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Small Plots Diary – May 10, 2009 – Big Break-Up

June 24, 2009

May 10, 2009

Big Break-Up (#2), Hanes Mall, Food Court 2:00pm
Break-Up Woman: Tricia; Break-Up Man: Steve; Ipod Girl: Lauren

In the world of Small Plots, life and theater overlap behind the scenes as well. This morning we learned that one of the actors in the Big Break-Up is going through relationship difficulties at home, and possibly on the verge of a split. Given the unfortunate similarity of events he’s scheduled to act out, he can’t imagine dramatizing that which he’s trying to avoid in “real” life. Thankfully one of our valiant Speed Walkers Steve (scheduled to perform today at 3:00pm) steps in and assumes the male lead for our Hanes Mall version of the Big Break-Up. Unfortunately (for him), he’s got a female lead more than ready for an argument; Tricia got the starting time mixed up, so she’s been waiting since noon….stewing. Our new male lead, Steve, never saw it coming.

Tricia awaits her new male lead

Tricia awaits her new male lead

Tricia waits at a small table in the Hanes Mall Food Court, dressed in blue, flipping through a book and gazing over the adjacent railing. Her fellow diners include a scattering of couples, friends and single diners splitting time between their meals and slow, panning gazes around the Court. As their eyes slowly travel, they begin to see an audience growing approximately four tables away. We’ve gathered around a series of tables near the Kid Zone, trying to blend in with the crowd as the anticipation builds to see the dynamics of the new Break-Up cast in action. Steve arrives and fills the role of the male lead with increasing emotion; animating every succeeding repetition of the scene with a compelling mix of sensitivity and intensity. Tricia is a muse of exasperated ambivalence; trying to prevent her companion from “making a scene” at the same time the very purpose of Small Plots heightens the theatricality of her every move

getting into the role

getting into the role

chewing on scenery, the audience grows

chewing on scenery, the audience grow

Lauren weaves through the network of tables and tray-carrying diners with charm, grace and whimsy – singing to herself as other diners cast furtive glances toward the feuding couple. It’s right about this time that Lee and I begin to evaluate the audience surrounding the scene, trying to decide who is watching, who is figuring it out, and who remains bemused but unknowing. It’s a conference we’ll have many times over the course of Small Plots, and one that continues to have no definitive answer. We are left to wonder, even as a young boy places a flower on Steve and Tricia’s table and they walk off – arm in arm – as Lauren serenades the reconciled couple in front of a pita place. Somewhere between fairy tale and farce, art and life, I hope our original male lead’s day continued to follow the lead of Small Plots.

light and fortune shine once again

light and fortune shine once again

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 24, 2009 10:17 pm

    As things are in motion and the plots are unfolding, I am tempted to intervene and “direct” the action a bit. This could be done with a simple phone call to one of the actors during the performance…maybe give them some critical direction. Instead, I have to stand back and watch things happen. Why do I feel the need to intervene and direct the action while it’s happening?

    The project depends on the actors, and my “coaching” happens remotely. I am realizing my direction (or lack of) can really effect the outcome of the performances. Trust and expectations become issues on my part. I think the actors wonder about their responsibility to “entertain” the audience – something I have realized can work against the overall concept of the work. Actors have learned to project their voices, improv when necessary, etc… and I am asking them to “unlearn” everything and not be stars in the movie, but extras. It’s a backwards way of performing and thinking about acting.

    In this case, the spectators’ focus has turned much of the Small Plots thus far into “theater.” As the director of the Small Plots project, this is something I did not anticipate and did not craft the plots for. What responsibility do I have in this situation? My guess is to entertain; create a mood or drama; communicate an idea within the plot – all of these things I am not at all interested in. Therefore, I find myself in a dilemma; it’s a balancing act of sorts and the scales have been tipped to the Theatrical Side, rather than the Life Side.

    In previous projects with similar Life/Theater forms, I have also seen these scales weigh heavily to the Life Side. In this case, the work is sometimes never seen or realized at all. The actor slips entirely under the radar – to the extreme that it “pretty much” never even happened. No record, no witness, no situation. Except of course the actor. This leads into another important aspect to these projects for me: Where is the art experience? Mine, yours, the actors, the shop owner?

    One thing I have noticed is that the audience is much more present than I anticipated – less so in numbers, than in proximity. Often, there a few spectators who willfully break the wall and sit or stand extremely close to the action. When this happens, the spectators’ focus becomes the dialogue and actions of the actors. This focus, much like traditional theater, places an importance on the acting and the actual plot (which, ironically are the most improvisational parts of the small plots project).

    In some ways, the less audience attendance the closer we get to confusion. What happens when the “unknowing” passerby witnesses these slight spectacles and sees no obvious audience present? In some ways, the audience solves the riddle – but when they are gone? I am anxious to see (from my far away vantage point) how this plays out. Perhaps the passersby will never really know why that couple was so distressed?

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