The Lone Theatregoer

November 18, 2009

I tried an experiment the other week, a test of my mental ability to attend the theatre on my own. Ah, this might be an easy task to handle for those of us experienced theatergoers who regularly embark on solo exhibitions to the theatre. So I set myself a larger challenge.

7 days, 7 shows, all alone.

Admittedly it is just by chance that this challenge came to pass as I was attending a number of shows for work purposes before it dawned on me just how many shows I had accumulated in such a short space of time, and all rather alone.

There seems to be some kind of stigma with the notion of attending the theatre alone. I know I’ve often looked at the lone person in a row and pitied them for a moment. But why? Theatre isn’t exactly a social event other than the fact that people meet on mass to watch something, and then disappear again after the spectacle. We generally don’t communicate during theatre, we sit in silence, surrounded by strangers, so what difference does it make if you actually know the person next to you?

Well, from my experience of the lone theatregoing, it does make some difference, but not always in a negative way.

I must admit that at times I like my own company, I enjoy long walks alone and sometimes it can be hard to find anyone to go see a certain show with me last minute. (Sounds like I’m forming a dating advert here!) However it’s the beginning part, the interval, and the ending of seeing a show that makes the experience of going alone to the theatre a rather daunting affair. You have no one to talk to… instead discussing key plot and characters in your head to yourself, instead of engaging in a debate with your other person. What happens at the end of a show too when you’ve seen something amazing? You want to tell someone, you want to proclaim to the world that you just saw the most breath taking event that has changed your life… isn’t it always good when you have shared that moment with someone else?

Well yes, I guess the answer to that is, yes I do want to share that moment with someone. But going to the theatre alone means you’re actually sharing it with everyone around you, even if you don’t actually know them.

Upon my visit to the National Theatre to see The Habit of Art, I was sitting next to another lone theatregoer who struck up conversation with me during the interval. The reason can only be because it was evident that we were both sitting alone, watching something truly remarkable and wanted to share this delight with someone, and who better than a complete stranger!

This lady turned out to be an out of work actress, who equally shared my passion for theatre, and for Bennetts latest work. We spoke about a whole array of things, about my work, what she does, our love for theatre. It was one of those slightly surreal moments, where I found myself talking to someone purely because we were both in the same position. The Lone Theatregoers.

If I was attending the theatre with someone, would this conversation with this complete stranger ever had occurred? I feel it’s unlikey.

The other 6 shows were far less exciting in meeting people, but proved valuable thinking time for myself. Whilst I would have liked the company at some of the shows that I was present at, equally witnessing these things alone proved a challenge for me. Often reviewers do attend shows on their own, and quite regularly, but I’ve always found that taking someone along with me helps to break apart work or to debate subject matter.

My experiment has in no way made me buy two tickets to all future performances and forcing unwilling friends to attend with me. It has certainly made me appreciate that going to the theatre  can and is a social affair in some manner. However I have the feeling that my attitudes to seeing shows will be the same. If I can find someone to go with me, I shall go with them, otherwise I’ll stick to knowing that I can easily transport myself to the theatre without the fuss of someone else.

So with the above in mind… would you dare to face the challenge of The Lone Theatregoer?


The Dance’s The Thing [Part 1]

July 24, 2009

An Experiment: What happens when you take someone so rooted in theatre and ask them to spectate upon dance. Not just any sort of dance for that matter, but a Dance Festival… well, it certainly proved interesting when I took the plunge into a contemporary dance extravaganza of a weekend just gone.

The first on my list for inspection came to me at Jackson’s Lane, where the Cloud Dance Festival was taking place. Having been invited by the organiser of this festival, I was welcomed with open arms to allow my critical eye to linger over some of the participants.

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The Cloud Dance Festival is at it’s current state a three day events which takes place at ever changing venues. The simple idea behind this festival is to allow younger and up-and-coming dance companies to showcase their work in 10 to 20 minute slots.

The festival is run and managed by Chantal who along with her dedicated team manage to run this festival on no funding, bringing amazing talent of dance to one location. I can’t help but to raise my praise for the team behind this festival. The ability to continue to bring all of this 3 times a years, with no money, it’s fantastic. It shows a true dedication to an art from which I can easily relate to with my theatre obesesions.

So what did I learn from witnessing this dance festival?

