Friday, 10 January 2014


Isabelle Rousseau - performer in NEP Part 1

The National Elevator Project definitely brought to audiences and theatre makers a completely different theatre experience bordering, in my opinion, on psychological experimentation (Bystander Syndrome for example), installation and happening (because of the site-specific nature of the project), and actually being part of a piece (as opposed to watching one). Some reactions where wonderfully refreshing: “I felt like I was in a movie”, commented a friend. 

It’s definitely one of the most exciting pieces I’ve been a part of in a while, for different reasons. I’m excited of what the proximity allowed to happen, an intimacy with audiences and a study into moments in between social interactions. It seems to me now that a lot of social interaction actually happens outside of words. 

Jason Chinn’s deceptively simple set up was a fertile ground for anything to happen: an office elevator, two women of opposite temperament forced to interact. It’s some kind of Ground Hog Day for Linda, the meetings becoming more and more uncomfortable and even alienating. 

Being alone with the audience in between floors, I sometimes had to figure out if I was an actor or part of the audience, blending in while still acting. And although the other actor (Melissa Thingelstad) often addressed the crowd directly, my choice, given the situation, was to refrain from commenting on anything that had happened before except by throwing a brief look to them, thus holding back from tugging sympathy towards my character. 

I love that Jason Chinn’s writing sits in grey zones, where no one is completely innocent; no one is completely a victim or an abuser. It’s all much more complex than black and white.
A deep divide revealed itself in reactions to the play: younger audiences would generally respond better to Melissa’s intensely extroverted Margaret while more mature audiences would feel more empathy towards Linda, the introvert.  

The challenge was to keep it alive and new every time we re-started the scene, which on high-turnover nights might have been twelve times. I worked this out by keeping busy in between the cycles: what is Linda reading? What does she carry in her purse? What’s her favorite food? And so on, a study in minimalism close to film maybe.  

Being outside of the theatre was another challenge: where’s my dressing room? I’m out in a public space, yet preparation still needs to happen. We got lots of surprises during the run as well: elevators do not necessarily go where you want them to… They are as finicky as human beings. Thus the elevator has a personality of its own and we have to deal with it as another character that might interfere with the script. Feeling out of control was thus a recurring sensation that put me in a very exciting danger zone.

Un projet des plus excitants: le public était au rendez-vous de cette expérience théâtrale inhabituelle qui se déroulait dans des ascenseurs du centre-ville d’Edmonton. Une façon novatrice d’amener des gens dans ce centre-ville quasi désert le soir après 18h, cette expérience théâtrale hors murs de théâtres institutionnels a suscité un intérêt énorme et une excitation certaine chez les comédiens en plus d’enthousiasmer les foules qui se sont présentées pour voir de quoi il retournait.

Interaction avec le public et style de jeu: à découvrir puisque c’est proche du théâtre de rue dans un certain sens mais il y a définitivement un texte, un scénario. Parfois, le public ne sait pas comment réagir et intervient spontanément, ce qui donne lieu à des surprises (Ex : un étranger au projet qui monte dans l’ascenseur et qui appuie sur le mauvais bouton ce qui change notre parcours fixe). Mais c’est exactement ce qui fait le charme de ce type de théâtre : il y a tellement d’imprévu et cette interaction est très riche pour les comédiens et le public.

Défis : le premier défi est celui du site. On n’a pas le contrôle sur l’ascenseur, on répète sur l’heure du lunch et on a mal au cœur tellement on va d’un étage à l’autre, l’ascenseur est programmé et ne va pas où l’on veut. Il y a aussi le défi de la durée : les pièces sont courtes, on doit donc les tourner de huit à douze fois par représentation, alors comment garder une fraîcheur, une vitalité dans tout ça? J’ai passé beaucoup de temps à vaquer à des occupations entre les scènes pour rendre ça vivant, pour aviver mon imagination. J’ai cherché dans le détail, voire ce qui n’est même pas visible pour le public pour trouver de nouvelles inspirations, dans mon sac à main. J’avais plein de trucs que je pouvais faire entre les étages (je restais toujours sur l’ascenseur avec le public) et j’allais dans ce détail quasi cinématique pour divertir le public ou du moins l’intéresser et m’intéresser moi-même. J’ai décidé que je pouvais « vivre » dans cet ascenseur comme je l’aurais fait dans une situation réelle. 

