Friday, July 6, 2012

Popping the Question

By George Brant
George Brant
Playwright, Grounded 

Oh, you can fool yourself. 

Perhaps it doesn’t come up the first rehearsal, or even the second.  Perhaps you’ve distracted them with the research images you’ve brought in, or the joke on page 12, or the debate over the proper pronunciation of a word you’ve made up. But don’t kid yourself; you’ve written a one-person show, sooner or later the dreaded question will rear its head.  Maybe it’ll be the director who poses it, maybe the dramaturge, most likely the actor.  Yes, let’s say the actor playing The Pilot*. Sooner or later, she will ask it:

“So.  Who am I talking to?”


Your gut/defensive/true answer: the audience.

But you don’t mean to be flippant.  The actor has an enormous challenge in a one-person play, particularly at the outset of the rehearsal process.  The audience will be her scene partner, but in table work, or in an empty theatre, her partner hasn’t shown up yet. Add to that challenge that The Pilot in Grounded is not in the traditional storyteller mode, she is speaking in the present tense, relating the events of her life as they happen.  Realistically, how could the audience possibly be with her to hear all of this? And if the audience is The Pilot’s scene partner, the role they play in Grounded is in constant flux, sometimes that of stranger, sometimes student, sometimes confidante, sometimes witness, leading up to a final shift where they are recast once more, in a way that potentially affects all their previous roles.  For an actress to conquer and reconcile all of these challenges may seem impossible.

But my initial answer is not a snarky one.  For viewed from the audience’s side, none of this really matters.  Unless you bore them, an audience is the most forgiving of scene partners; they are by definition adaptive and receptive creatures.  Once they are on your side, once you have earned their trust, they are eager to help, to try on any role that is asked of them.  True, at first some audience members might find direct address stagey or unreal (as opposed to the reality of pretending there’s a fourth wall?), but once that low hurdle is overcome, once the immediacy of the relationship is established, they will happily embark on any journey asked of them.

So yes, a worthy and necessary question.  I believe that the answer lies, as with most matters of the theatre, out there in the seats.

*Grounded is a solo show about one woman, a fighter pilot, reassigned to pilot un-maned drones from a military base in Las Vegas.

For more information on George's play Grounded or the 2012 Bay Area Playwrights Festival: click here

You can also check out George's website here

1 comment:

Erin Merritt said...

I always hate it when an actor asks that question too, and yet I usually ask it of them (many times) to force them to get specific. As you say, their audience is constantly changing, not only because there are different people there every night, but because different parts of a play require different relationships and also because a good play (like this one) changes the audience as they watch it. The key in my mind is not how to "reconcile" that changing audience relationship, because it need not and should not be reconciled. An actor, like a person in real life, is always calibrating that relationship based on what is being said, what the speaker needs, and how the listener is responding. Bertolt Brecht allegedly told his actors not to worry about being consistent from scene to scene, not because people aren't consistent, but because people are complex enough that we can't always see their consistency. If the actor plays the true relationship of any given moment, the audience will hear it as authentic and intuit the underlying consistency if need be. So the question is not "To whom am I speaking?" but "To whom am I speaking right now?" When the actor is able to be specific, the audience can be too.