Take It Outside
Maybe it's reality tv's fault, or maybe it's just artists attempting--as artists are known to do--to impose some meaning on increasingly chaotic surroundings. Either way, there sure is a lot of site-specific work going on these days, and what's more, it's happening outside a fringe fest aegis, where such work is (thankfully) expected.
Of course, it's summer, so Shakespeare is currently making the rounds in parks across the country, but that's not what I mean. Martin Creed's new work at Tate Britain sends athletes tearing through its halls. Technically, it's not theater, but let's at least tag it as a sort of performance art (or even better, stick it in Elizabeth Zimmer's "time-based" performance category). Improv Everywhere is getting national attention with their random acts of Twitter-triggered performance. Even opera, which around here is limited to one company kept in a tiered and gilded cage, is getting in on the act, with Die Soldaten's extravaganza wheeling its audience around the Armory.
Here in Philly, that old standby Our Town put on its walking shoes when the Arden Theatre Company kept the first and third acts on its mainstage, but brought the audience across the street into historic Christ Church for the second. And Brat Productions was just awarded $42,000 from the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative to develop a piece for Edgar Allan Poe's birthday bicentennial modeled on haunted houses.
It's heartening to see funders invest in non-traditional productions that by their very nature haven't a hope of "making it" to other cities. Touring shows make Broadway accessible to the rest of the country, but they're all about re-creating someone else's moment. In situ works create such a feeling of excitement about theater's connection to our lives, and reinforce its standing as an art form. After all, what makes theater so compelling is its transitory nature; once a particular production is gone, only memories and reviews are left behind. Site-specific work allows spectators to claim ownership of a piece in a far more profound way. Certainly, some of my most memorable theatergoing experiences have been stage-less. Hopefully, we're on the cusp of a whole new era of houses taking it outside the house.