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.