La juxtaposition du réel, du minimal et du stylisé (contrainte de temporalité) était aussi un défi intéressant. Nous avons décidé de résoudre cela par le narratif : Linda est prise dans une sorte de Ground Hog Day, ce qui m’a énormément aidée à faire ces sauts temporels en très peu de temps. Je me retrouvais dans une sorte de cauchemar en boucle, une situation presque kafkaïenne, qui escaladait jusqu’à l’explosion finale. Tout ça en moins de neuf minutes. Du théâtre futuriste? Peut-être. C’est clair que les foules ont été interpelées et intéressées par cette forme surprenante dans un lieu banal mais étonnant.

Playing in the Trenches

Lee Boyes - performer in NEP Part 1
To the average person, 'theatre'  conjures images of the lighted stage and those masses veiled by darkness in their seats before it. Yet when you prefix theatre with 'site specific'; worlds collide. Audiences are taken out of their darkness and relative safety and faced with the exhilarating possibility of genuine interaction. This possibility is often met with excitement: people may themselves become part of the show and experience improvised moments and have an experience that is truly unique to that time and place. Conversely, when you remove the constructs of a physical theatre, some fill with dread at the possibility that they will make eye contact with a performer; that they will be spoken to directly, or, heaven forbid, that they may be invited to participate. This is positive. This is what truly separates theatre from the cacophony of entertainments that surround us in this century. We as performers immediately go from being entertainers to being instigators. We instigate a reaction, we instigate a dialogue, but best of all, we instigate emotion. Whether the viewer is left to confront the immediacy of the action around them, or their own feelings toward it-our role as instigators is never more apparent than when it unfolds during a shared experience in a confined space that, as pedestrians, we take for granted.

The rapid and successive repetition of work like the National Elevator Project, is often a place for amateurs. Those who work in tourism or are not familiar with an equity schedule. It can be grueling and arduous and can leave the performer in a constant deja vu loop, where they genuinely can not tell what they've said, when they've said it, and to whom. Much like some countries have mandatory military service every actor should work at least one show in the trenches of the fast and dirty world of short, quick continual performance. You will be forced to use and reuse every tool or motivation you could possibly conjure to avoid drifting into the world of uninterested performance and banal monotony. Simply put, events like the National Elevator Project make you a better performer.

Being part of The Club, we were lucky. With only a portion of the piece being scripted, we were given plenty of room for play and expansion and as the result it certainly evolved, and we were fortunate to have a show where such exploration was possible. What started as a simple up and down mission, eventually turned into our very own night club-involving photos and a unique sense of community. It was amazing to have people tell us how genuinely touched they were by the piece, simply because it engaged them on an immediate, and intimate human level. It went from awkward to fun to very personal in all of ten minutes. That is all the time it took to create a theatrical experience people will talk about for years to come, and when you compare that to the countless number of forgettable stage productions fueled by bloated budgets and spectacle, the question we really need to ask is,  do we need really need theatres to be successful theatre artists?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

What audiences said...

