Welcome, TSL readers, to the theatre column. This space will normally be dedicated to reviewing theater/performance pieces at the 5Cs. Though there is an inherent element of critique in reviewing, the goal of this column is not to criticize. Rather, it’s to support performance at the 5Cs as much as possible. It’s about recommending to a friend something you enjoyed yourself and getting larger audiences to come to performances that are worth seeing. Accordingly, since nothing was reviewed this week, I’d like to take this time to discuss how you can get your work reviewed in this space if you are putting on a piece at the 5Cs.
What type of pieces? Anything that can be remotely described as theater or performance. Full length plays, one-acts, sketch/improv shows, movement pieces, performance art, flash mobs—or something else you’ve thought of. The expectation for review will by no means be a professional-level performance. It’s school, so we’re all learning, which involves screwing up. And again, this space is not about pointing out screw-ups, but about highlighting and exploring choices in performance. In fact, the only thing that would provoke criticism in this space would be a perceived lack of choice making. I love seeing good performances, and if you’re doing some, I want to see them and then tell everyone who picks up a copy of TSL about them. To make it clearer what I mean by “choice making” and by “good performance” (which sounds dangerously objective), let’s look at two of the more popular theater pieces of the past year in New York.
The first was Gatz, put together by the Elevator Repair Service company, in which a bored group of office employees begins to read The Great Gatsby out loud and ends up enacting the whole thing, word for word, with co-workers coming to embody the different roles in the book. Run-time was 8 hours… and audiences loved it. It became one of the most sought-after tickets in town.
The second piece was Sleep No More by the British site-specific theater company Punchdrunk, a take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. They turned three abandoned Manhattan warehouses into a surreal, nightmarish ’30s hotel. As an audience member, you wear a mask, are forbidden from speaking, and move about at will through the rooms, where the company performs key scenes through evocative choreography—and no dialogue. It’s dark, visceral, and dead sexy.
What do these two outwardly different productions—one a live-reading of a twentieth century novel, the other an interactive, Shakespeare-struck-silent movement piece—have in common?
On one hand, they’re both what would be described as concepts. Concepts are tricky, because they’re audacious ideas that often fall flat in performance. With concepts it’s often an issue of staging, of getting the thing up on its feet. This is where we find what Gatz and Sleep No More really have in common, and why they both succeeded: they were highly unconventional —or to put it a better way—highly creative and playful stagings. People in all aspects of production immersed themselves in their jobs. Actors found fascinating ways, both physically and vocally, to deliver their lines. Directors came up with engaging ways for the actors to be arranged on stage. The set, lighting, and costume crews made unexpected, exciting design choices.
What makes such a performance great is not its adherence to an aesthetic ideal, but that it is really fulfilling to work on and really fun to see. That’s it. So if you’re doing something like what I’ve described, please get in touch. I want to come see it and then give you free publicity.