Thursday, April 28, 2011

Call Me Ishmael

Here's my idea of theater:

* I get a ticket.
* I enter the theater and sit down.

* The curtain goes up and actors cavort on stage.

* I applaud, politely or enthusiastically, depending on what the performance was like.

* The actors bow and leave the stage, I get out of my seat and go home.

* I write the review

Here is what is NOT my idea of theater:

Everybody is Ishmael at some point. Even audience members can be Ishmael, as they have the opportunity to view and interact with the performance from many viewpoints. Although the piece experiments with the multiplicity of character and perspective, several anchors remain: actors serve as fixed versions of the characters Ishmael and Queequeg. Performer E serves as another anchor in a ritualized dance sequence that is video projected throughout the piece.

Director Z resists the typical audience experience. There is neither traditional stage nor spectator seating. Rather, audience members are invited to wander among the performers.

No. No, people. Audience members do not "wander among the performers" during the performance. That is not our job. Our job is to sit and observe. YOUR job is to be the performers. If I wanted to wander among the performers, I would have auditioned to be in the show.

The problem with being a reviewer in a university town is that everybody at the university wants to take advantage of the opportunity of being at a university to do all the avant garde stuff that they probably can't do out in the "real world." Often this involves audience interaction, two words that bring fear and terror to my heart.

Now, in all honesty, I have never been forced or even invited to participate in any production. They all seem very respectful of people like me who are terrified of being dragged on stage. But, you never know. I've never been made to feel uncomfortable, but I've sat through enough shows where I didn't know if I was going to be made to feel uncomfortable!

The current production opens next week and it is called The Moby-Dick Variations. I had been trying to avoid it, but of course I could not, and after an e-mail from the newspaper editor, one from the university publicity director with a follow up telephone call from the publicity director (if I were publicity director, I would have done the very same thing), I realized that I really do have to review this show next week.

But the main reason for avoiding it was having to admit that other than knowing that Moby Dick was a white whale and that the opening sentence of the book is "Call me Ishmael," I knew nothing about the story except that just about everybody says it's a horrible book to read.

Knowing I have to review this next week, I went to the Cliffs Notes for the book and read a plot summary, though I suspect that one screen full of description is not quite the same as reading the whole 135 chapter (plus epilogue) book!

The Moby-Dick Variations follows Melville’s narrative and plot in a non-linear fashion exploring the multiplicity of perspectives both within and outside of the novel. The Director's objective is twofold: to enable the audience to experience the multiplicity of perspectives that Melville delivers in the novel; and to allow the audience further perspectives through their own and the actors’ contemporary lenses. “Traditionally, theatre tells you what to think; The Moby-Dick Variations audience has to bring thoughts of their own.”

Stuff like this strikes fear and terror in my heart too. I don't have a clue what this means....and I don't know that I have any perspectives of my own to bring to the production.

But if nothing else, past experience has taught me that I fake well. Let's hope that still holds when I review this show.


jon said...

It sounded like a whale of an experience.
Please don't call me, me instead.

It was the best of times , it was the worst of times. (thanks, Charles D.) This one was under the heading "the worst of times.
At least you didn't blubber through the whole experience.

Did you see me, Bev? I was the one walking across the stage dazed and confused.

I saw you. You had a harpoon in your hand, hollering "There she blows!!!" and someone said, "There what blows?" and you said, "This play!!!"

Kim said...

wandering around and mingling with the actors during the performance? Am I getting that right? That sounds horrifying! But perfect blogging material at the same time. :)

Julie said...

This would strike fear and terror in my heart as well. I don't know that I would willingly go to this if I knew what it would be like. That being said, good luck and let us know how it goes! :)

Mary Z said...

What pomposity! I would run screaming in the other direction. But then, Bev, they pay you all those big bucks to see this stuff. Can't wait to see your review.