Back from vacation on the east coast. Spent some time in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Yeah, the DE. I love seeing local theater. In this case, I took my son to see Alice in Wonderland at the Bethany City Town Hall presented by The Rehoboth Summer Children's Theatre.
This theater company has been performing two-actor story theater for 20 years.With a simple portable set and minimum of props they can put on a performance virtually anywhere. We saw it in the room where they hold the city council meetings.
This summer, the company performed four plays in repertory. Playing local venues ranging from libraries, churches, even the Holiday Inn Express.
It reminded me of medieval theater where the guilds staged performances of religious plays in streets, open fields, inn yards and the halls of knights. Since, they had to move from location to location, they developed a portable stage: the pageant wagon. The wagon was relatively small (8x12ft) in order to be pulled through narrow streets but had elaborate special effects built in, trap doors to drop actors into the smoke-filled hell fire pits and a rope-and-pulley system for ascending into heaven.
A recent article in the New York Times, Presenting New York Theater Where It's Least Expected, it talks about shows staged in unusual places - a Central Park restroom, a downtown restaurant, a ferry terminal and on a street in Soho.
For the play 'Night Lights' in Soho, the audience sat in parked cars and eavesdropped with headphones on the performers as they acted in and around a car. (You can see the actress on the hood of the car in the picture.)
This show and others like Alice in Wonderland, reminds me that with a little bit of imagination theater can happen anywhere. Stanislavsky considered imagination one of the most important parts of the actor's work:
"The creative process starts with the imaginative invention of a writer, a director, the actors, the scenic designer and others, so the first in order should be imagination. Every movement you make, every word you speak, is the result of your imagination. Every invention of the actor's imagination must be thoroughly worked out... It must me able to answer all the questions (when, where, why, how) that he asks himself when he is driving his inventive faculties on to make a more and more definite picture of a make-believe existence. Not a step should be taken on the stage without the cooperation of your imagination."
In other words, it all starts with the writer's imagination. Then, the fiction the writer creates is passed on and supported by the actor's imagination. The fuel for an actor's imagination are in asking questions like: when? where? when? how? why? When actors care about the details and work with specificity they can achieve inspired performances.
As the saying goes, "God is in the details." Or the devil is - whichever you prefer.