Saturday, September 26, 2009

Site-specific shows

A Brooklyn-based troupe is going to stage The Tempest on the beach and boardwalk at Coney Island.
As the following snip suggests, gimmickry is a trap here. But why not more of such site-specific shows around here? Or even shows that start outside and then conclude inside a theater?

From the New York Times:
Uncommon though it is, there is an international tradition of putting on plays in what are known as site-specific locations, said Elizabeth Bradley, chairwoman of the drama department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She told of a small New York company that performed Orwell’s 1984 in front of surveillance cameras to show people how ubiquitous eavesdropping is.
“People have responded to individual theatrical texts by connecting them to natural and found environments for many, many years,” she said, adding, “The trap of these things is whether it’s simply a gimmick.”

Some of Bobo's most vivid theatrical memories involve site-specific shows: Tamara in the '80s next to the Hollywood Bowl, a long-running show that took place in and around a former VFW hall, with '20s flappers and gangsters running up and down stairwells, hopping into limousines, having shootouts by the pool, then slamming doors in your face so that you had to detour and start following other pairs of characters. A production of Jean Genet's The Balcony at the old Odyssey Theater Ensemble in West L.A. in which, during the fictional revolution that was taking place "outside" the "brothel," the entire effing wall of the theater behind me suddenly collapsed, and soldiers with rifles and a jeep started driving under and around the bleachers we were seated on. Or Derrick Lee Weeden in Tony Taccone's Coriolanus at Ashland, rock-climbing in and out and over the Elizabethan Theater's vine-covered walls, and soldiers in combat fatigues screaming slogans, right behind our seats. (Not quite the same as environmental theater, but you get the point.)

So, readers, any ideas on how we could do the same here? K2 in wintertime at Minnehaha? The Importance of Being Earnest in some South Hill mansion's Victorian parlor and garden? Cubbyholes in the Masonic Center used for some kind of audience-participation murder mystery? I realize that smaller troupes and CenterStage attempted similar concepts -- but what if the Civic, Interplayers, Lake City or CdA Summer lent their organizational prestige to such an attempt? Any ideas out there matching scripts or ideas (we could write the scripts!) to match particular locations or buildings around here? It'd be a gimmick, sure, but one that might revitalize interest from lukewarm theatergoers.

[painting: by the actual Tamara de Lempicka, Polish artist, 1898-1980; from]

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