You looking at me?

Performance Monkey's blurb claims that theatregoers sit in the dark. Well, not always. In fact, increasingly less often, as site-specific and promenade productions frequently exploit the visible presence of the spectators and implicate them in the show.

None has been more eerie, for me, than Punchdrunk's phantasmagoric Faust in 2006. We crammed beaky white masks over our faces and wandered the corridors and staircases of a disused warehouse as scenes from the Faust legend erupted around us. Even more uncanny than the thrashing, wordless performances was looking up at a crowd of impassive masked faces, knowing that you looked just the same. Were we watching ghostly scenes, close as breath but separated from them? Or were we ourselves the phantoms?

Less invasively, it's impossible to be unaware of the audience at Shakespeare's Globe, especially during daytime performances when the stage action must compete for your full attention. The RSC doesn't solicit such a vocal response, but it too strives to reinforce the communal nature of performance. Stratford-upon-Avon's vast proscenium theatre - an art-deco icon of the 1930s, and one of the too few major British buildings to have been designed by a woman, Elizabeth Scott - is being extensively remodelled. 'We have gone for a thrust stage,' says artistic director Michael Boyd, 'where the audience are aware of the rest of the audience. I'm sorry for those of you who like sitting in the dark - I recommend the cinema.'

All very bullish, but I'm in two minds. There's a thrill to a darkened auditorium, a heightened concentration fostered by the sense of being alone in company. Community is great, distraction less so. Boyd's own mighty cycle of Shakespeare's history plays last year was probably the best argument for his preferred stage, light spilling over the audience to make us implicit in the power play of squabble and grudge. You'd catch sight of your own feelings of excitement or dismay echoed on another spectator's face, while Jonathan Slinger's thoroughly disdainful, runtish Richard III could take us easily into his confidence even as he scorned our pity.

Sometimes, however, the lights can be blazing but you're far too busy to notice. Take Rotozaza's wonderful Etiquette, a play for two people who are both performers and audience. It is staged on a table top in a public place; we took part last year in a crowded foyer of the Barbican centre on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and it is now occurring in a cafe in Dalston, east London. I shouldn't say too much about it - unpreparedness is the point - but it's a mixture of new wave dialogue and shaggy dog story, deploying homely props and keeping your wits busy as you concentrate on instructions fed through your headphones and on your partner's lines and actions. You're in full view (though not doing anything particularly outlandish), but your mind is in the dark even as your body sits in the light. For some, that's the perfect theatrical experience.

February 17, 2009 11:40 PM | | Comments (0) |

Leave a comment


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on February 17, 2009 11:40 PM.

Style wars was the previous entry in this blog.

And the winner is... old-time sexism? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.