Remember this image:
Ok. So, picking up from yesterday, let’s say we put a 10 year ban on any play that has a living room, a relationship and ignores the audience. If Naturalism Prohibition begins tomorrow, how do we proceed?
I would propose the first thing we need to get into our heads is that theater, live performance of any kind, will never be able to compete with recorded media in terms of the scale of its reach. PSY can perform for an astounding 80,000 people in Korea and pretty much max the size that live performance can go, and still be equaled in terms of shear numbers of one weekend of a small indie movie rolling out in most major cities or a video game release that can be downloaded immediately online by just about anyone with an internet connection.
We don’t have to view this as a bad thing IF we define our objectives beyond simple numbers of butts in seats (which, by the way, doesn’t have to be the only way evaluate ourselves to the outside world: check out these smart people or look up #newbeans on twitter for some thoughts on that). Instead let us look at the TYPE and DEPTH of experience, a place I would post we might possibly have a chance to not only compete but excel.
What are the super powers of live performance? Here’s a list I come up with:
– It doesn’t have to the same every time: Why do people go to concerts when the recording will always have the technological advantage? Because there is something amazing about hearing that thing you know so well anew, with subtle changes and differences that happen that singular time you happen to be there. Ironically, just about everything we do in rehearsal puts an emphasis on just the opposite – on creating a machine that will run the same.
– The performers can respond to the viewer: Can we think about this in a wider context than simply “they laugh so we wait a bit longer for the next line”? Is it possible to really give them a role that matters and genuinely requires performers to take them in? Perhaps in such a way that without establishing that connection the performance doesn’t exist? I think so. But I think it might mean really changing what we think a “play” can be.
– The audience can interact with the performers/space/experience: Movies don’t do this. But (almost always) neither do we. This is a huge asset we’re ignoring. Why do people like theme parks and video games? Why the huge success of Sleep No More in NYC? Because there are audiences that like the fact that they can relate to the actors, walk around the world they enter, and in some cases even shape the narrative that occurs. Let’s find those that are craving a chance to be a part of our art beyond just sitting down and passively watching.
–You can use ALL your senses: This is another game that we will win over almost all other types of art. You can FEED people, you can make them TOUCH things, you can evoke SMELLS. You can even get them to lie down and change their sense of gravity in relation to their bodies. This is not a trivial advantage. No movie, no matter how good, can ever as realistically convey the taste of a dish as well as actual food.
I’d love to hear additions to this list. I’m sure there are more, and as I think of them, I’ll add them above.
So the question for theater, in my mind, is rather than trying to be less-effective movies, how do we create THIS kind of experience in as rich and rewarding a way as possible? Perhaps in doing that, we might feel less like Gollum clutching the precious (which for the record is mostly how I feel about my audiences – the only thing maintaining my existence and something I can barely hold onto). Can we instead work as a medium towards making these aspects the most important parts of the experience? Can we take that ingenuity and creativity and build new approaches that maximize what we are uniquely suited for?
Let me invoke that image again.
I like this picture a lot.
It’s from a show I created in 2010 called SURVIVE! It isn’t the flashiest photo from that show. Not by a long shot. It’s not the one I use in work samples. But I think it illustrates what I should be doing.
This photo is a moment between performer and audience that is totally spontaneous, unique, and above all live. Each person in it has a totally individual perspective of the experience that will be different from every other time this scene is performed. Each person has a tactile relationship to the object being shown as well as to each other. Each person is necessary from the story to continue and plays a part in what’s happening, regardless of whether they are actor or audience. Each person has to constantly re-negotiate the contract of participation to continue forward.
And because of that, this tiny moment that might be occur between just three people does something that no movie can do.
Theater can do THIS moment better.
PS – Thanks to JJ Tiziou for taking that amazing picture. http://www.jjtiziou.net