So our cast/crew had a brief debriefing regarding “Theatre for Two.” The general consensus of it was that A) it was great fun, B) the audiences were exceptional — regardless of participation level, and C) it was a stretch for everyone involved.
As I mentioned earlier, this project was an experiment in all kinds of capacities. One variable we were increasingly interested in was the audiences’ willingness to participate — which we found to be very high. All participants knew that this was an interactive production, but nobody knew to what degree.
I should probably mention some logistics before we move beyond this point.
My co-creator and I wrote five scenes to be performed at five tables simultaneously. Each table would have 1-2 actors and no more than 2 audience members at it at any given time. Each scene was approximately 7 minutes long thus creating a 40-45 minute experience. When each scene finished the audience members had to be moved (via our wonderful stage managers posing as caterers or wedding photographers) and our actors had to be reset (by their own devices and our crew’s brief check in as they dropped off new audience members). This rotation of audience members happened four times after their initial seating. Our actors resilience shone throughout as they were playing the same scene ten times in one evening.
The sequence of scenes was as such:
Table 1: The Groomsmen
Table 2: The Mother
Table 3: The Caterers
Table 4: The Bride
Table 5: The Bloggers
After the show was over we brought everyone, actors and audience, together for a group photo as a sort of curtain call.
Yesterday evening the Apprentices at Actors Theatre of Louisville had an opening for another project of similar nature but larger scale. A production entitled Heist! by Deborah Stein. As an insider I’ve had great opportunities to hear about their process, but the proof was in the pudding last night as 250 theatre goers willingly participated in a very interactive and exciting performance. I had seen a run of the show previously so I spent a majority of my time gauging audience interest and participation.
My last topic which addressed “what kind of theatre do you like to watch?” feels a little stilted as I flesh out these ideas more and more about experiential theatre. I feel most excited about creating something that is an experience for the audience, however I am slow to embrace my own participation in experiential theatre. When it comes down to it (and I reserve the right to change my mind at any given time) I want my theatre experience to take me into another world to be entertained and challenged.
I was incredibly grateful to have sold out all of our performances of Theatre for Two. In fact, recently we remounted it for an audience of 200. As this was very counter to the work we did it was great to hear that the audience still understood and were receptive to the moments that were taking place — sans the intimacy we meant to incur.
The actors who worked on Theatre for Two and Heist! said that their experience on the former really informed their experience on the latter. I felt pretty excited to know that somehow, indirectly, we fostered a degree of freedom and improvisation for so nine great actors. At a panel discussion I heard an apprentice describe their performance as vulnerable. They’ve been rehearsing scenes for four months where their scene partner, the audience, was unavailable, “Then they show up on opening night and they don’t know their lines!”
That was a huge digress….
Let me begin (again) by saying that the actors on this project were brave, vulnerable, and incredible improvisors.
As I’ve mentioned before, our actors interacted in varying ways with the audience. Each script varied: some scripts used direct address, sometimes it was a gesture, sometimes we intended the audience to be flies on the wall.
The actors in The Mother scene, which had the lowest amount of audience interaction, is where a huge plot point was given. At the very end a very direct line was improvised. Audiences most often came from the more garrulous scene immediately before and felt as though they could jump right into the conversation, however this scene was rehearsed with the intention that The Mother (in-law) would dominate the conversation and tell the audience to “shut-up.” Before audiences moved on from this station the Mother also stated, “You didn’t hear anything.”
This simple line impacted the interaction for actors two stations away. When audiences were asked at The Blogger table if they knew any good gossip they were significantly quieter than those that truly didn’t know the large plot point.
Of course, none of the script hinged on the audience communicating one set of information from one table to the next… but that does sound like an interesting project.
I believed it before I started this project, but now it has been confirmed that the audience will do whatever you ask them to. They don’t want to do anything wrong; they want to be a part of the action (in varying degrees); and, most of all, they want the actor to succeed!