Report from Week One of Performance for One

Our opening was September 6, and it was pouring rain.  We had scheduled mostly evening shows, from 5pm – 10pm, at our Week One venue: Chashama, located at 21 Greenwich Street, right next to 6th Avenue and 9th Street.  Four of the performers were scheduled: Elizabeth Chappel, Jan Leslie Harding, Melissa Rakiro, and Yvonne Roen.  Fortunately, we had a number of scheduled appointments that evening, as the foot traffic in the rain was light.  However, it was nice to be up and running, and to give all four performers the chance to do the material for the first time.

 Set up was surprisingly complicated, since we needed to bring seating, folding tables, and the curtains/clothing racks that defined the performance space.  One wonderful aspect of the space (and the next Chashama space, on west 37th street, scheduled in October) is that we had a big window, so everyone who passed could peek in.  Performers faces towards the street, and the audience members faced away, to avoid distraction.

It was on Saturday that we really were able to test whether we could draw in strangers.  There were almost no appointment for the five hours we were there (1pm – 6pm).  I handed out postcards as people passed and got to live the very New York experience of selling something that almost no one was buying (of course, in this case, the art was free).

Sometimes our intern, Lauren Jiang, did the selling.  And once our performer, Elizabeth Chappel, gave it a try.  She confessed she though no one was going to come in.  I had the same fear.

Elizabeth brought in our first audience member, about a half hour in.  And after that, the flow was steady if slow.  Two audience members each hour, ten total.  All but one were strangers.  I could hear most of them laughing behind the curtains, and three cried. One, our final audience member for the day, walked away at first. Her boyfriend was definitely not into it. But she came back, and when she came out of Chashama crying, her boyfriend asked what we had done to her.

Given her free art, I suppose…

On Sunday, it was suddenly pretty full. People we knew came, strangers came, many stayed for Part II, since Yvonne Roen was the performer. Among the audience members was my brother and his whole family. Since the monologues both relate to my parents, it was interesting to see how my family reacted (mostly well, one of the nieces cried). As one participated, the others tried to peak through the window to see what was happening.

Overall, I was reminded about what drew me to the project in the first place. It is an amazing and rewarding experience to be able to spend individual time with an audience member, to see how each of them responds. Each of the performers was distinctive in her performance, each had her own style, but the connection created between performer and audience was equally strong. Equally valuable was the opportunity to chat with the audience member after, to hear reactions, to get to know strangers who were drawn in by the art. Often, after shows with large audiences, I regret that it is relatively impossible to get to know most of the people who walk through the doors.

This week, we head to Governor’s Island! Eager to see how the audience member respond there—or how many venture in at all.