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.


I was chatting today with my friend Sandy (who I’ve been working for since returning to the city and who designs the COOLEST jewelry ever – check out her facebook page here) about the amazing NYC theater experience, Sleep No More. Seriously, I could write pages and pages about how in love with this show I am, but I’ll save that for a rainy day.  It’s difficult to explain if you’ve never gone, but it’s an open house cum 360 degree, six floor stage that serves as a setting to a modern and avant garde interpretation of Macbeth.  Actors wander the space, creating scenes sporadically and effortlessly, and the “audience,” uniformly clad in spooky masks, voyeuristically inhabits and experiences the world around them.  If you’re lucky, and feeling open, you may have the luxury (or personal terror) of a one-on-one experience with an actor or scene.  It’s difficult to explain.  Basically, get your tickets now. Anyhow, when I went last year, I had not one, not two, but three bizarre experiences that were just for me and my entertainment (or anxiety).  Why was I chosen in these different situations? How was I so lucky?

I’ve always been one of the people that tourists, or anyone for that matter, come up to in asking directions, advice, etcetera.  I’m generally the one that takes pictures for strangers.  That zips up people in Gap dressing rooms.  Yes, I shop at the Gap.  People frequently ask how they know me because I look familiar “for some reason.”  People seem to feel comfortable around me – I’ve had some deep dark secrets confessed to me by people that I hardly know.  Whatever all this is, it cracks me up.  The more I get to know myself, mainly through my acting classes, singing, living in New York, the more I am realizing that I am truly an “attractive” person.  Hear me out.  I’m not saying that I’m Charlize Theron.  I’m breaking down the literal meaning of the word.  Okay – I’ll say it right now:  I loathe writers who quote the dictionary – it feels very sixth grade speech competition.  (Yes, I used that particular device in my school district second place-winning speech, “I Have A Concern.”)  But what exactly does the word “attractive” mean?  Cue the cheesy music and groans of all readers donning monocles.

at·trac·tive [uhtrak-tiv] adjective
1.  providing pleasure or delight, especially in appearance or manner; pleasing; charming; alluring: an attractive personality.
2.  arousing interest or engaging one’s thought, consideration, etc.: an attractive idea; an attractive price.
3.  having the quality of attracting.

There’s something outlandish and exciting about this for me.  I don’t usually look in the mirror and think, “goddamn I look hot tonight!”  But I do often acknowledge the fact that I have amazing people in my life, interesting situations coming at me all the time, artistic opportunities flying at my head, and yes – strangers asking how or from what they know me.  That really does make me an attractive person, and knowing this fact is unbelievably energizing. At Sleep No More, I had my bizarre experiences.  And I have them every day.  I say yes to opportunity and try to remain an open, positive, attractive person.  Now.  Let’s start attracting that Broadway contract…  😉