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Theatre Beyond the Stage

Its a pleasure to share this blog post that appears on Theatre Communication Group TCG circle. The full post can be accessed here: http://www.tcgcircle.org/2013/09/theatre-beyond-the-stage/

Theatre is moving out of theatres. Or more accurately some play makers are moving their work out of the traditional structures named theatres. I have done this. I am actually quite obsessed with making theatre out of theatres. This “movement” is, by no means new or even innovative. The desire to have a different relationship between spectator and performance is pervasive in the history of the art. It is the art in fact. I think I’ve spent every day of my life these last 5 years talking about this to someone, somewhere, trying to get at WHY I make immersive theatre.

Proximity, Centrality and Choice. In a world of increasing personal isolation and growing virtual community, I am curious about proximity. How close can the theatrical event be to the spectator? How close do the theatre makers have to be to each other to create a cohesive theatrical event? How can physical distance become intimate virtual space? How do we tell a story, provide an exchange between performance and spectator that challenges proximity, creates choice and puts the audience at the center of the event?

I have a terrible memory. Always have. Always will. But one thing I remember distinctly growing up, is being read to. I could sit for a whole class, crossed leg on the “reading carpet” and listen to my 3rd grade teacher read A Wrinkle in Time, or The Lion the Witch the Wardrobe, or a dozen other books whose worlds I would become deeply immersed. Unfolding inside my own brain, like a Technicolor film, these other worlds would explode and take me from that carpet to a place of such vivid sight and sound. And I wasn’t just a front row spectator, somehow I was right in the middle of it all. To this day, I love being read to. Its one of the things my husband vowed to do on our wedding day, along with the regular promises of “to love, honor …through sickness and health”…Its also why I make theatre. And why I make theatre that aims to open an invitation to the audience to be in the middle of the theatrical event. Did I mention I have a terrible memory. It’s so bad, that my friends routinely have recounted events we’ve shared, usually starting with the phrase “ But you were right there, how could you have forgotten that”. And then they tell me the story. Its fascinating to be retold ones own history. And then I know it. I’ve lived it in the retelling. And sometimes people tell me great stories of their own adventures in which I wasn’t present and I recall the story as memory and realize it didn’t actually happen to me. I’d internalized it so fully, it had the feel of lived history. I want that to be the experience of my audiences. A deeply internalized experience that makes them feels as if they have walked in a place they have never been, become friends with people they’ve never met and existed for a moment outside of their normal state of being. I want them to touch the story, not just feel the story. I want them to move through the story and have the choice at any moment to continue the journey or stop the journey in a way that’s easier than getting up in the middle of a performance and walking out. So in some way, I reject the velvety red seats of the proscenium stages and the separation of the audience from the story telling. I appreciate it, I even enjoy my own red seat spectating weekly. But I crave a theatre that responds to the life we live as we live it now and all the ways that we connect ourselves to each other, archive our histories, remake our stories and invent ourselves.

I love the theatre. I love that the Theatre is increasingly moving beyond the stage and I think our audiences are ready for it.

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Caden Manson is Editor In Chief and Curator of Contemporary Performance Network and co-founder and artistic director of Big Art Group, a New York City performance company founded in 1999.

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