Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I started this blog - Sleep No More (NYC)

Ok, several months ago I saw Sleep No More in NYC. For those who don't know what that is - stop reading this for a few moments and google it. When you google it, you are likely to see how much everyone has loved it - how amazing it is - and how much everyone should go see it.

Here's the thing - I HATED it. I strongly disliked it the night I saw it and the further away from seeing I get, the stronger the dislike becomes. And I think I have some pretty solid reasons for saying that too. I think visually, it was amazing - they put a crap ton of work into creating their environment. However, the pieces I saw (we'll deal with that sentence in just a moment) were amazingly beautiful dance pieces. Now, trust me when I say that I am not apposed to dance pieces - I've been a dancer my whole life - however, well, in this case, it just did not tickle my theatrical funny bone. Furthermore, the whole show is environmental, so you see what you see based on where you happen to be at the time. And that's the part I most hated. There was no sense of story - I even know the story of MacBeth, and I still didn't get that out of the show. The show itself was too all over the place, literally, taking place with the same cast of characters on 5 floors of a hotel. The chances of seeing all the scenes - 0%. Especially because there was no schedule or way to tell where you needed to be when to see a scene. Furthermore, there was no indication of who was playing what role, so even seeing the scenes didn't necessarily help understand what was going on. The actors themselves were not helpful there either, sprinting away from audience members eager to see work, actively trying to lose their audience tail. Overall, I was left feeling like my experience of the show was not important, and my understanding of the story they were trying to tell was non-existent.

There are, however, plenty of people who will argue with me about this. Like I said before, just about everyone I know loved the show. And it did have its good points. Not only did it have amazing visuals, but also it has brought a new group of non-theatre goers to a theatrical event. And as everyone in the arts knows - we always need fresh audience, we are always striving to bring in new blood to the public that watches us.

But how does any of that relate to why you started a blog?

Here's the answer. Two days after I saw Sleep No More, I was on facebook and noticed a status from a friend who is apparently working the show. Someone had commented it, asking if they should come see it, and she said yes! It's incredible. So I commented that I had seen it recently and I hadn't liked it at all. I then proceeded to tell her all the above reasons why (lack of story, unclear who the characters were, didn't know where I was supposed to be to see the story...) To which her response was: Well, that's because the story isn't what they were going for.

And there we have it - the theatrical cop out - It wasn't what we were going for...

I hate this as an excuse for problems in a play. I have always hated it. Ok, tell me you concentrated on something else. But that doesn't make up for the fact that part of your show was weak. I think the ability to see and accept that even a great show can have some failings without having to all back on that excuse is the key to theatrical growth - no excuses, just be honest. I can accept: I disagree with you, I think it was there because of x, y, and z. Or You're right, it wasn't there. But trying to somehow make it the audience's problem that they "missed" something... I think that's a bit unfair and, well, pretentious at best.

And this got me thinking to the parts of theatre that I think are necessary, and that led to this blog.

What I want this blog to be is about me discovering what I think and feel about theatre. I mean, theatre is all I have ever wanted to do my whole life, so I should think and feel something about it - right? So, here we go world - my blog. I will try to blog after every show I see, talk about the show, and talk about what it means to me in my theatrical growth. I will also try to blog anytime I have a shift in my theatrical thinking, even if it isn't from watching a show... :)

So, what did I learn about myself about Sleep No More.

That was is easy. I think the key to theatre is telling a story. I think that is its primary purpose. Tell the story. How you tell the story is up to you. I personally believe that relationships tell the stories, but I know plenty of people who would disagree with me on that. For me though, the key is this, if you did not tell a story, or the audience did not understand the story you are trying to tell, then you have done something horribly wrong.

And I guess that's it for this blog. Feel free to read and comment. I would love to have an open dialogue about whatever you think of what I'm writing, agree or disagree. :) I would love to hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Funnily enough I'm an actor, researching Punch Drunk for a project, that's how I came across this blog. I hope you don't mind but there are a few points you write about which, after gaining an insight into the company, I have to disagree with. I think the reason for your disappointment with the show was your expectations. You say you would have liked to know who the characters were, to be told where each of the scenes were taking place and to have a greater sense of narrative. You scoffed when you were told that the story wasn't the focus. The thing is. The person who said that to you in absolutely right. They (and Punch Drunk) weren't just saying it to cover up their weaknesses. The rationale behind all of Punch Drunk's immersive productions is the idea of putting the audience in charge of their own experiences. In a world where we are constantly in fear of missing out on something and where there is little need for our own opinions as they are always being given to us - Punch Drunk creates performances where the audience is free to/ and must choose their own path. They act act on their own impulses and desires, going where they want to go and following whoever they want to. Some people go to their shows and spend the entire evening in only a handful of rooms, going to desks, cupboards, uncovering the details. At the end of the performance each audience member will have had their own unique experience, created entirely by themselves. As Punch Drunk's Artistic Director, Felix Barrett, says what they are offering is not theatre in the traditional sense of the word. In fact the only reason they still call themselves a theatre company is that there is and will always be a sense of theatricality to all that they do. However, their objective is (for example in Sleep No More) not a complete retelling of Macbeth, true to the original story. It is not about telling a narrative rather than offering individual moments with their own value. It is not about understanding a storyline so much as exploring a different world. A more accurate way of describing Sleep No More is a an experience inspired by Macbeth - not a re-telling. So, I can fully imagine that if you saw one of their shows expecting you were seeing a piece of theatre - in which the narrative/character development is paramount - you would be disappointed. But really, if you enter with these expectations then you're doing yourself a disservice. Punch Drunk does not and has never tried to offer a traditional, clear-cut narrative, theatre experience. It is not fair for you to say they blame the audience for "missing out". They are an immersive theatre group after all and the role of the audience in immersive theatre is something completely different.
    Claire xx