Blurring the Line between Audience and Ensemble

As I look back on my artistic resume, my volunteer projects, and the shows and art concepts that have inspired me over the years, I am finding a common thread.  More than just a thread, really.  A big bold huge fatty piece of rope, painted neon pink that is screaming, “HELLO, ASHLEY! LOOK AT ME! DUH!” Okay, okay, I see you now.  I get it.

What I am finding are those theater and art projects that break the fourth wall and include the audience as a participant of the work.  Something that acknowledges a watching and curious audience, inviting them to participate in something bigger than themselves, in the comfort, sanctuary really, of “theater.”

You know those kinds of people, right. The quiet person who sits across the office from you, the cousin who never said much at reunions, the teacher who’s cautious smile never gave a hint of the fire inside. And then that same person, with a sword in the form of a paper ticket to a show, can open up as an unreserved warrior of art. “Pick me!” screams the quiet housewife at a Penn and Teller production.  A conservative finance executive willingly participates in a dark arts ritual during a Punchdrunk production of “Sleep No More.” The elderly grandmother of nine curiously looks for her face on a projection screen during a moving moment number of The Public‘s “Here Lies Love,” which includes her as a sudden character.

All these moments give me so much pleasure, as an artist, and as a audience member. In the last few years, I myself have been involved in immersive theater, such as “The Ride” as “Improv Everywhere.”  I love this!  It’s so wonderful to actively include a person, and often times, and unsuspecting pedestrian, as a part of your art for that moment.  Anything can be art, really.

From “Sleep No More”

And the pieces that are really inpsringing to me right now, “Here Lies Love,” “Sleep No More” and “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” – these are all massively immersive.  They not only  acknowledge the audience, but invite them into their world as a participant. Without the barrier of a physical stage or an disconnect, the players and the watchers become one – and art is more fully realized, in my own opinion.

A shot of my friend, Kelvin Moon Loh, in The Public’s “Here Lies Love” by David Byrne

This morning I happened upon a TED talk, which also touched on the subject, more related to arts festivals and the involvement of site specific communities.  David Binder touches on so many ideas that I closely relate to and can acknowledge with great excitement.

Who says the theater is dead? I challenge you to push yourself and see things in a new way. Go to productions that challenge this relationship between Audience and Ensemble.  I am refreshed with new energy right now, fully aware that this particular type of theater is absolutely my calling.  Now to just find the right project.