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 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/original-story-text.)

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.

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