The Performer Experience

The two performances I have been involved with this week have gotten me thinking about the performer experience in various forms of theatre. In the traditional, commercial theatre, the performer is a vessel; they experience physical work, speak words, move around the stage (in musicals, jump and dance about) but little consideration of the experience is given to their perspective. Everything is facing outward through the proscenium, targeted at the bums in seats who have paid their £30.

The two pieces I took part in seriously challenged this.

How We Met (still running at the RADA Festival - - until Saturday 7 July) is a piece of promenade theatre. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the audience go through the experience one at a time, with headphones on and a host to follow, guiding them through a way of seeing while walking through the streets. As a performer in this kind of piece, with your small but important pattern to perform repeatedly, feelings of loneliness and solitude are evoked. Much like the people enjoying the performance, the performers are simultaneously together (as a unit) but alone (doing their specific sequence). Not unlike people every day in life, who are together in this experience of London in July of 2012, but alone in our own path and perspective. The performer experience thus reflects the audience experience, taking the performer on a journey as well.

Moving Forest (500 Slogans) was an entirely different style of piece. Part of a 12 hour performance art installation, we read the poem amidst all sorts of other noisy installation pieces, crowds out on their lunch, workmen going by. Even our interpretation of the poem, as a cacaphony of noise and sound, rendering us unable to pick out the actual value from the unending stream of information flowing at us in every day society reflected this. While reading, though, focused, moving in my pattern and reading the text as rehearsed, I found myself almost in a trance-like state, unaware of all the other noise around me, having blocked it out. I cannot speak for the audience experience too directly, but writer Matthew Fuller (of 500 Slogans) noted that coming outside to our cacaphonous reading was an audible break from the volume and noise of the other installations, despite its overwhelming sense on its own.

I propose that the most exciting pieces of theatre are those which help the performer experience something while they are helping the audience experience something; the performer is not simply a vessel, but a conspirator, experiencing and changing in the world at the same time as their auditor...each having an affect on the other.