National Elevator Project (Part 1)

“The National Elevator Project was an incredible night of Theatre. I went with my sister and 14 year old daughter. We loved how the whole evening became an event where we
travelled from site to site and had a new, engaging, funny, insightful and unique experience each time. Walking downtown with our coffees and seeing other audience members doing the same on a crisp fall evening gave us all a sense of adventure and unity. My daughter said she couldn’t stop thinking about it the next day at school. What made it particularly dynamic though was the pieces themselves and the fact that they took place in elevators. Each piece had high stakes and we were given a glimpse into a small moment in time that held great significance and risk for the characters in the elevator. It was intense and sometimes you felt like you shouldn’t look while these intimate, private moments played out merely feet or sometimes inches from you. It magnified the sense that one always has riding an elevator with strangers confined to a small space. The words and stories carried more weight and significance and stayed with me longer as a result. The shared experience was intensely personal, passionate and at times very funny. I hope this project continues to have a life in Edmonton.”
- Annette Loiselle

“The National Elevator Project (Part 1) was a challenging and exciting theatre experience. I was impressed by how much the playwrights could pack in to about 5 minutes. It was like reading a short story or a poem, rather than a novel, I suppose. I figured I might be uncomfortable with some of the scenarios in tight spaces, but I didn't know until after that I could be made uncomfortable in so many different ways, and all of them enlightening. I found myself analyzing my own reactions more than I do when I see a play in a theatre, and felt somewhat selfconscious, particularly when I was in an elevator with actors I know personally. I thought the actors were all very brave to tackle this intimate project, and all did an amazing job. This format is a terrific way to be introduced to a new playwright, and see how each one interpreted the constraints of the space. Some let us eavesdrop on a conversation that might otherwise have taken place privately, as a play in a theatre would, and others included us in the action, sometimes as active participants but also as innocent bystanders or even co-conspirators. I am looking forward to what the playwrights in Part 2 will do with us!”
- Debbie Giesbrecht

“A series of plays set (and performed!) in elevators around the Edmonton downtown, written by some of our most provocative and original playwrights from across the country. It’s a great concept - and the work generated by this bold gesture were never disappointing. I saw The Elevator Project on October 19, and although I must admit that Rick Chafe’s and Greg MacArthur’s plays were especially memorable for me, there was not a single play of the batch which failed to hold my attention. The whole operation ran incredibly smoothly, considering the logistical challenges of such a production concept. And the small groups of theatregoers moving nomadically from one building to another through the afternoon developed a great sense of cameraderie that should be part of every theatre experience - and almost never is. Bravo!”
- Bill Lane

“Do you remember what it was like going on a school field trip when you were a kid? Interest was always peaked and curiosity was always satisfied in a way that was never quite the same in the classroom. Well, seeing The National Elevator Project gave me the same feeling as an adult. Theatre YES took theatre to the streets and elevators of Edmonton. I was engaged in a way that I never have been before or not since I was a kid. It was exciting to dash through downtown Edmonton from venue to venue. Gave me a perspective on this city that I have had since I went on University Pub Crawls! Then in a small elevator I got to stand within inches of the performers. Talk about live theatre! I could hear them breathing, and see their tears and feel their laughter, all because I was on the ride with them and six other audience members. So intimate and exciting and varied and fresh. It was just like going on a field trip and I loved it. When's the next one?”
- Elenor Holt

“I think the NEP is a fantastic project for many reasons. The way that the structure of the project has so many organizations, writers and partners involved is a perfect way to bring theatre makers together in a real way in this day and age. As an audience member I was struck by how the piece made me engage. First as an out-of-towner it made me engage with the city by walking around to the different buildings who had invited a piece into their space. Next it made me engage with the writers words and the actors in an altogether different way. Up-close and personal – sometimes in a pleasant way and sometimes in a challenging or difficult way. And lastly is made me engage with the content of each piece as I thought about it and discussed it with other audience members as we travelled between elevators.”
- Will Brooks

“I offer my full support and encouragement of the National Elevator Project (NEP). As a theatre lover and goer, I was thrilled by the experience I had at the fall shows. The concept is so clever, and executed so well. Shows come across like little snippets or vignettes of everyday life, and it’s so exciting to share them, if only for a few minutes, with a handful of people at a time. Watching people walk around the city all clutching their maps, deciding where to hit next is terrific to see. It’s like we’re all part of a select group on a theatre scavenger hunt, and it’s exciting to be a participant of it. The uniqueness about the NEP is twofold; the closeness with the performers, and the locations. It’s rare that you are within three feet of the performers, and not only watching, but participating! As it’s impossible not to when you’re in such close quarters. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the NEP, and look forward to seeing more of this unique project next year.” 
- Hannah Whittcker

