While at Harvard on a planning residency I went to see The Donkey Show which originally premiered in 1999 and is enjoying a revival at the Oberon, a smaller, nightclub-styled venue of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T). I had a blast which is hard to imagine if you know me and clubs…that is to say I hardly ever go to a real one with friends—so why go to a theatrical version of a disco in a reworking of Midsummer Night Dream all by myself?
I went because I wanted to see the work of director Diane Paulus and the revitalized A.R.T., which is doing so much to bring in a younger audience base, and because we are planning to collaborate on a few ideas and projects. The first of these will be a three-week intersession course in January in which Dance Exchange and A.R.T will teach together as well as manage separate dance and theater tracks for Harvard undergraduates. It seemed like a good idea to look at things that matter to this very compelling group of theater-makers.
Here is what I found engaging about my experience: This is a site-specific piece of drama and for once someone has solved the problem of the audience. No matter how great site work looks in rehearsal, as soon as the audience is in the picture, there is a problem because well… the audience is now in the picture. But, in The Donkey Show that is the point. The action takes place all over the club on several levels while the audience is either seated on a slightly raised platform level (that is where I was) or else standing (and dancing) on the floor. Except for a very small proscenium stage, and two moving platforms on the floor, most of the action takes place throughout the club, meaning that the audience is crowded around every scene. So the reality of how an audience member takes in the action is displayed directly in the context of what you are watching. Delight, disgust, confusion, embarrassment, shock are all present and authentic …just lined up on their faces and bodies as the action unfolds.
I have spent many an insomniac night dreaming and scheming of just how to make the audience complicit in the look and feel of a site specific piece. I just never thought of it in a club.