My head is buzzing today. Lots of clashing thoughts and emotions. Waves of uncertainty crashing against the hard cliffs of standards.
What the hell am I going on about?
Ok, last night we had a Secret Impro Theatre show. www.secretimprotheatre.com the whole concept of the show is to push boundaries, get back into experiencing the fear and being on the edge. In doing so we look at embracing other forms mask, clown, circus, video, script, character, genre etc. with an edge of surprise of the unknown for the performers. I wanted a place to explore and be allowed to fail and learn from the risk of the journey and the results of what flies and falls.
Now, recently I’ve been pondering a statement in an old old Loose Moose program about the Moose’s approach which is ‘rejecting traditional solutions’. I’ve been comparing this with one of my favourite Keith quotes “Question everything”. These two concepts I find quite inspiring and also quite scary. When you start to question everything you see lots to explore, when you look at what is traditional you see lots of old patterns we follow because they are there and then ask, what else is there?
Back to last nights show.
Due to a booking error the venue was not set up with it’s usual black curtains and light rig. We walked into the room and there was nothing. The lights were not available, nor the scaffolding to hang the curtains.
Our traditional theatre set up was not available. What now?
The beauty of chaos, creativity and performers who dedicate themselves to ‘the show must go on’ kicks in. Fabric was found and hung, new choices for venue look by bringing in lounge chairs and couches, a few tea candles around the musicians and away we go.
I was doing the opening intro and before the show I reflected on do we make any reference to this or just pretend it was meant to be and keep going. I remember a night at Theatresports™ at the Moose when I was still a junior player and none of the experienced players came one night. I, in my minimal experience, was the most experienced. I /we were terrified the show would be crap. Deborah Iozzi, the General Manager, simply suggested we tell the audience the truth and give them the option that if they are not happy with the show they could have their money back. It was a wonderful night. Pressure was lifted off of the cast and we played, the audience was on our side as we admitted our lack of experience. A unique and fabulous learning experience.
Does this happen in traditional theatre? No. You go to a performance on Broadway or the West End, bought tickets based on a particular actor you are desperate to see. You arrive to be advised the understudy was playing. Are you given the option ‘if you are not delighted with the show you get your money back?’ No. (of course I understand the logistical and financial chaos behind what I am suggesting) The traditional solution is you make a choice, pay your money, you get the show, full stop.
I decided to follow my Moose training. I announced to the audience there was a booking error, we have no theatre lights for the show, and if they were not happy with the show we would refund their money. The looks on peoples faces was hysterical. You could see them thinking, ‘Really?’ and ‘What the hell are we in for?’ Nice, they don’t know what to expect.
The show was delightful. Combustive Shazam had it’s normal hits and misses and chaos. It is a variety segment where we don’t hide too many seams so the audience sees some of our confusion, fear and joy. Every night Shazam has brought out moments that I think ‘That I would not normally see in theatre or an impro show.‘ Gypsy Prov flew in a wonderful playful very real place. I don’t know if was the room fluorescent or the awareness of giving the audience more to compensate for the lack of theatricality in the venue. But there was something much more present about the work.
The harsh lights of fluorescent shows up so much. How much we hide behind in the twinkling of theatre lights. How we can avoid the audiences expressions. How they can hide in the dark. Today I am rich with many lessons and reflections.
How much mediocre or crap work hides behind the traditional solutions? What work becomes acceptable because it is dressed up in theatre trappings? How do you end a scene when no lights dictate this to an audience? How do you create mood without the light signalling it? How do you embrace an audience who can not hide and get them to relax? How do you create your space, place and show without the elements that signal – this is a show, we start now, we end now.
Will we bring back the lights. Yes, of course, they are useful. Do we need the lights to make an interesting night of theatre. No. Have I learned some really valuable lessons, gained a new perspective and am eager to challenge? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes. Will I do this again? Yes. I want to explore different ways of making a theatre space. It’s an interesting questions.
At 5pm yesterday I was in a pre-show panic. Today I feel that last night was a happy accident. An offer we said ‘yes’ to and now I am reaping the rewards of the experience and taking the risk.
An audience member tweeted 45 mins after the show “Another fantastic night at Secret Impro!” Another person called the show “Contemporary, challenging, entertaining.”
Reject traditional solutions – what does that mean to you?
Oh, and in case you are wondering no one asked for their money back. Tim stood there, cash in hand ready to oblige. Instead he said people walked up to him with straight on eye contact, big smiles and thanked him for a great show.