Friday, May 2, 2014

Love In Pieces (execution)

Orpheus & Eurydice
The proposal that I made was simple. Present Sarah Morton's Love In Pieces in an actual house. An intimate setting, for a small, select number of people.

In late fall, I had opened the proposal up to those actor-teachers who were available and interested. They all were. We held meetings at the house to discuss, somewhat by consensus, exactly what shape this production would take.

The size of the audience was dictated by the smallest room - the bathroom - where four, perhaps five people could comfortably stand and watch the scene.

The play is made of four scenes. I knew from the 1998 production (which, yes, I have on VHS) that the scenes might range from ten to twelve minutes in duration. We could lead audiences of four from one room to another, with each scene performed simultaneously, four times, once for each party.

Who would lead them? We would require "guides" ... and lo, we had guides. We should have a Host, to receive "guests" but also to act as front of house, for the duration of the performance.

Serving drinks, this was a no-brainer. Guests would be asked to check their cellphones, to avoid interruptions or distractions. Inspired by Sleep No More, each guest would be provided a domino mask, and be instructed no to speak during the performance.

Finally, we would require some way of allowing each scene to start at the same time. The shorter scenes would require a post-scene "event" at some "staging area" in the house. One which would contribute to the mood, not distract from it. Not break any boundaries. Not just seem like time filler.

There would be dancing, chocolate and alcohol. Guests would be encouraged to write secret messages. They would get their feet wet (literally).

Also, Andrew suggested some friends he had at Oberlin, musicians who might be interested in playing before and after the performance. A live duo, piano and bass. Incredible.

The company met, and grew, with new members added as we discovered we needed them. Including the musicians, that came to sixteen. We came together just a few times at the end of last year, and in January, with a plan to begin rehearsal in March. Everyone was made responsible for their own scene. I had made my desire for this event clear, and they understood.

I am at a place in my life where it feels like I am constantly surrounded by competent, talented and motivated artists that I can trust. It is a heart-bursting feeling.

Cupid & Psyche
We sent email invitations, inviting a select audience to a "private house party". With a company of sixteen, we could each only invite a handful of guests, and put together a list that seemed appropriate. Someone would inevitably be left off, but there were no arguments among the company. We never argued about anything.

How best to describe how it all came off? People were delighted. There were amazed. They were surprised. We did receive a few notes the first night (there were only three performances) that we immediately incorporated into the next.

We the performers were also surprised. We haven't really sat down to debrief yet (we really should do that) but we did have the chance prior to the performances to perform each of our scenes for each other. I was so happy to see each of them in these realistic settings.

I had cast myself as Antony again, this time hopefully with the middle-aged "presence" I had been lacking in my late-20s. My acting partner and I had the chance to perform the same ten-minute scene four times in a row in quick succession, to entirely different audiences of five or six. Each time we became bolder and the scene grew, and grew. It was such a rewarding experience.

What we, the actors missed, and would never receive, was a sense of what our guests experienced. Each party would track the play differently, maybe starting in the bathroom and ending in our bedroom - which meant moving from horror to hilarity. Or starting in the attic and ending in the basement - from commitment to disillusion.

After Orpheus and Eurydice have their moment in the Underworld (the basement, with sick red and green lights) the guests were led to a kitchen. Suddenly Orpheus/Andrew begins to sing a haunting love song, that warbled up the steps - between each scene we could hear him, beneath the floorboards - and guests might dance. Is that Eurydice further off singing harmony? Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't.

Andrew had written the song just for this production. As with Hades and Persephone, all were moved.

Guests responded:
"Heartbreaking, heart-warming and hilarious." - L.

"A theater girl of many years ... last night felt like the first time." - S.

"A crazy mixture of voyeurism and live action game of CLUE." - J.

"I dreamt of teeth, sheets with words on them, wings, camels, elephants and the river Styx while Miles played trumpet on a cloud." - D.

"I cried in a kitchen dancing with strangers." - S.
We even received a review on TPOGraphy, Kevin Joseph Kelly's theater blog. Like most men who attended, he wore a very fine suit and tie -- all guests were informed the dress would be "cocktail formal" which might have been setting the bar a bit high, but we were all delighted how festive everyone looked. It did seem appropriate. Kevin wrote:
"There is something wonderful about mystery, especially when it comes in the form of a random email inviting you to be a guest at a random destination for an immersive play experience. And what wondrous rewards await the immersed as your consciousness is transformed by being surrounded by a virtual and artistic environment that is literally inches away from you." (more)
And so we concluded, opened and closed within a fortnight, all on our own dime with no expectation of return but the response of those invited. I felt I had been most rewarded, receiving this opportunity to indulge in the fantasy of getting a second-chance to interpret a much-beloved script on your own terms, to redeem a concept you held privately in your own mind and then to discover that the picture you had was right, that it could actually be like that, and that others could also be touched by it.

Only, and I dearly hoped this would be the case, so too might be the playwright. I am a great fan of Sarah's work, and have been grateful to act in or direct several of her plays. When I asked permission last fall to present Love In Pieces, she said yes, but that didn't mean I wasn't nervous about her response to the final product, especially one as experimental as this. So she gets the last word:
Sarah Morton: "The entire experience - the live music, the beautiful acting, the creaky stairwells, the enchanting silent interludes - made me feel like I was walking through a fever dream, which is exactly how it should be."

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