Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ingenuity WoyUbu

Well, it's been an action-packed couple of days here in Cleveland. On Thursday, we arrived to discover the basement level space for WoyUbu. After some looking around, we opened a wall and took over an some additional space in the Halle building, creating an absolutely huge performance space. So far, so good. Overcoming power limitations, lights, and Ron's encounter in his faux German accent character with an actual German artist, by 7.30pm on Friday night we were ready to go. The microphones were tested. The robots hummed with palpable excitement, the audiences filled up on both sides of our divided space. And so the show began.

Both sides started well, the spaces looked good and performers on both sides were bringing great energy to the opening moments of the play. Technically, things were also as we would hope. 

And, then...smack. 

That sound, dear friends, is the sound of WoyUbu's unique theatrical experience running smack into the expectations of a tech festival audience on a Friday night. What started as an overly full house on both sides gradually became a sea of empty chairs, as people departed for other events. They were replaced steadily throughout the 90 minute performance by new audience members wandering in, checking out both sides and sometimes staying for a while, sometimes leaving rather soon. A few faithful audience members stayed for the whole thing and a few others freely explored the Woyzeck performance space (during the performance, of course), creating an effect both unnerving and strangely exciting. We've seen and encouraged this on the play side, but it was striking to see it on the watch side.

Working from this experience, we've decided to engage the situation at hand. We've taken down the dividing wall, since people want to wander and this will make the environment more conducive to this kind of freeform viewing experience. We've also decided to accept the coming in and out for what it's worth by using the ever-versatile Ron to work both sides of the room and engage people as they enter the space. To this end also, we'll be getting a new program out, so that people have some key references as they enter the space (and a cool souvenir!).  Most importantly, we've decided to accept that Woyzeck will not be the immersive experience of our prior production, but rather a performance that functions as a kind of live video that loops (3 more times, anyway). We're thinking of ways to construct the viewing positions to reinforce the perception that the actors are not performing live rather than using theatrical techniques aimed at the opposite effect. What happens when we do theatre as if it is television? In some ways the fact that we include and engage with audience on the Ubu side does create the kind of distancing effect on the Woyzeck side. If the actors could hear me, wouldn't they talk to me? After all, they do over there. I admit that I've always taken some theatrical conventions for granted (at my peril), but with the conditioning of television and, ironically, participatory art forms, these basic assumptions no longer hold. At least, not all the time.

So, we're going to try a few different things today. Happily, the combined WoyUbu group are some of the most generous and courageous people to work with, so I'm looking forward to what the day will hold. More later on where it goes, what happens, and how we all survive. At the very least, I will enjoy a fabulous performance.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Robots, Schmobots ....

... It's all about the puppets:

Behold them resting up for their big trip to Cleveland, which commences in 5 short hours.

(PS to roboteers: No, no, it's about the robots, too. But mostly the puppets. Though there are also people in the show, actual human beings. Imagine that!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WoyUbu 2.0

It's been a crazy last couple of weeks, but the Intermedia Performance Studio and our good friends in the Real Dream Cabaret and in the Robotics labs of the University at Buffalo and Canisius College have been hard at work putting the WoyUbu monster back together again. And it looks like we'll actually get the whole thing moving again in time for the Ingenuity Festival this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. (Check out the main festival site for lots of great acts! Once again we'll be blogging and tweeting away for most of the show, so if you can't find us in Cleveland, you can always follow us here, here, here, or here. We'll be hosting audience blogging and tweeting, as well as my directorial updates.

This time, we're working with a few new people on both sides of the wall (or, curtain in this iteration) and it's invigorating to see the show through new eyes (and voices). So far, even with the short rehearsal period, we've been able to get the show back together with some interesting new work. Even if you think you know WoyUbu, you don't know this WoyUbu!

As a director, I find this process perhaps the most challenging as I realize the deep extent to which I attach to my own prior work, namely, the images, rhythms, and patterns of meaning created in the original production. Happily, I'm getting over my rusty nostalgia enough (I hope) to be able to see the new ideas coming from our new collaborators and the ever-unpredictable process itself. Thus, the joys (and challenges) of live performance. As I wrote in my original program note, sometimes you've got to do more, just to do the same thing.

More soon from Cleveland...