or near enough at 50 minutes — the audience watches the paint dry but there's a tension-adding twist in that they are invited to leave their phones on with the volume on maximum. If a phone rings, Lynch invites the audience member to answer it. If they do so, their entire conversation will be overheard by the audience.

Falstie-Jensen says it makes for some humorous exchanges which reveal much about our relationships with time and silence, mobile phones and, of course, one another.

"Some people will say, 'sorry, I can't talk now because I'm watching paint dry' while other people are having conversations about what's for dinner and what needs to be picked up from the supermarket," he says. "It can actually be quite fascinating."

Describing it as a mix between performance and art installation, he says it's surprising how much happens when nothing seems to be happening at all: "Several audience members have asked after performances for a second coat. Sean doesn't do that of course, because his job as a performer is to leave people wanting more."

Watching Paint Dry premiered at the Hamilton Fringe Festival in 2017 after Falstie-Jensen was asked to stage another of the Rebel Alliance's plays there.

"But I couldn't make the timing work and I hate saying no so I agreed to do a show and then thought about what that might be. Sean Lynch is the only person I know in Hamilton so I called him and asked if he could help. I knew it would have to be something simple."

That "simple idea" came courtesy of Falstie-Jensen's then 7-year-old son, Anton, who, one day during dinner, asked what it means to watch paint dry. That was followed by a discussion about boredom and getting the young boy to sit completely still, look at a wall for five minutes and think about what was going on.

"Watching Anton watch the wall was utterly gripping. He was completely still and I just kept wondering, 'what is going on in his head? What is he thinking?' After three minutes or so, he eventually lost his focus and wanted to play with Lego or something."

The last thing Falstie-Jensen wanted to do was play Lego; gripped by an idea, he started writing pretty much straight away producing a seven page script which went through a remarkable 14 drafts until he and Lynch concocted the show.

Is he surprised it's attracted so much attention?

"Yes - but they do say the simplest ideas are the best," he says. "It's amazing that it's now touring and there's a stack of festivals interested looking at it including one in Denmark, so it could be the first one of my shows that I get to take 'home' but it is a difficult concept to sell. There are some people who think we're messing with them by asking them to pay to watch paint dry but there is certainly a bit more to it than that."

Lowdown
What: Watching Paint Dry
Where & when: Basement Theatre, Tuesday and Wednesday