“I attended the National Elevator Project on opening night and finished with a variety feelings about site-specific theatre and its relationship of place and audience. I think the biggest thing I took away was the way in which we, as the audience, were treated in relationship to the performers. In some plays we were active participants, willing or unwilling, a part of the drama itself. In those cases, we were given clues in how to participate and respond. I found fascinating the various ways in which people would become part of the play, based upon their comfort level. In other plays we were there as observer/participants. That is, we were observing the play as fellow passengers in the elevator but not as actual participants in the play itself. In other cases, we were an unseen audience - perhaps the role that most of us are used to when we go to see a play. It was interesting to see how various performers related to us as an audience and how the use of the elevator helped to shape the meaning of each individual drama.”
- Doug Mertz

“On October 24th of this year (2013) I had the pleasure of attending Theatre Yes’s National Elevator Project. Actually, “attending” is not the right word to describe my experience that night. “Attending,” suggests passivity and that is not correct. First of all, walking to each site (and each elevator) required planning and organization and each elevator offered a slightly different experience. The Elevator Project is not a traditional theatre setting, instead by having the 5-minute pieces each taking place in different elevators around downtown Edmonton, it opened, broadened my relationship with the performer and their environment. Instead of just watching a play in a classical location, I became a participant in a unique theatrical setting. A setting for specific, original pieces that cannot be performed anywhere else except for what they were created for. The pieces were well-written and beautifully performed… Theatre Yes’s National Theatre Project was an exciting, tantalizing evening for myself and for others interested in theatre that pushed the boundaries and forced us, the audience to be participants instead of observers.
- Michele Vance Hehir

“What a rush the National Elevator Project (Part 1) gave me! As I enthuse with friends over what a great experience it was, I need to overcome some initial skepticism about five-minute encounters in an elevator being a fun time. But for me, I found that my anti-motion sickness SeaBands® were superfluous, and in addition to the theatrical ‘trip’, there was a reminder of the special pleasure of being downtown after dark, and on foot. I was drawn in by every one of the eight 5-minute plays, and each of them was quite different from all the others. Making my way to the next venue gave me a chance to reflect on what I had just seen, and prepare for what lay ahead. The ability of the actors to immediately engage their fellow elevator-occupants was amazing. Sequentially arousing curiosity, intrigue, vicarious anxiety, dismay, through recognition to realization (or final puzzlement) – all within close quarters – the players left me satisfied, yet eager for more. Several plays could be categorized as being about relationships. Although sometimes painful, they pushed the viewer to consider multiple perspectives. I value theatre that invites me to think more broadly and to consider my own biases. We are so lucky to have risk taking professionals who provide provocative and thoughtful performances in our city. The fine weather in October made travel from one venue to the next easy, but the January Part 2 is bound to have its own special charm. Can’t wait.” 
- Rosemarie Cunningham

