Block 457: June 7, 2014


Another weekend in Conway, and I’m waiting for things to start.

Let’s get this over with…

Date: June 7, 2014

Crane: 457

Days Spent on Project: 474

Location: Conway, Arkansas.

Person I would have sent it to: Martin I.

Martin owns a costume shop in New York, and has for a very long time. It used to be on 22nd Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues in Chelsea, but they moved within the past year to a much smaller place on 28th Street and Broadway. He and his shop have been a part of so much New York Theater, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know their work or who has worked with him.

The old space on 22nd, well, that studio could tell stories.

When Fela! was a “tiny” off-Broadway production back in 2008, Marina (the costume and set designer) rented one of their larger dressing rooms to serve as our home base throughout the production period. When we remounted Fela! for Broadway, we rented one of their offices and had them build some of the specialty costumes for the show. Later, I would be involved in another Broadway show that used their offices and then again for the Fela! remount for London.

Martin’s, and his studio, are pretty great. The art and the crazy projects they’re asked to do are awesome. You’d know his work.

Music I listened to while sewing: I’ve got the new album by Robyn and Royksopp, Do It Again, on this morning. Loving it.

Thoughts/Feelings behind the block: We’re slowly making progress on Pippin down in Arkansas. We don’t bring in costumes until tomorrow evening, so I haven’t been necessary to tech rehearsals yet, but I did manage to stop by and watch a few hours of the process.

And as I sat there, in the dark theater next to the set designer who’s been working on this show since January alongside me, I thought about all the long conversations we’ve had over the past five and a half months. Did we succeed with the original intentions? Did the design achieve what we set out to do?

I’m not certain we did.

It’s not a question of budget (it was limited of course) or time (we’ve had four weeks to build and realize it) or intention (most of us are all on the same page) or even skill (on paper all the designers are really skilled). So where didn’t we succeed?

I think the lack of success I feel comes back to a question that I’ve been struggling with over the past year or so: how do we engage the audience more? How do we create the expectation that the audience has to be just as involved as the actors, designers, technicians, crew, director, etc. when watching a show?

I spent two weeks in California, working on The California Project, playing around with a group of students and trying to uncover some answers. In 10 days, we had crafted a 45 minute “experience” (was it a play?) that an audience literally ran through. We had 11 performers. Within that 45 minutes, we figured out a way to keep all the actors active within one overall story, but inside that overall “through-line” we had three different story lines that converged and diverged and ran parallel and skirted around each other. We think we had over 2 hours of actual content within that 45 minutes.

And, despite having no budget and very little time, we came up with something that excited the cast and audience. It wasn’t perfect — it was a bare bones approach to an Immersive experience — but the audience did have questions afterward. They left talking afterwards. They saw the space we performed in differently. It was kind of — no, it actually was — a great experience for me.

Sitting in the dark theater, watching the actors on stage yesterday, I realized that again I was on the default setting of theater-watching. I was passively watching. The actors were working. I was sitting. My mind was floating in and out of the experience.

I’d like to create theater that expects, if not forces (not violently, of course), the audience to become a part of the experience.

I spent the rest of the day trying to re-craft Pippin, using our design intentions, in a way where the audience became a Participant-Audience, and wasn’t a Passive-Audience. I left rehearsal excited about that production.


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