August 3, 2013

Taking my work beyond the black box

Gwydion is making me think with his blog post ("Theater of Belonging"), especially this part:
What if we started combining what we usually think of as theater with, say, biology experiments? Or yoga classes? Or podcasts? Or role-playing games? Would we find new collaborators to work with us? And thus other audiences to engage with?
And on Facebook, Gwydion mentioned wanting to see more exploration and investigation in theatre, a parallel to research and development in science and technology.

(This is the part where a more patient writer would smoothly transition from one idea to the next. Forgive me for not doing so right now and getting to the good part right away.)

Whenever I feel the need to get back to the essence of what makes theater work, I go back to Peter Brook's The Open Door. One of the things that has most vividly stuck with me is his description of The Carpet Show. With nothing but a rug, the actors, and the audience, The Carpet Show transformed mundane spaces into vibrant, compelling performances.

After my most recent foray into The Open Door, I believe I had something of a breakthrough about the direction I want the development of my work to take.

I realized that more than I want to see my plays put on a Real Stage (TM) with all the bells and whistles, I want my plays to have vitality, to connect with the audience, to give the audience the freedom to imagine different realities. If that is what really excites me about theater, why would I put so much effort and energy into doing things that signify that I am a Real Theater Person (TM) and not an amateur with delusions of grandeur?

Part of me did--and does--want to convince other Theater People (TM) that I know and admire that I'm a Real Theater Person (TM) and serious about my work, which means I have to do "better" than a bunch of people sitting in a circle watching actors play pretend.

But the thing is: that's the part I like because I've never outgrown my need to play with my imaginary friends, to make up stories about them, and to go with them to worlds that can only be entered through the imagination.

Having finally admitted that showing my work on a Real Stage (TM) and proving that I'm a Real Theater Person (TM) are no longer my priorities, where does that leave me? Where does my work go?

Honestly, now that I've freed myself from that, it could go anywhere. In particular, I'd like to do my own rendition of Peter Brook's Carpet Show, using that format as a means of testing where the theatrical vitality of my work is found and how to bring that out in performance. Yet, I also want to play with adding a little bit of the spirit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, allowing audiences to participate by shouting and throwing various items. Oh, and I want people to be able to film my shows on their iPhones. And tweet during the show. And maybe nix the talkback at the end in favor of asking the audience questions during act breaks, where they are free to come and go and eat and drink and other "inappropriate" things.

In the meantime, I want to keep an eye on what works, what doesn't, why it works or doesn't work, and ideas on how to make it better. A strong sense of freedom and play, plus an equally strong insistence on figuring out what makes something work.

And get the hell out of the damn black box.

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