And just like that it was time to perform. And just like that the performance was over! I only wish I could have seen it from the point of view of an audience member!!!! My preferred, and definitely more comfortable, role is as the audience member. Experiencing the audience/performer relationship from the point of view of the performer, however, was invaluable to someone like me who spends so much time thinking about that relationship. And it’s a relationship that Tim Miller thinks about a lot and takes very seriously too. How do I know this, you ask? Because the start of this performance was like no other I had ever seen unfold. Tim wanted to make sure that the audience was fully present for the performance. So, the audience had to remain outside of the theater space until right before the performance started. Then the performers met the audience at the door and escorted them in one at a time. We took the audience member to our body map and told him/her a little bit about our process, making sure to share with them something that wouldn’t be readily known from the performance itself. I pointed out that if the audience member looked closely s/he would see that, totally by accident because the back of the paper had a bit of adhesive on it, actual strands of my hair were trapped on the drawing—I loved that that had happened.
Standing before the audience and asking them to enter, and eventually to exit, the world you have created is a wondrous, almost magical moment. As I write about the experience now, I can’t help but think of Prospero’s final words in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. You may remember that in this epilogue, Prospero turns to his audience and speaks directly to them. All of the other characters have left the stage and Prospero tells his audience that in order to be freed from his exile and the island where the play has taken place, and in order to return back to Naples, he needs the help of the audience. Prospero calls the audience’s attention to the fact that what they have been part of is a play and that the time has come to mark the ending of that play with APPLAUSE, saying:
release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please.
Ever since I first read this play, I have always been in love with this moment. Prospero asks the audience for the applause (“With the help of your good hands”), almost as if fearing that the audience will never leave the theater and will forever require the performance to continue. And those of you who are theater lovers out there KNOW that this is a very real experience, hoping against hope that the curtain will not come down and will allow you to stay in the world with the characters just a little while longer. This happens to me all the time, and it definitely happened to me when I saw Frank Langella perform the part of Prospero, because I could have happily stayed in that island world with his Prospero forever. In this moment of metatheater, a moment that happens throughout Shakespeare’s plays, which is why I am so drawn to them, the power of theater and of the exchange that happens between the performers and the audience is observed. When Prospero asks for the audience’s “help” in the form of their hands clapping, he acknowledges their power to determine whether the actor and the performance “please(d).” In addition, however, because the epilogue is in rhymed verse, it also has the effect of an incantation which is striking. The Tempest is a play about magic and sorcery, and of course, up until the moment when he exchanges his cloak of magic for his duke’s robes, Prospero has wielded the powers of a sorcerer. At the moment when the actor is delivering these lines, s/he is neither magician nor duke, but rather performer. So, in my mind, the incantational nature of the epilogue also reminds us of the power of the performer. It’s quite an exquisite ending really, calling our attention to the powerful parts both performer and audience member play.
And that is a very long-winded way of saying that, thanks to my stepping up out of the audience chair and up onto the stage when I decided to take part in the Body Maps workshop, I was able to feel, momentarily, the other part of that vital, mysterious, and magical exchange between performer and audience.
Tomorrow, I’ll post the actual script of The Hair Manifesto, complete with stage directions, to give you the tiniest of inklings of what the performance might have been like.