In a rush, we finished the film version of EXHIBIT, based on the play I wrote for OnSite Theatre’s site-specific group for Spring, 2009, stage production. The film was accepted into The St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and garnered good response from those who saw it and talked to me about it.
However, EXHIBIT was not invited into the follow-up Fall International Film Festival.
While EXHIBIT isn’t perfect (and will be refined as it heads toward other festivals, its main problem in not advancing to the Fall Festival, according to Cinema St. Louis’ (the sponsoring organization) reps, was its length. Like the play, it runs about 45 minutes, and they said this does not fit easily into the Festival’s (what must be) cookie-cutter approach to programming. Films must be either feature-length or 20 minutes or so. As they said, “it’s too hard to program 45 minute films.”
Well, I felt maybe they should then just work a little harder. Script aside, EXHIBIT’s acting and production values are superb, with artistic ambitions and scope that surpassed much of the tightly focused, shorter local work I saw at the Showcase. I felt Cinema St. Louis diminished their own work and festival, and the efforts of some of St. Louis’ very best film professionals, by not supporting EXHIBIT.
But, trying to leave that bitterness behind (something I’m getting pretty good at lately), it was a blast to see the film on a big screen, with the attendant rush of a small-town, fantasy red carpet premiere.
And it was another reminder of the unique excitement that site-specific theatre inherently affords, occurring simultaneously with news of site-specific and other theatre trends in New York and London. Some of this work might be termed audience-member-specific theatre, or, as its being termed, one-on-one theatre.
THE BLIND TRIP Audience members are blindfolded, and then led individually from room to room, experiencing random acts of kindness; being gently led in a ballroom dance, or receiving a hand massage. And they could remove the blindfold at any time.
(This played New York in July.)
APPOINTMENT (playing New York in September) where one audience member is taken into a real office site for 15 minutes as the drama and show unfold around them.
APPOINTMENT’s creator, Aaron Landsman, was the artist behind OPEN HOUSE, a 2008 production staged in 24 different living rooms around New York, with the small audience serving as apartment buyers, watching the actors portray a couple with financial problems.
And the big one that just closed as the hottest ticket in London was YOU ME BOOM BOOM TRAIN. Featuring a cast of 200, ticketholders were transported by wheelchairs through a labyrinth of rooms, each a different environment, in which the audience member becomes the focus of the environment, becoming, among other roles, an American football coach, a patient getting an MRI (from which you were delivered to a Japanese restaurant), a bumbling apprentice to a cat burglar, a rock star and more.
These are all efforts to break out of conventional stage experiences, and all are efforts to engage an audience differently, to them to think, feel and experience the world in different ways.
As the various artists involved with the above work have said, “We don’t slow down often enough to take the time to look into someone’s eyes. That’s the gift of this work,” And “I created this out of my need to offer people the chance to really experience something, to feel alive.”