Firstly, you don’t have to be fully appreciative of dance as a genre of art to not enjoy it. Nor do you have to be an expect to be able to write about it. So, I might not have years of experience, nor can I quite deliver the technicalities of dance positions and manovers but what I can do, or rather see is the experience of the event. To witness, to enjoy, or to scratch my head asking, “What’s going on?”, either way these are all experiences that I undertook during the festival.

There are many parralles between dance and theatre, made even more clear when you get some of the performances classed more as dance theatre than dance itself.

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Jackie O'Toole and Dances in 'Eve'

Narrative – whilst some of the performances I watched, contained narratives, dance allows for a freedom away from the normal conventions of theatre, with plot, narration, dialogue. That is not to say that they don’t exist, which was made very clear when many of the performances contained speaking to enhance the work. What is great about dance is sometimes you do not need to follow the action, attempting to pick apart the relationships between the ‘characters’, nor must you always pay attention to the ‘plot’ in order to understand the outcome of the piece. No. With Dance, there is this fluidity for the performance to just be witnessed. To just watch bodies moving within a space. Watching the shapes, patterns, repetitions, movements that the dancers make – that alone is joy to the eye.

Music – The emphasis on music used as a dramatic device within dance is outstanding. I think I was rather taken aback when I watched the festival. Every performance included the use of music. Even now I’m questioning if a piece contained silence at all… possibly not. Music and dance are therefore entwined together, the choreography feeds off the rhythms, off the style of music, and at times sets the tone of the pieces. I’m a sucker for music, it’s a secret obsession of mine, so to be able to listen to such rich volumes of music during these pieces came as only another way in which I felt this overwhelming sense of calmness within me.

Honestly – to watch a body that is trained in moving around a space – to have the freedom within the body to fall, to jump, to spin and turn over and over – coupled with music for the ears… you momentarily get transported into another world. It all seems too simple. Whilst theatre attempts to completely immerse the spectator into the world of the play or action, dance almost throws itself in the opposite direction. Admittedly with the bare stage of the Jackson’s Lane it is difficult to see past the dancers and explore what the story behind them might be, but this isn’t a negative point at all. It enhances the ability for you to truly see what you want from the dancing.

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Henry Fry and Riccardo Buscarini with their 'Places of Non-Belonging'

Energy – One thing I’ve noticed is the sheer amount of energy which is needed for a performance of dance. I think at times it can be quite easy for an actor to give it half of his attention during a play without getting noticed of this. However in dance it becomes blindingly obvious when a dancer lacks energy. I saw this several times in the festival, more from the younger companies. However on the flip side, with this came a whole abundance of energy. If you have it – you’ve got it, and also have the audience too.

The Face – This might sound like a strange thing to state but I became increasingly fascinated with the dancers face. For at times, some dancers showed nothing, not a flicker of anything flashed across their face. Others allowed for countless emotions and amusements to flow freely whilst they danced. But where is the distinction between these two different ideas. Are dancers allowed to show their emotions on their face? Or should it only show the physical exertion that they are going through? I wish I knew the answer.

These are some of my observations from a ‘critical point of view’. I’m sure I could write many more, but I’ll save this for another time.

What I admire about the Cloud Dance Festival is the vast selection you get from this festival. It’s not a matter of going and experiencing world class dancers, it is more venturing into an unexplored territory. Some of the dances I watched truly caught me by surprised and I honestly enjoyed. Others I admired for the sheer effort that went into them. I didn’t quite expect there to be such a vast array of talent and ages too. On the night I went, there seemed to be a younger feel to the participants, but this made it even more enjoyable because you can certainly tell that some of them are bound to go on and produce some amazing work in the future.

The Cloud Dance Festival is about potential. It showcases an array of talent – giving opportunities to those that need it. I see this festival as a melting pot of talent, boiled down, distilled for several days and then unleashed upon a stage.

My advice? Even if you aren’t too keen dance, or know nothing of dance, as is the case with me. Sometimes it is worth exploring for an exciting adventure into the unknown. [And how many conventional theatre shows have you seen which have included a bit of dancing… quite a few I imagine!]

End of Part One of my discussions upon dance.

For those interested in Cloud Dance Festival, visit their website here. Please support this worthwhile festival by joining their mailing list or going to their next festival in November