HowlRound director, Polly Carl, came for a class workshop/discussion last week. One point that really stuck out to me was her broader outlook of theatre as storytelling; in this way, the confinements of what we think the allowed materials to make theatre performances are less ingrained.
Going to see Sleep No More in New York with my family this Thanksgiving break was then, of course, about getting to experience an obvious example of an alternative idea of storytelling through theatre. I was also already hyper aware that it wasn’t going to be a “normal” theatre experience of sitting down and watching a show in front of me. Audience members follow around characters as they perform through a multi-story building.
Even though I was seemingly ready to experience something different, it was weird for me; I was uncomfortable for some moments, tired, hot and frustrated trying to find the actors. And I was quite strongly reminded at the front door that I was not 21 and could have “no drinks for you” to help ease into the different experience– perhaps also make it more disorienting, however.
But then I let myself give in to this new medium. Like”E.F.’s Visit to a Small Planet” I didn’t actually know what I was supposed to experience so I just let it happen– actively happen because I couldn’t just sit back and watch. Like reading experimental theatre searching for patterns and meaning in Wellman or Müller, it had to be active participation. I found a scene between men getting dressed for a party and told myself whatever you do just follow someone– like actively trying to follow the story if it were on a page or being spoken through dialogue and in this case literally following the character and discovering a story in what I saw. I then got interested in the scene– the movement in particular as actors also were dancers. I started noticing there was music to go along with each scene and strategic lighting. Text wasn’t really needed because being so close to the performers (dancers really) made their movements what kept me interested and what therefore made the story for me.
I now realize it still was storytelling but every audience member really did get a different story. Quite literally, by following a specific character one can understand that character’s story more deeply than if it was a traditional play as we know it. Sleep No More gives its audiences not only free reign for what they see but also a faith that they can figure out a story for themselves.
Interesting to note: Sleep No More started as an A.R.T. bound for Broadway production in 2010 at The Old Lincoln School in Brookline. Something else this different kind of theatre storytelling offers is a chance to look into new venues theatre isn’t usually seen in.