When the audience arrives for a traditional theatre experience, they have certain expectations based on past experience. When the play or playwright is known, the situation becomes comfortable and to some extent predictable. If the production is new or less familiar, the creative team will often attempt to provide some clues ahead of time. The advertising usually gives some hint as to the nature of the work and once the spectator arrives in the lobby, there may be additional signage, decor or even costumed performers that attempt to set the atmosphere. The program will often contain notes or introductory information.
When a production takes place in a non-theatre environment, this becomes an increasingly important issue. The elements that make this type of theatre unusual also add to the potential for confusion and misunderstanding and if this can be addressed at the outset, the experience for the spectator will be that much more satisfying. In the case of the Patria Cycle, the majority of the spectators will be unfamiliar with the concept of Theatre of Confluence and the works of Schafer. In fact, the work will likely demand a dismissal of the preconceptions of traditional theatre experience.
The audience arrives at a lake before dawn. It is an inherent part of the piece that the natural sounds of the environment be allowed to establish themselves as the work unfolds. Therefore the guides are costumed (as woodland spirits) and as they lead the audience to the lakeside, they indicate through mute gesture that silence is important and that ideally each audience member should sit or stand apart from his or her neighbour. It is necessary to establish that, in a way, the show has begun even as they arrive. This is not the lobby (where conversation, relevant or not, is permitted), this is the theatre (where it is understood that the demands of the performance be respected).
This then is the first reason for preparation - to establish, because it is not self-evident, the point at which the audience has entered the 'theatre' and the performance is about to begin.
The Princess of the Stars - guide
(costume drawing by Diana Smith)
The second reason for preparation is to provide background. Schafer's works are usually dense and multilayered and take as their context an historically or philosophically particular set of parameters. RA, for example, set in ancient Egypt, is best experienced by someone who has some background in the religions of the time and place. The Black Theatre presupposes a basic awareness of alchemy. Of course not everyone who attends a Patria performance will have researched the context for the work even if a list of suggested reading is provided in advance. Thus, the director and designers try to provide a transition for the audience...from the present-day street to the particular setting.
|The Black Theatre in Belgium had a separate performance space set up to provide an initiation into the arts of the ancient alchemists. Each actor had a 'station' where he or she would be engaged in a ritual based on one of the elemental metals. The audience was encouraged to wander through this 'lobby' and pick up scraps of lore, suggestions and allusions, references and explanations. These would not necessarily make sense until the same ideas were presented later in the actual performance. Some of the musicians would be creating a soundscape that would tune the ears to the tonal structure of the music.|
|The Black Theatre (Belgium) - guide|
It did not last long, perhaps 15 minutes, but was incredibly useful in focusing the audience so that once the work actually began there was no loss of momentum while the audience 'caught up'
Black Theatre (Belgium)
The preparation area (Yvon Bayer as Alchemist)
|A similar device is employed in The Greatest Show.
As the audience passes through the gate, they are met by performers in various
stages of preparedness. Some are still putting on their makeup or adding
the final touches to their carnival booths. Others might approach the audience
members and take small groups aside and 'show them around' ad-libbing bits
of dialogue that contain references to the themes of the work.
Le Count Charlie: (ad-lib)"Have you seen the man? He
was here and now he's disappeared...no one knows where. Maybe the answer
lies in the Blue Theatre. You can see that show ya know...just win a ticket
at the bottle game. Or (whispers conspiratorially) ya might be
able to get one from me...but it'll cost ya a few extra coupons."
As various of the one hundred or so characters weave through the crowd speaking bits of dialogue, the audience members may get a sense of the thread to this work and may in fact find some clues that will make sense when suddenly the call goes up "Approach the Odditorium! The Greatest Show is about to begin!"
|John Millard as Handsome Hal greets the audience|
But the most extensive preparation is provided for the participants in RA; the audience in fact becomes a part of the action.
|Members of the Leiden audience don their robes to become initiates.|