Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thinking Outside the Jewel Box

On my bus ride this morning, I came across a talk by Natasha Tsakos, a performer from Miami who has created a one-woman multimedia show called Upwake. Upwake is an hour-long story of Zero, a modern day businessman going to work with his life in a briefcase, stuck between reality and fantasy. It’s told using one performer, four projectors and a constant array of video, audio, lights and images created by 19 collaborators, all working together to address that one theme, amplified all over the place: connection between reality (stage, performer, audience) and fantasy (in the form of multimedia). Decidedly not a new theme, especially here, where we have some of the most exciting multi-arts work being done of anywhere in the country. What was interesting, though (and the piece looks interesting, too) was that this talk allowed Tsakos to engage in the theory and goal of the work in a deep way, putting into words some of the more abstract concepts that I think float around our heads as theatre practitioners a lot, but which are sometimes less than coherent. The talk became a discussion of the intersection between what she terms “science” (I’d more accurately term it “technology”) and “art,” and the ability of this intersection, in the proper hands, to bridge the gap between theatre and new audiences.

In Natasha’s words, “It is as much about bringing new disciplines inside this box as it is about taking theatre out of its box.”

More below the video.

I think this resonates in multiple ways and directions as we continue as a field to grapple with an ever-shrinking traditional audience base. We must start looking outside the jewel box of theatre for not only new technologies (although those, too), but also new experiences, new stories and new ways to tell those stories. The truth is, the demographics of humanity are changing, more quickly here than almost anywhere else in the country. As a field (and understanding it is a field-wide issue and cannot be the single duty of a few nontraditional theatregoer-focused organizations), we must look outside the box and draw in (and on) new parts of the world. In a way, theatre has always been about reflection – reflecting our society, or our hope, or perhaps simply the experiences of the people who come through the doors. As Tsakos says, the reflection is changing, and it is happening whether we as organizations, individuals or the field are on board or not:

“There is a revolution. It’s a human and technological revolution. It’s motion and emotion. It’s information. It’s visual, it’s musical, it’s sensorial. It’s conceptual, it’s universal and it’s beyond words and numbers. It’s happening…There is a revolution in the way that we think, the way that we share, and in the way that we express our stories. Our evolution. This is a time of communication, connection and creative collaboration.”

As companies and individuals, much of your days (probably) are spent looking at today, tomorrow, next month, one year out. You rightly strategize about sustaining your current base, reviving flagging donations from various sources, keeping steady audiences, a stable reputation, etc. It seems to me that part of our role at Theatre Bay Area is to ask you as individual artists and companies to take a moment to look more broadly and more long-term, at the long-term viability of the field as a whole. Field-wide trends are just that, field-wide, and field-wide changes happen over five-, ten-, twenty-year spans, across as many companies as are there to be part of the trend. If the core of Theatre Bay Area’s mission is to unite, strengthen and promote the theatre community, then we must continuously ask ourselves how the world is changing over the mid- to long-term, while also of course providing services to help companies and individuals sustain and thrive today. Tsakos’ larger message, that remaining static as a field (in our form, our content, our way of presenting ourselves) is not really an option, must set in motion all sorts of conversation.

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