It's time to get acquainted with modern theatre
Even if you’ve yawned your way through many a stuffy Shakespeare re-creation, I challenge any and all NOT to be intrigued by some of the cool stuff happening in contemporary theatre. In recent years, acting troupes included media, magic and the natural elements into their productions. Heck, I even know a theatre smell designer (talk about engaging all the senses). So if you’ve ever been spellbound by live art via touring Broadway, community theatre, or buskers by the roadside, keep an eye out for some of the following phenomena. And viva la bohemia, amirite?
Immersive theatre largely hails from England, thanks to companies like the London-based Punchdrunk. This group’s Macbeth-inspired New York production, Sleep No More, is a play contingent on a zany theatrical experience–think one part haunted house, one part abandoned Hollywood set, and two parts dance spectacle. Participants are asked to wear masks upon entering the retro-outfitted McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan, and, after a brief (and creepy!) introduction to the performance’s “ground rules,” the entire audience is released to wander around this elaborate set by their lonesome. You can follow sporadic actors playing out intimate scenes from room to room, or you can appreciate the scenery. The show is a literal choose-your-own-adventure.
And all over the country, there’s a bright new smattering of incredibly-designed, immersive theatre offerings just like Sleep No More. One production by Third Rail Projects is set on an abandoned hospital ward, while Cynthia von Buhler’s Speakeasy Dollhouse is set in a (you guessed it!) prohibition-era speakeasy, and assigns all audience attendees a player’s identity and name. (The creator describes her work as “investigative historical fiction.”) Californians may look forward to an immersive-style production of Carrie coming soon to Los Angeles, where–who knows?–the fictional world’s most horrible prom could come to life around them. (And you thought theatre was so old hat.)
Dance theatre is basically what it sounds like: theatre stories told mostly through movement, as opposed to text. One of the forerunners of this inventive school was the late Pina Bausch, director of the German Tanztheater Wuppertal. Bausch’s company still tours some of her choreographed works (like Kontakthof, which is currently en-route to New York’s BAM Next Wave Festival), and the creators behind Tanztheater Wuppertal remain known for a highly emotional blend of stylized movement and story-telling.
There are loads of other boundary-blurring dance theatre companies, from Big Dance Theater (who tour their often literature-inspired shows around the world) to the California-based Theatre Bethune (who present dance alongside multimedia). Keep your eyes peeled for these kinds of productions near you!
. . . is a modern means of theatre-making that echoes collage, in visual art. A devised piece is generated through collaboration, pastiche and improv. This often non-narrative way of storytelling is getting more and more popular. Architects and emblems of the form include the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago and the SITI Company in New York. The still above is from a Wonderwell Theatre production of Goodbar, a collaborative piece which premiered as part of the New York devised theatre mecca, the Under the Radar festival. Note the careful chaos.
There are practically as many definitions for “traditional theatre” as there are cultures, so I’ll just point you toward one fun fact: traditional theatre as we know it easily predates the Western World by many moons. Take Heisei Nakamura-za, a traveling Kabuki theatre of world renown. This company’s elaborate productions – performed in New York, Berlin, Tokyo and other places – use “temporary outdoor theaters” to recreate the historical atmosphere of traditional Kabuki. For the newbs, Kabuki is a type of traditional Japanese theatre involving elaborate costumes and make-up, highly stylized movement and mythic drama.
Again, keep an eye out for any of these company’s productions should they plan to come to a town near you – or better yet, hunt around for similar offerings in your own neck of the woods.
Any other exciting theatre movements/people fluttering around your hometown? Shout ’em out!