Dan Koop rows the boat and his audience joins with cast members,   seen signalling from the bridge, in a live-art journey along the Yarra during the Next Wave Festival.

Dan Koop rows the boat and his audience joins with cast members, seen signalling from the bridge, in a live-art journey along the Yarra during the Next Wave Festival. Photo: John Woudstra

DAN Koop is not happy for people to watch his new work. For the director of The Stream/The Boat/The Shore/The Bridge - included in this year's Next Wave Festival, celebrating new art experiences - the audience must take part.

Koop calls it ''live art'' - what he once labelled ''the weird stuff'', until he discovered there was actually a name for it, after taking a surreal piece of theatre about an abandoned sock set in a real launderette to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

''Live art is about acknowledging the presence of the audience and involving them, rather than throwing up a fourth wall that says, 'I do something, you sit and watch and clap at the end','' he says.

In The Stream/The Boat/The Shore/The Bridge, Koop scatters his audience - no more than four at any one time - to specific sites on and around the Yarra River, at Southbank. At each location - representing the stream, boat, shore and bridge in the work's title - the participant is drawn into the performance at both a physical and emotional level.

Physically, it might involve being rowed across the river in a rubber dinghy, waving semaphores, dancing to music and interacting with passers-by, frantically redesigning the city on a giant mat or modelling a river's course from soft clay.

But the piece is designed to operate emotionally, so we have the chance to reassess ourselves and our environment. How do we think about the past and future, about our place and the place of others in the present, as well as the decisions we make?

''I'm trying to give a familiar landmark a new perspective,'' Koop says, wondering aloud how many of us have crossed our famously murky waterway in an inflatable craft. ''While a lot of Melbourne will cross the river and experience these sites, quite often it's something you'll skirt over really quickly.

''By spending time and lingering at these sites, we're really hoping to expand upon what these things can mean. But also what we're doing is getting people to linger and spend time with themselves.''

In the dinghy, for instance, he asks participants to reflect on their past and what they carry with them. On the bridge, they are drawn from an internal space without verbal communications into the world about them. The stream symbolises life's unstoppable flow and moving forward.

While the show has a structure, where participants rotate through each site after about 15 minutes, everyone's experience is determined to some degree by the way they respond to the questions and tasks asked of them.

Koop has developed and honed the work over the past couple of years with the help of several collaborators, including actors, a designer with the MTC, a sculptor and photographer.

These same artists - half from Melbourne and half from Brisbane - are used in The Stream to engage and guide the audience at each site. Koop rows the dinghy.

He stresses that the work is fun and relaxed, designed to stimulate conversations not unlike those we might have over coffee, in a pub or our lounge room. ''No one is sitting on your shoulder or reality-TV style waiting for you to say something funny or silly; it's actually quite a gentle piece in that regard,'' he says.

For the Melbourne-born artist and producer, The Stream/The Boat/The Shore/The Bridge is somewhat of a homecoming after an absence of eight years, which included stints at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Sydney Festival and, in Britain, at the Battersea Arts Centre, Live Art Development Agency and Glastonbury Festival, where he performed a ragtag circus show from a caravan.

Now he sees the potential for taking The Stream on the road. ''It's a modular work … that is not site-specific, but site-sympathetic,'' he says. ''We could do it in Prague.''