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.

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