An Answer Must Always Be Attempted: Some Thoughts on ‘Quizoola!’

Heading home on the bus and one row behind me, audible but not visible, a woman with her daughter (?) – the kid sparking questions off of what she sees outside the windows; the mother answering, distracted and dismissive.

What’s that? An ambulance. Is that where Grandma lived? No – the other side of the park. What’s that man got? Baskets. Who’s that? Don’t know. What’s that green thing made out of? Probably plastic. What’s plastic exactly? Stuff. What are those things? Pineapples. Why is that man shouting? He’s probably angry.

If you shut your eyes you can imagine the city from these fragmented sneak previews, the landscape and its inhabitants emerging in the language stream; shapeshifting, surprising and banal in alternation, but in any case a far cry from the snow falling in its wet squalls and flurries, the air outside the bus more dead than alive with dirty thickened rain.

The questions are great of course and I’m thinking about Quizoola!, trying to keep mental track of the best questions, thinking I might add them to the accumulating text, noting the pleasure of the switches, jump cuts and subtle shifts of ground. What I love is the way that both the questioner and the questioned emerge as figures in even such a minimal exchange; the way the map of their relation, their interests and agendas develops over time, with each new question adding to the ever amassing whole. It’s the core dynamic of Quizoola!, this cut and thrust, this rolling addictive question spiral, which jumps from one place to another, taking both audience and players with it.

What comes next in the mother-daughter bus exchange is even better though. We’ve just made a turn around a corner when the kid starts a new line of questions, kicking off with a simple ‘Why are those women wearing headscarves?’ It’s the first inquiry that is met with hesitation from the mother; a momentary flicker in the otherwise confident rhythm of immediate data-return. Pause over, the mother replies, ‘It’s to do with their religion’ and goes back to scrolling her phone. But somehow the kid’s on a roll, expanding from observation to straight-up philosophy or social science, asking, ‘What’s a religion?’

The mother doesn’t answer this one for such a long time that the kid repeats the question. ‘What’s a religion?’ The re-ask prompts a reply. ‘Don’t ask that question on the bus’. The kid shuts up after that, game over and I’m left thinking what a depressing answer that was.

The great thing about Quizoola! is that even in the six-hour version, the end is usually pretty far off, and in the 24-hour edition we’re preparing right now, it’s going to be an even longer road to recovery and rehabilitation in the real world. The questions keep on coming hour after hour and although players are free to block, obfuscate, lie and stonewall any question coming their way, it’s pretty much forbidden to refuse to answer. Everything has to be answered, or better, an answer always has to be attempted, because there, in the trying, in the sometimes hopeless, sometimes beautiful attempt to drag experience and understanding into language is where the people are, where the vulnerability and fascination of this game lies for us. Perhaps these kinds of questions – What is a religion? What is a depression? What is insulation? What is an appropriate thing to do or ask in a particular place or time? – are the best ones, opening up a hellish definitional vortex into which already tired performers and audience can easily fall.

When we exit the bus at the same stop, the kid walks behind her mum towards the underground. You can see that as she’s walking she is all fists deep in pockets, looking around, knotting her brow and thinking, most likely answering the ‘religion’ question for herself, or spinning new questions. What is underground? How do trains work? What is love? How does language work? What is compassion? What is a compass? Where are secrets?

Tim Etchells
April 2013