musical lives, remembered in story & sound

interactive theater & performance

march 30, 2011

i am very much interested in the concept of interactive performance. engaging the audience, sometimes in a very direct way, letting them be PART of the event, not simply a passive spectator.

don't get me wrong, i have had moments, inspired, simply sitting in my chair, music or words washing over me. those are the exceptional concerts, the most thought provoking of plays. i grew up playing classical music. passive listening is expected. or the version of active, engaged listening while sitting silent and still.

then i found myself playing old time music-- a chaos of activity, around the music! i have such a strong memory of a moment, early on in my discovery, at a fiddler's convention. it was dark-- getting on the middle of the night, and i wandered up the hill, to see what i could see. and such a crowd! a tight circle of guys, moving ever so slightly, playing tune after tune. they'd swap in and out, handing their fiddle, bass, banjo, to someone while they went for another beer, or to take a piss.

and there were these girls, in cowboy boots and grins, dancing right next to the whole thing, yelling and hollering and making such noise, on little muddy pieces of plywood. and a crew of people gathered around. listening. listening and talking and drinking and laughing. providing commentary, giving each other a hard time. jumping in on a tune or two. the music was the center of a party, the center of that night's community, and everyone was an active participant.

so then i started playing. and i got so i could play pretty well, and had the desire to perform, again. and i was struck with the quandry, as i felt it-- and i felt it deep-- about how to convey that communal spirit to audiences. when, so often, i was left feeling as i'd been watched, that i hadn't included the audience as much as i wished to, as much as the music seemed to indicate, to me.

but, how to do it? often, one arrives at the gig-- there's the stage, there's the chairs for the audience. and even though people recognize the music as something familiar, something "down home," something informal, the act of putting it on a stage in a certain way seemed, to me, to separate it from that feeling that drew me to the music-- that sense that, hey, we can all make art, here. a stage is indeed a place for magic, and there's a part of this music that's about that. but these breakdowns, this music comes from a time where lots of people played (and not all of them played it well) where, as an old lady once told me "people made their own fun." so, how to share that sense???

i've been lucky enough to begin to connect with some community theater folks at virginia tech. through good fortune, we've begun to talk about the ways in which our art forms and philosophies connect and put us on the same page. so, i've been learning about interactive theater, and the theater of the oppressed, and boal... which i'm really excited about! giving me tools with which, i hope, may help me to share the spirit of the music i play, and not just the notes!

in an interview with democracy now, he says:

"But soon I understood that I was doing good plays, wonderful plays for people that were good writers for an audience that came just to look at it and say, "Okay, it’s nice." And then they went away and nothing else happens. And always for me theater should be more than that. Shakespeare used to say—not used to say, but he said in Hamlet that the theater should be and is like a mirror in which we look at the mirror and then we see our vices and our virtues. I think that’s very nice, but I would like to have a mirror with some magic properties in which we could—if we don’t like the image that we have in front of us to allow us to penetrate into that mirror and then transform our image and then come back with our image transformed. The act of transforming, I always say, transforms she or he who acts. So to use the theater as a rehearsal for transformation of reality."

oh man. i gotta read more of this guy's stuff!