Have you ever been stuck in airport limbo?
Lost that sense of where you are and for how long you’ve been there? Or even where you are supposed to be going?
In Catholic theology, limbo was where the unbaptised souls of infants and those righteous souls who died before the coming of Christ were gathered. Unable to progress through the gates of Heaven on a technicality, there they remained, in a kind of eternal holding pattern.
Whether you are religious or not, when you are sitting in an airport transit lounge, it’s not hard to imagine what that might have felt like.
After all, the transit lounge is a space designed to accommodate us between leaving and arrival. It seems to be a territory between national borders, a place where time is elastic and the usual markers of day and night don’t exist.
And it’s a space Flightpath Theatre collaborators Michael Pigott and Katja Handt have spent a lot of time sitting in and thinking about over the past 10 years while developing their experimental theatre project, In Transit, which takes over Wollongong’s Town Hall from September 19.
It began more than a decade ago when Handt asked travelling friends to leave postcards in airport transit lounges all over the world. On each card was an invitation, asking anyone who picked one up to send their impressions of the transit lounge experience to an email address.
It could be in the form of a line or two of prose, maybe a poem.
Responses came in from people killing time in transit in airports in San Francisco and Berlin, in Sydney and New York.
“As a designer, I was fascinated by the idea of passive space,” says Handt. “And though airports are all very different, transit lounges seem to be the same wherever you are: the same rows of chairs, the same carpet, the same lighting. And I could emotionally relate to that space. I arrived in Australia from Germany and the UK, on a one way ticket and I spent a lot of time thinking about that decision – what it meant – in a transit lounge.”
Audiences in transit
In Transit weaves material harvested from those postcard responses with new stories collected from Wollongong locals into a performance incorporating elements of the real-life airport transit lounge experience. There will be those chairs, and that lighting. You will have to clear of security (you may be photographed) and be issued a boarding pass. Your baggage might be weighed and measured.
“The only thing we can’t do is actually put you on a plane,” says Pigott.
In the decade since Handt collected her postcards, a lot has changed in the world of travel, says Pigott. “Migration of all kinds has made airports a contested space. Some people have never been so able to move around the world as they can now, and at the same time, many people have never found it so difficult.”
Bringing in members of the Wollongong community and IMS (Illawarra Multicultural Services) has expanded the scope of the project immensely, Pigott says.
“We have stories from people who migrated here 40 years ago and people who arrived this February. The idea is to create a kind of conversation about what it means to leave somewhere and what it means to arrive and belong.”
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Like Handt, Pigott has spent a lot of time in transit.
“My parents moved to Nepal when I was three. And then we moved to Switzerland. I lived in England for a while. I’m half Canadian, as well and my brother lives overseas … getting the family together is always a negotiation.
“As I get older, one of the things I think about is, well, if I’m only seeing my family every couple of years, or every four years, how many more times is that going to be? Air travel makes you aware of distance as much as it brings you closer to people.”
Who is watching?
The performance will feature Wollongong community members alongside performers Gemma Grey, Hernan Flores, Ryuichi Fujimura, Danielle King and Linda Luke. The audience will sit alongside and around them.
“It will have a little bit of mystery about it,” Pigott says. “Who is part of the performance and who’s just observing? Who is the person in the lounge with a connection to the material you’re being presented with?”
And as in a real-life transit lounge, you may find yourself losing track of time.
“Our lounge is sort of between time zones,” explains Handt. “So you might not be sure if you are in the present or the past.”
“And Wollongong Town Hall is a perfect setting,” adds Piggot. “It’s got a this great 1970s ambience and architecture.”
“It’s beautiful,” chimes in Handt. “It’s like being in Berlin Tempelhof.”