Performance review: 8/8/8: REST, RISING Festival, Arts Centre Melbourne

An eight-hour performance about rest and sleep performed in ungodly hours but tangled in its own bureaucracy.
A figure stands in a dark underground space with sofas laid out and people sleeping.

An eight-hour performance marathon with an ambiguous plot during the unorthodox hours of 9pm to 5am is perhaps the perfect concoction for Melbourne’s risk-taking art crowd. What screams “edgy” more than willful insomnia for the sake of art?

And yet, if audiences signed up to be challenged, charmed or changed, 8/8/8: REST left much to be desired after its opening night on 7 June.

The only telling statement from 8/8/8: REST‘s event page is that the performance examines ‘the commodification of rest’, a concept that kicked off in the form of a pseudo-conference where each audience member was assigned the role of a fictional sleep expert. The corporate nature of the conference model (and its sponsorship) was placed under a satirical microscope to humorous effect, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments interspersed with seemingly proven facts on the science of sleep and rest. Marcus McKenzie’s hilarious lecture on “sleep hygiene”, tweaked from a kids’ show presentation for the 18+ audience at the last minute was a definite highlight.

Audience participation came in the form of ice-breaker activities – neither innovative nor boundary-pushing, but which perhaps drove home the performative nature of such programming in the corporate context.

All of this was soon disrupted as eye-mask-wearing guards declared everyone in “sleep debt” and led audiences to Arts Centre’s lush red-velvet foyer lounge, now sleepover friendly thanks to an array of sofas being laid out and everyone handed cosy night gowns.

Solo performer Amrita Hepi (dancer/choreographer) moved slowly through the space in classic white shirt and black trousers office gear. Meanwhile, audiences were encouraged to make the most of the theatre bar for drinks and snacks as they settled in for the next six hours.

The bulk of 8/8/8: REST was a fever-dream of spoken word, movement, monologues, opera, ambient sound and performance. Samoan improvisational artist Brian Fuata staged a disparate recount of a friend’s dream, his presence hypnotic enough to keep drowsy eyes open. Interestingly, Fuata’s involvement was not listed in any of the event pages or posts.

Later, the cast (including Hepi, McKenzie and Patrick Durnan-Silva) joined a 45-minute performative email chain that ping-ponged between RISING, the 8/8/8 team and Arts Centre Melbourne, outlining the difficulties and absurdly onerous layers of bureaucracy involved to create this site-specific work. It revealed a landmine of procedural knock-backs and workarounds that involved five departments too many.

It’s apparent that instead of looking outwards to offer audiences something truly otherworldly, 8/8/8: REST chose introspection as its grounding, laying bare systematic flaws in the arts and, even more specifically, RISING Festival itself, for critique. Yet, the drawback of this is that audiences needed to be in on the joke. Or perhaps the show’s producers knew all too well the kind of crowd that this show would attract – those already engaged in the arts as workers or participants in some shape or form, who grumble about its imperfections on a daily basis, but are too attached to leave.

Read: Dance review: Arkadia, RISING Festival, The Substation

As audiences tried to ward off sleep in the final leg of 8/8/8: REST, the cast delivered a slow and controlled performance in the room they called “Deep Plum”. Performers made their way up the Arts Centre’s staircase handrail with twisted limbs and koala-like postures, while a mic was passed tenderly between them for words of what felt like improvised poetry. It was a soft and welcome ending after the eight hours, and to a certain extent, could’ve worked as an arresting performance in itself.

While not without its moments, 8/8/8: REST ultimately fell short of what could’ve been delivered during its eight-hour commitment, and instead, tangled itself in the very web of bureaucracy that it was trying to critique.

8/8/8: REST
Produced by Unfunded Empathy
Creators and performers: Harriet Gillies, Marcus McKenzie, Amrita Hepi, Emma McManus and Patrick Durnan Silva
Lead Producer: Thom Smyth
Co-Producer: Bron Belcher
Composer & Sound Designer: Nina Buchanan
Production Manager: Harrison Grindle
Production Designer: Romanie Harper
Dramaturg: Lara Thoms (APHIDS)
Parafictional Trust Engineer and Performer: Derrick Duan
Lighting: Dual Flow

8/8/8: REST was performed from 5-9 June as part of RISING Festival 2024 at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne and was most recently engaged in consultation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival and ArtsGen. Instagram @lleizy_