Writer/Director's Note: Performance for One

One question I am often asked when I describe this show is, how does it follow Untitled Theater Company No. 61’s mission to be a Theater of Ideas?  It is not about science or politics.  There is an aspect of philosophy to it.  But the base idea it interrogates is the idea of theater itself.  What does it mean to be an audience member, a performer, and a playwright?  Stripped down to a simple one-on-one (on-one, for the author, who may not be present, is always present), what do we learn about performance?

Of course, every time we step into a theater, we take on the role of audience member.  But we do not think about the role, because we can hide among our fellows.  But what happens when there is no fellow?  Just two people, one speaking, one listening.

The idea of one-on-one theater is not new to me or to the theater company, of course.  It is an existing experiment, one that I have seen and participated in, in various fashions.  I have also inadvertently participated in small audiences, both as the sole audience member for a show meant for many, or as the director of a show for which only one audience member showed up. In the early days of Untitled Theater Company No. 61, small audiences were not uncommon.  My rule was, unless the audience outnumbered the performers, the performers had the choice whether they wished to perform.  When we had an audience of one, they did, because the sole audience member that day was my Mom, and frankly they were relieved to have an extra dress rehearsal of sorts.  She was enthusiastic.

But what makes Performance for One particular is that the form is also the subject.  And what does that form mean?  It is a distillation of theater, specifically the type of theater that involves passing on stories.  It is, to me, the basic form of theater, a type of theater we perform every day, without thinking.  We usually pass on stories, our own and those that have been passed to us, without defining it as theater.  Each story is a gift, but also a responsibility.  The responsibility lies in the listening, the remembering, and perhaps the passing on of the story again.

Theater, all performance, formalizes that process.  And here I must admit: I don’t even know if Performance for One is theater.  It is storytelling.  It is performance art.  It is…a moment between two people (in which a third, the author, implied).  It is a building block of theater, the most essential.  And soon, for my next show, I will add the rest again.  Full costumes (though clothes are always costumes), a set (though a setting is implicitly a set), lighting (beyond the natural and unnatural lighting those settings provide), and other audience members (though our responsibility as an audience member remains no matter the size).

But when I observed the audience members from our developmental performances, seeing them post-show of course because it is impossible to see them during, I realized something new about the performance. My own reaction to a single audience member was also distilled. When that single audience member tells you how moving the experience was—well, that’s a standing ovation.