Natasha Michelle MacDonald
David Byrne (Music)
Chris Gallagher (text, videos)
Zita Milo(stage manager)
and associates: Tonya Lockyer (Director)
Why would nine people work together every week for six months to do only three performances, without knowing each night what might happen once they stepped on stage? That's exactly what the group of Emerson College students did to create TIMEPIECE, which committed itself to an audience for three nights in July. They called it a "process piece" and asked whatever audience appeared to stay and talk about the experience after each show.
What was it like? Well, a lot like an unstructured dance piece, an acting improv, a spontaneity workshop, a therapy group, a trust exercise, a party --- all those things, none of those things, and actually something altogether other. And it would be different for each of the audiences who saw it, and probably different in the eyes of every individual in those audiences.
But it worked.
The first night, you could tell it worked when, after the cast had sat receptively onstage answering the hesitant or eager questions from the audience, much of that audience felt no pressure to leave, and the entire dance-studio stage filled with knots of people each talking with a different member of the cast. Something had happened between performer and audience that both felt reluctant to stop.
Their process included a lot of "Crazy House" sessions --- throwing a bunch of clothes or props or masks or toys onstage and pushing their possibilities to the wall --- and watching their sessions on television tapes. Chris Gallagher added a voice-over narration sounding like a dream and called light-cues from off- stage. David Byrne sat onstage giving piano accompaniment. Stage Manager Zita Milo provided reactions and ran lights. Urged on initially by director Tonya Lockyer's advice and suggestions the six performers spent three intense weeks working together without her, and gave their work to the audience.
What radiated from the dance floor that night was everyone's total trust in one another --- the complete confidence to be one's self unselfishly, knowing it will contribute to the whole. Themes and shifting focuses developed, some agreed-upon roadmap was explored or ignored, people took or relinquished center stage, there was no plot, and yet everything remained fascinating.
The program's reference to TIMEPIECE as "Experimental Theatre" revives twenty-year-old memories of The Living Theatre, The Performance Group, The Manhattan Project, The Ferry to China, Stage One, The Double-Edge Theatre, The Polish Lab Theater or The Open Theater, and opens the question of why any contemporary group would want to re-invent that particular wheel.
But the fact is that every generation must remind itself that theater is none of the trappings --- not neon and hoopla, not hot-tickets and stage machinery, not box-office records or star- turns or real muscle or money-reviews or long runs or Antoinette Perrry statuettes.
It's people on a stage giving themselves to one another and to an audience. And those people who do it, or see it, will never be the same again.
( a k a larry stark)