Theatre for Two

Tonight is opening night for a project I’ve been working on since early October. I regret not talking about it earlier, but there have been some pretty big priorities over blogging in the last few months.

The project is called Theatre for Two and was inspired by a project in New York called Theatre for One. Theatre for One is a theatrical experience for one actor and one audience member. A unique, intimate moment where a performance is shared. In a typical theatre hundreds of audience members may gather and share the same experience and discuss it’s ramifications, symbolism, or contribution to art (or lack thereof) on the car ride home or over drinks later. In Theatre for One each experience would be different. It is possible, because of any number of factors, that performances could vary from person to person. The shared experience is key to Theatre for Two. However, we wanted to provide the intimacy of Theatre for One’s performance. Therein, we created Theatre for Two to take place at the Intermezzo Cafe, the Restaurant at Actors Theatre.

I graduated from college with a degree in theatre and psychology, so I’ve taken quite a bit of pleasure digging through scholarly articles about Brecht’s Alienation Effect, the Actor/Audience Relationship, social psychology, and the playwright’s challenges of a changing audience. Through it all I’ve read some incredible articles (which I will soon post — I promise) including one about the Gallery Theatre in which actors were placed next to art installations to provide dramatized information. The patrons could wander past, sit and listen to repeated material, and/or speak to the actors (still in character). The director and the actors in this project held a rehearsal following their first showing and realized that they needed to be incredibly flexible in the information they were giving.

Tonight, we’re going to have fun. However, we have rehearsed, sometimes rigidly, in order to create opportunities for spontaneity. We’ve created five scenes which take place at tables in a restaurant. The story takes place at the reception for a botched wedding — “someone paid for it, we’d might as well go….” We’ve meticulously created internal cues which keeps each scene on track, not to mention we’ve also given some structured improv to each scene. We have four stage hands who are also in character: three caterers and one wedding photographer (he’s being paid to be there, might as well take some shots).

Audience members have signed up in pairs or individually, individuals have been paired up so that each table is “for Two” whether they expect it or not. (Another query I have is is how will audience members react if they’ve been paired with people they don’t know versus those who signed up together purposely? — I’ll discuss this more in another post soon!) Those pairs are each seated at one of the five tables. Those audience members are then moved from table to table by our stage hands. Once the audience is moved, the actors will reset their scene and begin again with another set of audience members. The actors deliver the same scene five times before the evening is over — truly an acting marathon!

Each table requires a different amount of participation from the audience. The goal is to create an intimate, unique, and fun experience for audience members. Also, if we can help people think differently about theatre, that’s cool too.

Augusto Boal writes that theatre is everything and everything is theatre. Two people having a conversation over coffee could be theatre. What if they really were just doing a scene and the audience was the rest of the coffee shop who looks askance at them infrequently. I like to think that we are slightly the opposite, in that we’ve created theatre in a space that wouldn’t normally have hosted such a thing. A personal goal of mine tonight would be to hear from restaurant patrons not participating in Theatre for Two, “there was a play going on?” As in, they had no clue that anything was actually happening around them.

PS – All four of our shows are sold out. Wish you could be there!

What Kind of Theatre do you Like to Watch?

In October I found my way to Chicago for a visit with some old and new friends (as well as old and new family). I trickled into town through the rain and the rush hour and knew that this weekend would warrant a couple good blog posts. Truth be told, I was actively visiting Chicago in order to answer the ultimate question of this blog: what’s next?

One of my stops included an unscheduled visit at Starbucks. My friend had been in the city for almost two years, and, as we have similar backgrounds, I knew that I could get a straight answer from her even though it would pass through our Midwestern censors. As I furiously fired questions about the city and its culture at her I suddenly received return fire with two air-raid siren blaring bombs. “What kind of theatre do you like to watch? What kind of theatre do you like to make?” I took this opportunity to take a large gulp of tea. I had never asked myself these questions before. And, indeed, it does seem as though each one is very different. My brain instantly went in two different directions at once.

What kind of theatre do you like to watch? My first reaction to this set of questions comes from me, the audience member. I hearken back to different scripts, performances, venues, and performance artists that I have had srong feelings about. Frequently, when these four qualities agree with one another they create a harmony that I want to see again and again. Conversly, the discord of one to the rest can be very telling, and often I have to pick apart each of those qualities to figure out just what was it that I didn’t like.

As a part of my job I read dozens, if not hundreds, of scripts as part of a selection process for a ten-minute play contest. Our literary manager and her staff says that everyone has their own tastes when it comes to reading scripts. I truly have found that I either need a perfectly tied together piece with no loose ends at all, or a free spirit of a script that really sparks my creative juices, “oh yea, then loose leaf paper can fall from the grid!” I love to see the characters in my head from the first page on.

That is the kind of theatre that I like to watch. The kind that lets the impossible happen and the kind that leaves you breathless and hysterical (in one sense or another) at the end. Lucky for me, it is also the kind of theatre that I love to make.