A New Piece of Living Theatre

Over the past couple weeks I’ve done something that I realize I truly haven’t done for a long time. Along with five others I’ve been a part of creating, virtually from scratch, a short piece of theatre. We’ve taken an historic event, gathered raw materials from researching news articles and first person accounts, and without writing a fictitious line of our own built a 15-minute, dynamic, multi-faceted scene.

It’s ensemble built, and although we relied heavily on a structure and input proposed by a single member of the group—who was the person who brought us together—it’s probably some of the most team-oriented creation I’ve done since my days in an improv class. The members were open to hearing each other’s ideas for new things as well as criticism of one’s own, and the whole thing took on a sense of the old “yes, and…” attitude. We agreed on what we liked and what we didn’t, for the most part. And we listened to and respected each other’s contribution.

In about a half-dozen sessions, we discussed the story at great length, deliberated ideas big and small, threw together a list of elements, concepts and materials, put it up on its feet and began physicalizing the world of this story and then edited and shaped….and there it was. A new piece of living theatre.

What I can’t be sure of is whether it’s any good. We feel confident it’s at least compelling. Interesting. Engaging for an audience. We don’t expect the viewers to get every little detail or element. As someone smartly said in one early gathering, ultimately we’re not here to tell the whole story, we’re here to create a piece of theatre. An interpretation of a tale. A presentation that is enchanting, and makes the audience members want to know more.

The whole (short process, filled with quick choices) is not only a test of our skills, but is a testament to the ability (or shortcomings, perhaps) of each of us as theatre artists.

There are few people I’ve worked with long enough to think that I could possibly create something like this, so quickly, together. And the interesting thing here is that I’ve never worked with any of these people before. In fact, I think only one person in the group is familiar with any of my work, and that’s likely only a limited knowledge.

As part of Sandbox Theatre’s Summer Suitcase, a compilation of short pieces (for which all the set, costumes and props must fit inside a suitcase) this is a very short run, of a short piece. But it will be the third performance this year I’ve done with a new-to-me company, which helps to make this an exciting year. And even more, again this time, it’s with a company whose work I’ve admired and supported in the past, but had yet to work with and am happy to have the opportunity to do so.

This is some of the unique, experimental, putting-the-skills-I-have-to-work, kind of stuff I sometimes long for and rarely get an opportunity to do.

In a few days we’ll put it in front of an audience and see if it’s theatre.

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