I just got off the phone with the amazing Dikran Tulaine, who is planning four performances at Stage Left, my 45-seat performance space here in NYC. He’s going to be sharing theatricalized stories by Balzac and Dickens, and he excels at it. He told me one of the reasons he loves to perform here is because the space is so intimate. And it is. When we have a full house, the audience is about a foot away from the lip of the stage. Some new performers are initially uncomfortable with that tiny gap between them and the house. They tell me that they prefer not to see the audience. I came to theatre from a career in standup comedy, and I have always loved seeing the audience. I think it’s easier to play to an audience that you can see. And even after I became an actor, I still loved it.
Some people think it interferes with the “fourth-wall”, but I disagree. I find that you can blur your vision when necessary and let the audience be a sort of tapestry, and then re-focus when it’s time to share the action with them again. Dikran feels the same way. We both love that intimate feeling, which is one of the best things about Stage Left, and one of the most remarked-upon. Indeed, when you step into the lobby, you prepare yourself for intimacy, because it’s not a typical black box. The beautifully decorated lobby feels like a home, with French gold walls, recessed lighting, art and sculpture. There are comfortable velvet covered benches, and tall, inviting double doors into the performing space.
Over the past year, we have developed a growing audience for the intimate shows at Stage Left, and 2014 will be more of the same. We will also be presenting a story hour once a month, which I am co-hosting with Susan Laubach. I set up the stage with a chair and side table, a small pool of light, and the audience sits in a semi-circle, with house lights on so we can all see each other. The audience members are free to get up and refill their glasses, or grab another cookie, during the show (they tend to be enrapt so no one has taken me up on that yet). It’s like a large living room, with performance.
I have heard from some of my Broadway-connected friends that some of the prominent actors there are also yearning for more intimacy in their performances, and wishing for opportunities to reclaim the intimacy they felt in their early days in theatre– to actually be with the audience. I hope to entice some of them to Stage Left. I am in the process of bringing one of the original cast members of The Lion in Winter here for a screening and conversation with the audience, which will be a first for Stage Left, and an unusual and delightful event.
We also do a lot of vaudeville style performance here. My monthly erotica show, Forbidden Kiss LIVE, includes lots of bits with audience participation, and we enter the stage through the house, and invite the audience to play with us. It’s part of the charm of what I call our “sexy cabaret.” Lucie Pohl did a Carol Burnett style entrance last night, mopping the stage and talking to the audience. It simply feels good for the actor and audience to have access to each other, and I am happy to be promoting it.
Next step – immersive theatre. I have some ideas.