Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Things have been fairly quiet around here lately -- mainly because I have been so darned cranky lately. I posted something about how NY sucks, which, after further review (and some friendly basking from fellow bloggers), I decided would be best if it were removed. Thank God for the delete function.

Here's the problem: I haven't had a new idea for about a week! It is nearing the end of the semester, and my brain is kind of crisp around the edges. My lack of mental activity is getting a bit disturbing, though.

But let me post an idea I had about a week ago. Now, this is not a universal or a normative idea -- I am not asking anyone else to adopt this idea. It is my little experiment. So why post it? Because I'd love some suggestions about how to improve the idea, and my readers seem to be bright folk.

In the Spring, my drama department is doing a project aclled "Stage Left." Instead of doing a play on our mainstage, we are all mounting small productions that have only one rule: they can't be done in a traditional theatre space (thus, Stage Left: we have left the stage. We academics are damned clever, no?). My contribution to this farrago is something I am calling "Living Room Theatre." Taking a page from Czech playwright Pavel Kohout (dramatized by Stoppard in Kahout's Macbeth), about half dozen students and I will be creating small "chamber pieces" that are designed to fit into a suitcase and be performed in living rooms. We are making ourselves available to individuals or groups at no cost. The only rule is that the students must be allowed to stay for the social events preceding or following the performance. I want the students to make personal contact with their audience, and explore how such an experience is different than performing in a larger, more formal venue.

Last week, I had an idea to embroider on this idea. Several years ago, I discovered the World Cafe. The World Cafe is an approach to community building and problem-solving that asks what if:

The future is born in webs of human conversation?
Compelling questions encourage collective learning?
Networks are the underlying pattern of living systems?
Human systems—organizations, families, communities—are living systems?
Intelligence emerges as the system connects to itself in diverse and creative ways?
Collectively, we have access to all the wisdom and resources we need?

The idea is to explore "questions that matter" in the following form. Put people into small groups of three or four around a table. Give them a large piece of butcher block paper and some colored markers. Give them the question to be explored, and have them explore it together, drawing and writing their ideas on the paper. After a certain amount of time, one of the group stays at the table while the other members go to different tables. Now assembled into new groups, the process continues using as a starting point what the previous group wrote and drew. Through this process, a group of people can come to know each other, and use their multiple perspectives and creativity to address a common problem. At some point, each table "reports out" to the group as a whole.

It occurred to me that this might be added to my Living Room Theatre concept. There was a recent report, discussed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which investigated how the motives of audience members differed from art form to art form. said that "68 percent of theatergoers surveyed said they attended plays as a way of socializing." This got me to thinking that theatres really don't attempt to facilitate such socializing very often. There are the occasional talkbacks, which are formal and usually directed at a central facilitator (I have done this several times for North Carolina Stage Company, for instance). But what if there was a way that audience members could be encouraged to talk to each other? To use the performance as an excuse to connect about the ideas, emotions, and viewpoints of the play?

And so I am thinking of using my "Stage Left" project to explore this model. The students and I will choose plays that might lead to a discussion -- perhaps plays that are open-ended, or alternatively plays that express a very strong viewpoint that could serve as the leaping off point for a conversation. I think these plays should probably be short -- perhaps one-acts, I don't know -- in order to allow time for discussion. I think that the actors and others bringing the play should also be participants in this process, again as a way of encouraging communication between audience and artist.

Do you have any ideas how this might be fine tuned? Do you have any suggestions for plays that might be intriguing? Right now, I am thinking about some Yeats one-acts, like Death and the Fool or Purgatory. I don't think I want political plays, but I don't know. I welcome any comments and suggestions.


George Hunka said...

Are you aware of Wally Shawn's The Fever? This one-man show (done at the Public about ten years ago) was developed in the living rooms of his friends: a man sitting in a chair, and that was it. There's no reason, of course, that you can't have three or four people doing the same thing, with props you bring along in a milk crate.

The best thing about this, of course, is that if you develop plays that speak to contemporary events, this is an excellent way of bringing the audience in at the beginning and generating discussion for a more traditional performance in a more traditional performance space (e.g., The Fever, mentioned above).

An excellent idea. Now to find the scripts that are appropriate ...

Scott Walters said...

I remember reading about Shawn's play -- an excellent idea! We have a copy in the library, and I'll take a look. Thanks for the tip.

I also think that a play could be developed, if it is short. Perhaps from a newspaper report or a magazine article. Or it might be poetry, or a short story. Peter Brook, in The Empty Space, writes about a production of Crime and Punishment that he saw performed in an attic during the London Blitz. That's the sort of experience I am looking for.

Like I was thinking about some of Beckett's one-acts -- Rockaby, for instance. Which might lead to an interesting discussion about aging, and choosing "more."

George Hunka said...

Hell, you could do Godot in my living room, and I've only got a 700-square-foot apartment ...

Freeman said...

Remember what I said about Hamlet? This puts the lie to it.

Here's a thought for you: if what you are looking to do is faciliate socialization and conversation within the living room, why not use as little pretense as possible to achieve it. Meaning: ask the audience direct questions (as an example) or somehow make the space that you're in part of the process.

Another thing I think is extremely useful in intimate settings is silence. How much can be accomplished without creating either dialogue that places the actors further from the audience, or plot which enforces certain events taking place. One of the greatest things about private space is that so little is said there, that it's somewhere that we are often acting as we would without eyes on us. And often, that means without direct language.

I'd bet there could be a great deal to explore with either/or directly engaging the audience on their own turf (off-stage) or keeping the theatrical tropes to a minimum.

Joshua said...

I just wish to encourage you to do new work, or at the very least, work by living writers.

Just my two cents.

thewebloge said...

Site-specific theatre has taken off in a big way in the UK, with plays being staged in playgrounds, toilets, lifts, department stores, cars, swimming pools, underground vaults, and in your own home. Why not devise a show? This was one of the best things I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year.

Dorothy said...

Do new plays by women playwrights.
My 2 cents as well...