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Theater for small audiences
And no, I’m not talking about babies or children. I’m talking about theater created specifically for a small number of people to experience at any given time.
In the span of 3 weeks, I observed 3 different performances that sparked this thought process:
• Magic Futurebox’s co-production of FGP FEAR, a multidisciplinary night of performances that took place in various spots around MFb and featured a handful of installation performances designed for just one person. Between and after the public performances, there was a constant line to experience whatever was happening in those curtained or boxed or headphoned off areas. Everyone wanted to try everything, and many of the artists were begged to keep going long after they had plans to break down.
• Our production of Forth, a live rock n roll radio play theater experiment, in which an audience of less than 40 sat in rolling, swivel-seat office chairs in the center of a tiny space and watched the performers around them.
• My most recent and last visit to Sleep No More (documented here) where one-on-ones have become so well known that audiences spend the whole night crowding performers, hoping to be chosen to enter a room with a character and hear the door click closed behind them.
When Meiyin Wang, the director of Forth, came to us and said she wanted to place all of the action of Forth in one tiny, 22’x22’ room of MFb’s 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse space, I have to admit I was skeptical. Here we were with enough space to accommodate literally a thousand people, and we were confining everything to a space that comfortably held only 25. But the execution of the piece, in which 2 or 3 dozen audience members braved 200 feet of a long dark hallway to sit in the small, safe womb of the tiny room distilled the subject of the piece (the intoxication, addiction, & disorientation of opiate use) perfectly.
It was inevitable, with the success of Sleep No More, that other companies would try their hand at large scale theatrical experiences meant for hundreds of people at a time. This summer, I attended The Tenant, a free production in the same vein that used several floors of a church to tell the story of the 1976 Roman Polanski film. While the work was a valiant effort by several incredibly talented and notable New York playwrights, directors, designers, and actors, the production suffered from ambition that far outstripped the financial and material resources needed to make it as successful as the intricately naturalistic Punchdrunk piece.
After Fear and Forth, I started to consider what The Tenant, or any other immersive theatrical experience, would be like if, instead of trying to create an entire world for hundreds of people, we started focusing on making perfect little productions that can only be experienced by a small audience. While the income incentive of having hundreds of people pay for tickets is obvious, the expense to do it at the level of Sleep No More is extraordinary, and to attempt something that grand and intricate without the resources to do it can be frustrating for artists and audiences alike.
As indie theatre artists, I think it’s critical to the success of our art that we work within the bounds of what is available to us and explode through those restrictions by wringing every last drop of potential out of them… But that doesn’t mean we can’t create worlds for our audiences just because we don’t have millions of dollars. Maybe thinking small is the new way for us indie theater artists to think big.
once upon a time i danced with dangerous boys in dark bars—boys with cheekbones that cut, with long fingers and cunning cat smiles, with rolled-up sleeves and unbuttoned shirts, with whiskey whispers and music. i was a ghost among ghosts, lost in new york, but thoroughly found in the center of a dirt-floored speakeasy. for those few moments among the living, i was at home, spinning, my toes in the dirt and my hands in his hands, alive.
SLEEP NO MORE AND ME
I suffer from depression.
I also have OCD.
In 69 days I’ll be checking into the McKittrick for the first (and probably last) time.
If I’m honest, my family are poor. Our holiday across the ocean to New York in 68 days is the result years of saving…
…so a year and a half ago, when I told my mom about the show, she said, “Maybe.”
And this was all I needed. I began to scour the internet and Tumblr, read the play multiple times, my brain began to formulate plans, schemes…
When the show got extended, my parents told me, “The show is simply too much.”
I was heartbroken.
And so it came one day that I spilt hot chocolate on my copy of Macbeth. Not much, but enough to get me agitated. “Don’t worry,” my dad said, “I’ll get you a copy on the way home from work.”
My dad was true to his word. Upon handing me my copy of the play he said, “There’s a printing error on page fifty, I got it cheap.”
I turned to page fifty.
A booking confirmation to the show was folded neatly in two.
Thank you Punchdrunk, thank you mom and dad, and thank you to YOU: The Tumblr SNM community. Your countless posts and recaps keep me going.
Is That All There IsPeggy Lee
Peggy Lee — “Is That All There Is?”
Fondly reminiscing about one of my favorite Sleep No More stumble-upons. I was completely entranced from the moment the scene unfolded, incredibly strong gin martini notwithstanding.
i went to sleep no more again tonight with amy and yura!!!!!!!!!!! i went in with one thing on my mind— I HAD TO GET THE TAXIDERMIST 1:1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(if u dont know what sleep no more is pls refer to my prev post about it)
it was hard at first bc he just WASN’T THERE??? for the first cycle i looked around the 4th floor a LOT and followed the boy witch for a while, then the tailor, and kept peeking into the taxidermist shop whenever i could but he was just never there!!! i kept a look out during the scene when the tailor dances with agnes too bc i know he’s supposed to look in through the window but he wasn’t…. there…
a tad disheartened i wandered a little aimlessly for a while but stumbled into a bunch of new scenes that i hadn’t seen before, incl the shaving scene with malcolm and duncan and the boy witch’s dance with the porter and sexy witch in the phone booths… all really cool!
then i wandered onto the fourth floor again— picking up some candy from paisley’s sweets on the way— and kind of walked the hall looking into each room. i peeked into the tailor’s shop and thERE WAS THE TAXIDERMIST FUCKING IT UP 8) I WAS SO HAPPY (and he was played by the guy who played the tailor in my last trip!) and giddy and jumped right in, tailing him through his cycle. i have to say i learned a lot from my last trip— when you tail people into rooms, stand by the door because when they leave you are not in their way and you can follow them right out. (unless you think a 1:1 is gonna happen soon then sTAND BY THEM WITHIN EYESHOT)
since i had followed the taxidermist a lot on my previous trip, i knew most of his cycle and esp when the 1:1 was going to happen. i braced myself and when he was in front of the door to the bathroom, he reached out and seemingly reached to push me out of the way for another person. ‘oh well,’ i thought sighing a bit bUT THEN THE MOTHERFUCKER SHOVES ME IN AND I COULDN’T EVEN PROCESS IT BEFORE HE SHUT THE DOOR AND CLOSED US IN OH MY GOD
at this point i was freaking the fuck out because YO YO YO THIS IS THE THING I’VE BEEN WANTING THE MOST OUT OF THIS TRIP AND IT’S HAPPENING
anyway i’m gonna talk about 1:1 but some people might find it spoilery, so i’m putting it under a read more
Sleep No More
Design by Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns
If you do not know about Sleep No More, I suggest you research it! It’s a very innovative way to stage Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s over 100 rooms with antique set dressings and props. The production is currently in New York City and has an open-ended run.