June 30, 2010

One-to-One theatre: discuss

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I felt moved to reply to Lyn Gardner’s recent Guardian blog on the subject.  Here’s the original article, and below is my comment:

“Interesting article Lyn.

I think its great that this type of work is proliferating to the extent that BAC is holding a high profile festival of one-to-one performance.

Making work for small audience numbers myself (with http://theotherwayworks.co.uk), I am frequently required to make the case not just for my own work but the form as a whole. I am often told that this work is not financially viable (which of course it isn’t in a traditional bums-on-seats model, but aren’t there other forms of value?), and people accuse us of pandering to the current obsession with individualised experience rather than critiquing it. So I’m excited to see a wider pool of theatre makers experimenting with this form, bringing their own styles to it.

But with this proliferation comes a large diversity in the types of work marketed under the banner of ‘one-on-one’. Not a bad thing per se, but is there a danger of everyone jumping on the bandwagon just because its the buzzword of the moment? We’ve seen this with ‘site-specific’ theatre – people using the term to add excitement to what is essentially a play staged traditionally just in a building that isn’t a theatre.

In terms of Lyn’s final points around the rules of engagement. Nailing these is the job of the theatre maker. Much like the crafting of a good story or the synthesis of design elements in a traditional production, thinking through the audience role, instructional styles and the rules of engagement are key parts of making a one-to-one theatre production. If the audience don’t understand how they are supposed to behave, then it is the responsibility of the artist to improve how they contextualise the experience for the audience (unless the artist’s express desire is to unsettle the audience for some particular reason).

We certainly haven’t perfected this ourselves, but we do strive to learn from our experiences with audiences. We’ve discovered that to get the playful, interactive audience that we desire, we need to set them free from embarrassment and fear by providing clear guidance and plenty of reassurance and encouragement. We’ve found that far from ruining the surprises as we feared, it allows the audience to engage on a deeper level with the experience, and to get beyond ‘am I doing this right?'”

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