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Experiments in the (Theatre)Lab

Hayley posted a very interesting blog post about a week ago about a show the showed in BU’s TheatreLab, “Owning your YOUniverse: How and Why” (Although I believe the ACTUAL, hidden title for the show was The Most Beautiful Thing in the World). I was one of the 8 Hayley mentioned that was in on the fact that the entire show was front for a clowning experience. The other two were not. Hayley made some great points about sitting in the audience, watch this Lady unravel and re-ravel before us. I’d like to expand on a couple of thoughts that were swimming about during and after the performance and try to answer some of the questions Hayley posed.

Firstly, no matter what, Hayley’s right, it was an experiment. There would be few project ideas that I would flat out say no to trying, and this certainly isn’t one of them. However, one must evaluate the risk, evaluate the worth, weigh them against each other, and make sure you have a strong intention. This show invited a specific audience, and if it was successful in it’s marketing (as Hayley said, posters and websites dedicated to a fictional motivational speaker), they would end up with a house full of eager patrons with high expectations. The issue about faking the appearance of a motivational speaker in particular is that those who come tend to require motivation. Perhaps they are down on their luck, they have lost steam in their career, their relationships, losing faith, it could be a number of reasons, but as far as asking one of the first questions for creating a show “who’s your audience?” this is not difficult to answer. Now the stakes raise, for a ‘failed’ experiment (I don’t like this term, experiments are likely to fail and that isn’t bad, however in this situation it is applicable) it is at the expense of the audience. Those who might be desperately seeking help and who instead are literally fooled into seeing clown show might be disappointed, angry, turned off theatre, and worst of all, not changed for the better despite the creators’ best intentions.

Which brings me to the second point: intention. What was the purpose of the performance? After reading some of the reviews from the showing at the Yale Cabaret, it seems the goal was for the audience to follow a similar pattern to Carol, the presenter: quivering excitement followed by shock without the presence of the main speaker, then slowly a building of confidence to conclude in a somewhat cathartic expression of togetherness. The main difference being that the audience giggles while Carol sweats. Wesley Yiin the experience in her review (linked above):

When talking about the show, the word “motivational” is thrown around a lot, though that’s not the best descriptor. “Infectious” and “uplifting” are more accurate. If Carol did it, so can you.

So was the purpose to uplift? Or was it to inspire? Motivate? Provoke? I think the experience is left wide open. They expect an array of people to come, definitely not all theatre goers, and responses will differ widely. That’s one of the questions they asked at the post-show talk: “After being fooled, how do you feel?” It seems to be an experiment which only accounted for itself, and wanted to gather the temperature of the room afterwards. There is nothing wrong with that, with putting something up with expectation of feedback, however it felt a little too open. When asked about “Why was it a motivational speaker” there response was fairly arbitrary. None of them have had personal experience about motivational speaking, or even seemed to do any research on it. It was just a cool idea.

My last thought is just about projecting success. Experiments require dependent variables in order to evaluate and discuss the independent variables. If they are bringing the independence to the table, the audience must stand as the dependent. And the show is HIGHLY dependent on the audience. Despite everything else, there is no point in doing the show without anyone to give feedback. I would LOVE to see this show with a full house. How the dynamics would change I can’t even imagine. I think for the show to be successful (whether it ‘fails’ or not) it needs to put a great deal of effort getting butts in seats.

Ultimately – I value the risk and daring of any experiment. I think theatre in general needs to have that kind of attitude, and I commend these young artists for trying something new and risky. I just think they weren’t aware fully of the stakes and therefore didn’t prepare for them.

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