“My first experience of the elevator plays was in February of this year. I heard about this project from Heather Inglis, and was quite curious about its incarnation. When I got to the venue and there were a few people gathered and waiting; the elevator can only “seat”a few people at a time. My turn came and I was placed to wait outside the elevator. The doors opened and we were off! In this piece we were treated like droids, and manipulated by the actors into our places. The close contact with the actors, the familiarity with the elevator space, the broken fourth wall – and broken theatre convention of seating the audience – all contributed to give us a realistic, intimate theatre experience. I left the elevator full of wonder, and enjoyed the long walk down the hall (also part of the piece) to linger over the fullness of my mood. I also attended the project when it was completed, in October of 2013. The closeness of the performance space was almost too much for my nerves at first, (I couldn’t stop giggling nervously), but I eventually calm down. As I move through the project, I start to inhabit the elevators as if I were cast in a role. (I attended alone. As in, I didn’t bring a guest – there were others in the elevator.) The elevator, often portrayed in media as a celltype environment, quickly morphed into a much more comfortable space, like a cocoon. A familiar space to anyone who has ever visited a downtown, the tiny vestibule meant that we can see and hear the cast with ease. I knew the pieces wouldn’t be long (the parameters of the event dictate this). I begin to cast myself in a role. The role of The Witness. I am not the focus here, I can relax and observe all that unfolds quietly and openly. And I do. The mere act of standing to view the piece – mirroring the actor’s position – further blurs the line between actor and audience. I engage and absorb. Then, the piece ends. The doors open, I am released. I linger in the lobby, not wanting to leave the scene just yet. It is an intense and brief encounter that wants to be processed. Eventually, I move one. The quiet walk to the next venue allows me a brief grasp of reality, while readying myself for the next performance. I enjoyed the project thoroughly; I saw it twice (and would have again if time permitted), and I can’t wait for the next incarnation.”
-Rebecca Starr

"I have attended many site-specific theatre performances through the years, both in Europe and North America, and I thought the NEP was one of the most original. Not only did NEP use a variety of different locations instead of just one as it happens in most site-specific shows, it also created a network of possible itineraries in downtown Edmonton that the audience could engage in different order and on different days. This freedom gave the audience members the agency to decide how to shape their own experience and, given the interactive nature of some of the plays, it cast them in the role of co-creators. I attended the performance(s) on opening night and I found the walking from venue to venue exhilarating for the chance it gave me to talk with my partner about the show we had just seen, but also for how it allowed me to experience the city landscape in new and meaningful ways. The space I walked to reach the plays' venues became immediately social, interactive, and ripe with possibilities as I moved from building to building, and from story to story, and constructed a mental map that was intrinsically both geographical and narrative. The selection of the NEP's plays was interesting and representative of the diversity of Canadian drama, and even though the overall dramaturgical quality of a couple of the pieces was questionable, their staging made up for this flaw. After I saw the NEP, I strongly recommended my friends to go. I believe it workshops new artistic avenues for the staging of plays and re-imagines successfully the roles of performers and spectators in contemporary theatre."
-Stefano Muneroni

“I was lucky enough to go to the opening night of Yes Theatre's National Elevator project and managed to see all eight plays in one evening. The plays were interesting, well-acted and- this may sound strange given their location-well-staged. The elevators in these plays were not gimmicks. They were integral to the story we were hearing and seeing. It was fascinating to be so close to the actors and in some cases, to be an actual part of the story. This happened in a non- threatening way- I never felt I was put on the spot and forced to do anything. Some of the plays were hilarious; at others, I almost cried at the poignancy and emotions I felt privileged to witness. I think this is exactly the kind of innovative theatre project a place like down town Edmonton needs. Office towers that are usually dead spaces in the evening became vibrant, active locations for theatre. City streets that usually don't see much pedestrian traffic after dark had people walking around from space to space. I've seen a lot of theatre- and this was definitely one of the most imaginative and innovative. It was a great evening of theatre- and I am really looking forward to seeing the next installment at the Canoe Theatre Festival in January.”
-Nola Keeler

Sunday, 29 September 2013

My love of site-specific by Assistant Director, Brooke Leifso

Hello! My name is Brooke Leifso and I am the assistant director for the National Elevator Project! I’m an Edmonton based theatre artist, directing and devising theatre for all sorts of spaces and faces.

Most theatre in Edmonton, and indeed everywhere, is created in a specific space designed for it. The audience knows what to expect and are generally familiar with the etiquette required: be at least fifteen minutes early, turn off your cell phone, sit in the dark quiet space giving the actors your full attention and clap at the end. The audience sits separate from the actors, creating a buffer between the action and the spectator. It allows audience to be somewhat removed.

