List-served

Imported from iWeb:

At 6:30 last night, a bunch of us came together to do staged reading of List-Served: a kind of “reality theatre” piece made up of excerpts from the robust discussions of the past several months on the list-serve of the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. I arrived prepared to read some of it as an actor, and determined not to read myself. (I had been sent a script in advance, and was flattered to read some of my own posts featured prominently at the end of the piece). I was sensitive to the possibility that this could become just another platform for some of us to spout our points of view. I was relieved when Aileen McCullough, the primary motive force behind List-Served – said she was thinking the same thing. No one reads themselves.

We hung out in the dark Second Stage as an amazing diverse yet small group of Philly Theatre actors showed up to take part in the reading. We were represented well across racial, gender and age spectrums- and I have posted a photo gallery to prove it. We chatted, and I glanced nervously at my watch. We were expecting a small audience at 8:00. Aileen – the artistic director of Vagabond Theatre, and a mother of two young children – looked wiped out, and as seven o clock approached and we reached critical mass, she turned to me and said, “So, how’d you like to direct this puppy tonight?”

So I did. The actors spread out over the stage and as much as possible represented being in front of “keyboards” and reacting to what was being spoken as if they were reading it. I tried to add some theatricality to it all, so it didn’t just sit there. I had the cast change seats three times. They searched for ways to add character and comedy to moments. We managed to have something ready to show by 8:00.

A small audience came. I worried that some of the more antagonistic participants in the list-serve imbroglio would show and heckle us. But nothing so exciting as that occurred. Instead, the cast did well and there was a spirited discussion with the audience about the piece, which Aileen is determined to keep working on and present at the Philly Fringe.

Many of the observations revolved around what happens when you take speech assumed to be “private” and then perform it. Aggression which was supposed to have the veil of electronic anonymity is suddenly the stuff of on-stage confrontation, sometimes to comic results. There is a voyeuristic aspect to it too – just what do we all look like as we peck away furiously? (I am in my pajamas and bathrobe now, for instance). When and how does a piece like this cease to be “realistic” and give over to the demands of the stage, loosening itself from the confines of representing people typing, but using that motif to inform the wild theatricality which comes next (I imagined a “Sharks vs. Jets” type face off, or people typing not on keyboards, but on each other, email exchanges devolving into shouting matches). What are the theatrical possibilities of the electronic medium – people typing and not speaking, but their words displayed on a giant screen. A person who’s been “censored” and is speaking but no words can be heard. A “lurker”, hovering around the outskirts and saying nothing. HOW CAN WE REPRESENT ALL CAPS?

How do we affirm the community we are truthfully and entertainingly? More later, I’m sure. List-Served Sunday, May 4, 2008