News From David Grindle, USITT Executive Director
The Art of Live Performance
There’s a long list of productions I wish I had had the chance to see in the past year. Yes, Hamilton, but so many more are out there too.
Two in particular have my mind because of the influence of the design on the production. One I mentioned a few months ago, the Seattle Opera production of Hansel and Gretel. The other is the New York Theatre Workshop production of Othello. These are two vastly differently productions. One, a huge production in grand scale. The other, intimate and close up. Each featured incredible casting and master works of their genre. But the designs, those were what made me really want to see those shows.
In Seattle, the designer took things and made them larger than life. At the same time, caring to enlarge every detail down to the smallest rip of paper. In New York, everything was stripped down. The room, including the surroundings of the audience, were in plain plywood. Lighting was not a large theatrical plot, as in Seattle. Rather, the lighting designer had to work with available light sources, LED lamps, and other things.
Both of these brought me back to the words of our keynote address at the conference in Salt Lake City. Tupac Martir reminded all of us that the technology we use is the tool to paint the picture for the audience. This is true in every form of design. What we use creates the space, informs the show, and makes the art. The end result changes not only the audience, but the performers and the creative staff and team. We remind ourselves that the story we are telling is the focus.
As I sit here typing this surrounded by electronics and gadgets that make my daily life function, there is a certain irony here that I’m longing to be transported to another place through theatre. But that irony is why each person in our industry continues to work. The idea of sitting in a venue with others, getting absorbed in to the story, and discovering something, be it life changing or simple joy and happiness in a moment, that idea is what keeps our art going. Even in a world where we are focused on screens and immediate response, the art that is created in live performance is what moves us.
As much as any other good techno-nerd, I love nothing more than looking at the equipment in a space. In fact, my family has come to expect me to focus on what lighting or scenic items are available for closer inspection. I want to see the tools. I want to know what brushes, both literal and figurative, are being used to make the art. However, once the story begins, I want to see the art and not be distracted by the how.
That brings me back to those two shows. Telling a story can be done on any scale. When the artists commit to using their tools like masters we are all transformed. And for that I owe a huge thanks to everyone that has ever been that artist. Thank you for transporting us to another place, for engaging our minds in new ideas, and for showing us that there are far more artists represented in each performance than just the ones you can see.