Friday, 10 January 2014

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?

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