Site-specific theatre is theatre pieces done outside of a conventional theatre space: coffee shops, living rooms, funeral homes, hotel rooms, wherever.  The play or piece or performance speaks to its space, either as a setting of the play or something about that room/space.  It could be literal, looking at the mood that space evokes or what it might mean to our society—as in the case of a Funeral Home. Site-specific theatre asks us all to look at the mundane spaces we occupy totally differently. Every space has the potential to be a venue.

My favourite thing about site-specific work is it’s potential to break the rules, change the rituals and ask audiences to step out of their comfort zone. How does it do these things? By taking audience out of their conventional space, you’re taking them out of their conventions. Audiences can’t sit in an elevator, they have to do what they normally do (stand, wait for the door, etc) and let the action happen. It's up-close and personal.

The National Elevator Project will allow me to work in a space I use on a regular basis and turn it into something magical; and not just one day but everyday. Hopefully elevators will never be the same for us and our audiences!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Process notes on "Tip of Things" by Catherine Banks

Catherine Banks
I had a huge struggle to find my elevator play. I had this idea that I liked very much but I couldn’t make it work. I get a lot of petitions about really worthy causes from people with names like David, Sacha, Emily with my name in the body of the text. Example: Catherine thank you for signing the petition to end blank and we hope you will also sign our petition to save blank. I confess after a while I started to feel like I was a very bad person if I didn’t sign. So I came up with this sort of plot that my character would be trapped in the elevator with a David, Sacha or Emily and that the audience would be behind these sort of movers’ curtains and play the role of people that needed to be saved by the petition. I guess I thought the elevator would be could be a metaphor, blah blah blah idea was not working and was not working still not working several months later.

Then Heather Inglis was in Halifax. Then I had a workshop in a week, then in days.

I like the short play format and I had written several that I had never finished during a beautiful workshop with the inspiring Marie Irene Fornes. I pulled them out and looked each over. The play I settled on was one that I had written set in a hotel room. As soon as I put those two women in the elevator, in action, my imagination re-sparked and I was off.

Our plan for the workshop was to spend half of it around the table and half in an elevator. The cast was Andrea Lee Norwood and Ann-Marie Kerr.  Emmy Alcorn of Mulgrave Road - who commissioned the piece- came into Halifax from Guysborough for the workshop  - there are no elevators in Guysborough. After a couple of intense hours around a table we all squeezed into the production elevator at the Neptune Theatre for this crazy little workshop. We borrowed a cleaning cart we found in the hallway and Ann-Marie used Heather's coat as a baby. Our elevator kept getting called even though it was technically “locked”.  Emmy had to get off for a bit and we had a hell of time getting back to her floor. Then about half way through I had to take a break from it all, I can get very nervous in small confined places. It was a great afternoon and we all laughed a lot. What I discovered was that being so close to the characters and unable to walk out electrified the experience. Rather than being an “audience member” I become a witness. That’s what it felt like to me at least.
I think Andrea, Ann-Marie and Emmy were pretty puzzled about the piece at the beginning of the day and it was fun to watch as they came to it line by line. I loved how Ann Marie was right there, all her own mothering instincts arriving like a freight train. The small space seemed to amplify all of it.
I came in hoping that I was on the tip of something---meaning hoping I was writing something very intense. Now I’m pretty sure of that and I’m happy that this play has found the right home in this project.
My next steps actually don’t have to do with the element of elevators per se, but rather  with exploring the script itself in a fairly conventional way. I’m considering adding a layer of class—or race— to the play. What if the baby is Asian and the mother white? Not to make a big statement but as another layer.
I am very excited to see and read the other elevator plays. What did people do? How did they solve the problems? How did they approach the task within the "rules"?.
They sound amazing.
Looking forward.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Elevated Drama

Rick Chafe
I had my first ever workshop-by-Skype last week, linking Edmonton and Winnipeg, and can report it works very well.  At least for a play that's 2 and a half minutes long. 

