13 ways of looking at a black box

Some observations and reflections on Venue 13:

1. The fringe is economical: it fills every available street corner, nook and cranny, every possible time slot. A dark theater is a sad theater.

2. The productions conform to the space while transforming the space. They have to accept the restricted size but they also make it an element in their story.

3. Pomegranate Jam limits itself to two dimensions of the theater. Silhouettes of puppets and actors and props are projected against a scrim. With no dialogue, the play relies instead on movement and music to tell the story of Persephone’s descent into the underworld. In a predominantly black and white world, the appearance of colored projections and a very red sparkling pomegranate stand out.

4. The 15-minute gaps between shows are breaks only for spectators. For everyone involved in the theater, it is a mad rush to strike the previous set and install the new one. The crew frets over the main overhead projector at the venue, which seems at times to be slow to load the new projections and get centered. Stage managers call out how much time is left until the house is supposed to open. When it does, the audience has little idea how much sweat was spilled in the last 15 minutes.

5. Things From Before builds an elaborate set of 17 window or picture frames hanging from the overhead light rigs and includes a jumble of some 30 alarm clocks piled up in the back. The eight-member cast fill every inch of the stage, dancing at the opening before settling into an anxious family drama that gets interrupted by absurdist dance and musical interludes. It’s Tennessee Williams by way of David Lynch.

6. The space accommodates the narrative, the lyrical, the literal, the abstract; the wholesome, the risqué, the avant-garde; the minimalist, the mannered. Likewise, the space accepts all types of spectators: young, old, traditionalist, adventurous.

7. Victims of Influence features four young women who awake frightened to discover their human forms and the destinies that are laid out for them. Bits of story come through in movement, expression, projections and recorded snippets of dialogue. The characters have few lines of original, live dialogue; much of what they speak on stage is a direct quotation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The effect is often unsettling but very thought provoking about how perceptions can shape one’s identity.

8. Projections, prerecorded sound, light displays: only occasionally are these mere enhancements of the story; often they are critical elements. In a scene at the end of Victims, the house lights come up, implicating the spectator as an influence on the characters’ predicaments.

9. Outside the theatre, a large man in a bear suit hands out flyers to rein in an audience for Fleeced. I haven’t seen it yet so I have no idea what the connection is to the story, which I thought had to do with the Golden Fleece.

10. In Yellow Fever, a tortured painter who aspires to be Vincent Van Gogh is obsessed with the color yellow, personified in a female character who is alternately his model, muse, lover, critic, and tormentor. The stage is covered in a yellow surface and bathed in colorful lights that drip like paint on a canvas.

11. Colorfully dressed people come and go from outside the theater. It is occasionally unclear whether someone in unusual clothing is in costume or just a very artsy/weird spectator.

12. The female lead of Kaspar begins by pounding on the door of the house, staggering inside and repeating a cryptic phrase about wanting to be like somebody else was once. One by one, eight more characters appear, interrogating, lecturing, musing, explaining about language and the spaces between the signifiers and the signifieds, the past and the present. Are we in a mental institution? A coffin? A circus? The story seems at times chaotic and relentless but develops in an interesting way, and the actors do an excellent job.

13. From outside the theater, there is no way to tell from a program or flyers just what is taking place within. The space truly is a black box, its contents known only to those brave enough to peek inside.

facebooktwittermailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>