Is love a science? Or is it poetry?
What have you done for love?
What is your ultimate love song?
These questions and more are the inspiration behind a work of theatre designed to twang your heartstrings.
In I Want To Know What Love Is, more than 800 love stories, billet-doux and cries of the heart submitted by the public are woven together into a show of verbatim text, physical theatre, songs and 250, 000 rose petals celebrating one of the universals of the human condition.
“We’ve had an incredible range of submissions,” says performer and co-creator Amy Ingram of the Brisbane-based theatre company The Good Room.
“There are lots of stories of how people first met, crazy romantic swept away stories, like two people literally crawling across a nightclub floor to get to each other. We also get submissions that are quite sex-oriented. One person wrote a six-page pornographic story to us.”
Then there are those nursing old romantic wounds and unfulfilled crushes.
“I’m always surprised by how poignant and poetic people can be when they have to write stuff down,” Ingram says. “We’ve just had one submission where someone has basically given us the three love letters they wrote to the three major loves of their life, and they’re all incredibly different.”
I Want To Know What Love Is began its journey with a sold-out premiere season in the Brisbane Festival 2014. It returned to Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland Festival in 2015 and is now on an extensive tour, touching down at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, August 14-17.
Director Daniel Evans likens the audience experience to being on a relationship rollercoaster. “It’s like a whole love affair from start to finish, all the facets from first declaration to break-up in one hour.”
The anonymous submissions arrive at The Good Room (wewantyourlove.com) without any identifying data other than the time it was sent. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the wee small hours of the morning yield some of the richest, saddest source material.
“We found that the time of night people were writing would often dictate the sort of response,” says Evans. “Because each is time-stamped, we can see things written at 11.30 at night, pouring their heart out. Then they’re online again at 2.20am, 3.30am … We really wanted to honour that in the work.”
All submissions are treated with respect, says Evans (“We don’t judge in any way, that’s not our role”) and many of them are reproduced in IWTKWLI word-for-word. Others become the raw material for physical interpretation by Ingram and her colleagues Emily Tomlins, Tom Cossettini and Katrina Foster, multi-skilled performers ranging in age from early 20s to 60-plus.
“We were really passionate about making this an intergenerational conversation,” says Evans. “A lot of the most moving moments of the show are because of it.”
Many who submit their stories or declarations then turn up to see the show. Often they will introduce themselves to the cast. “Sometimes you get half a dozen people, all claiming the same submission,” says Ingram. “They might not have actually written it but they feel like they did. They recognise themselves in someone else’s words.”
The audience experience of I Want To Know What Love Is also seems to be influenced by the emotional baggage each person is carrying at the time.
“Whether you are in love or not changes the way you interface with the show,” Evans explains. “If you’re in love, you’ll experience it in a completely different way to someone who is struggling with love.”
During a recent show in Melbourne, says Ingram, a friend who was going through a bad break-up came along.
“When she watched it, it was like she didn’t see anything except the part where everyone gets really angry and into post-relationship mode. That was all she cared about. The rest of it, she didn’t want anything to do with. Everybody comes at it from a different angle.”
I Want To Know What Love Is plays IPAC, Wollongong, August 14-17