Mine is a naturalistic piece:  A young man gets on with the audience, rides the elevator up to the top floor of a medical building.  His girlfriend gets on, finished her appointment early.  The kit was wrong, she's pregnant.  They try to have as private a conversation as possible in an elevator, but it immediately, well, elevates.  Or descends.  Whatever. 

We started calling the style hyper-realism—a result, I think, not of the scene itself, but of the audience being implicated in the realism of the action, something Ken Williams talked about in the previous post.  They won't be implicated as participants in the conversation (presumably that is—as Ken said, who knows what an audience will do in this situation?), but rather as non-participants.  As bystanders, whom are suddenly made to be non-participating eavesdroppers on one of those uber-private conversations embarrassingly played out far-too-publicly.  But they also must play their role as a theatre audience: to watch and listen to a play.  The young couple has pushed their way to the back of the elevator.  Will the audience turn and watch?  Or follow polite public protocol and keep their gaze focused forward and ears focused back?

These were not my primary concerns in writing the play.  I was just writing a private story that could spill out in a public place.  But this is almost entirely the dynamic we played with for the whole afternoon's workshop: the drama played out between the two characters while making use of the added tensions of the drama between the characters and the audience.

You could say playing all this in an elevator eliminates the fourth wall.  But I don't think it will do that at all.  I think instead it will make us hyper-aware of the fourth wall. Yes, the physical space between actor and audience has been eliminated—for a full house performance the actors' bodies might be in contact with audience bodies for the whole play.  But the result for at least some of the audience is sure to be a heightened awareness of the fact that these two people are actors, that I'm the audience, that none of us are real people in real life—and felt more sharply than we would ever experience it in a black box seated ten or a hundred feet away from the stage.  

Just to crank that idea one notch farther, I think one of the implications of doing plays in elevators—for naturalism certainly, but maybe in different ways with all of the types of performance the project will present—is that it will push the audience to experience two kinds of fourth wall conventions at the same time: the fourth wall rule of theatre, that actors and audience shall pretend to be unaware of each other, and the fourth wall rule of social space, that citizens shall pretend not to notice each other's embarrassing public behavior, and we shall pretend to mind own business.  Which I think are both pretty much the same rule.

So that's what we found playing for a couple of hours in one possible elevator world.  I'm looking forward to walking into another fifteen.  

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ruminations on creating a play for the National Elevator Project.

Kenneth T. Williams
We had a saying in photojournalism – zoom with your feet. Get close to the action, don’t rely on fancy shmancy telephoto lenses to get the shots you needed. This could be risky. You could get hurt or killed. But look at the images from photojournalists that have had the most impact on you. I bet that most of them are close ups of faces. (Steve McCurry's "the Afghan girl" comes to mind

No matter what the subject matter is – war famine, sports, elections – the eyes of another person will tell us everything we need to know about the story. Celebration or anguish, the eyes give us away. A photo, however, lets us maintain eye contact without feeling embarrassed. We’d never look at another person that way, especially if they were right in front of us.

As a photojournalist, I willingly walked into the middle of conflict to get the images that told the story. As a playwright, this is what I’m asking my audience to do by inviting them into an elevator to witness conflict. What’s the implied agreement between audience and actor when they’re this physically close?

It’s my feeling that the audience’s proximity to the action makes them integral to the action. It’s no longer the lucky – or unlucky, depending on how you feel about it – few who get pulled on stage when the play demands participation from the audience. Some performers get up close and personal but there’s still an implied barrier because of the set up of stage and seating. In an elevator, everyone’s a player when the entire space is used for performance.

What we don’t know is how the audience will react. Of course, we never truly know this. We know how we want them to react in a conventional theatre space. I don’t know what I want this time. I’m aiming for “holy shit, I can’t believe these crazy people are in the same elevator as me!” I’ve got the audience trapped for just a few minutes, I want to have some fun with them.

And if those aren't challenges, I've decided to adapt a story from the Old Testament so that it will not look out of place in an elevator. Because, you know, why the hell not.