Kate Hunter – A constellation of utterances: Using eavesdropping to make live performance


Kate Hunter

Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia 

A constellation of utterances: Using eavesdropping to make live performance 

‘We live only in relation to one another. Other people and our traffic with them is what makes us who we are.’ Anne Bogart 

We live in an increasingly digital world in which we are subjected to very private stories being aired in very public ways – consider reality TV, cooking shows, ‘Married At First Sight’, the Kardashians, and the narcissism of selfies. These public airings have subtly but radically shifted our relationship to each other, and ourselves because our experiences and understandings of privacy, of discretion, and of confidentiality have changed. The more we manifest our private worlds in public spaces, the more the boundaries between personal and private shift. What are the implications for us as these edges blur? Where is the public domain in contemporary life? the park? the cafe? your street? your back garden? Who should be permitted to listen? 

This paper investigates eavesdropping as a provocation for new approaches to verbatim theatre practice. The public domain, with its myriad of accidental overhearings, is a rich source of performance material – full of epic drama, sub-plot, poetry and twists of fate – if only we tuned our ears to the dramatic potential of the stories we hear in public places. Refracted through a musical multitude of voices old and young, accented and broad, eavesdropping provides us with an aural snapshot of gatherings in place. 

To examine these ideas, I draw on the innovative dramaturgical methodologies used in ‘Earshot’, a verbatim theatre performance in which private conversations of complete strangers were collected through a process of eavesdropping to create the text. Part theatrical poem, part undercover surveillance operation, ‘Earshot’ was a symphony of the authentic voice which used a breadth of digital/analogue technologies to create spatialized sounds throughout the space. ‘Earshot’s exploration of language was poetic and fragmentary, foregrounding the ‘ums’, the ‘ers’, the coughs and splutters – the incidental utterances of everyday speech. 

Framed as a practice-led research inquiry, I describe the way the ‘Earshot’ team reconfigured eavesdropped texts across spoken, written and performed territory. I propose public listening as a way to generate new practices for the contemporary theatre-maker – practices which lead us to re-consider the ways our modes of conversation and communication have adapted and evolved across the digital age. 

Dr Kate Hunter is a theatre-maker whose work juxtaposes digital and analogue technology, storytelling and the live body, and investigates innovative use of polyphonic verbatim recordings to examine the complex interplay between hearing, listening, reading and speaking that is implicit in the ways humans communicate through language. Kate is interested in cognitive and biomedical sciences, diseases and dying, perception and the senses as provocations for enquiry. Her work is characterized by a very specific, writerly approach to devising – gathering, crafting & re-voicing an extensive array of found texts from contemporary media, oral histories & personal stories, which are layered, repeated and extruded to create a comic and highly distinctive theatrical form. Recent works include Earshot (FoLA 2016, 45downstairs 2017; Due West 2019) and Memorandum (Theatreworks 2014, JSPAC ‘Brave New Work’ series Sydney, 2015). Works in development include In Perpetuity: a piece for actors, prepared harpsichord and disembodied voices, which has been supported by an Art in Biomedical Science residency at the Harry Brookes Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. Kate is currently Lecturer in Art and Performance at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.