Postcards From The Odyssey #3: Our Partner The Audience

This week’s post is by cast member Julie Douglas, who examines the unique role of the audience in We Players’ production of The Odyssey on Angel Island.

Telemachus (James Udom) journeys with his companions, the audience. Photo by Tracy Martin.

Audience is intrinsic and necessary to theatre. Theatre in its true form is about the direct relationship and dialogue between the story, the storytellers, and the audience.  Mainstream western storytelling has the audience sitting in the dark while the players, set apart upon a stage, spin the story both visually and verbally. Site-specific, experiential theatre changes that dynamic and understanding for both player and audience. The story is both imaginary and tangible, it is all around us and we are all active players in it. In “The Odyssey on Angel Island” not only are we asking the audience to emotionally and energetically follow the story, we are asking them to literally follow our hero and physically go on their own Odyssey in a living location. They are asked to take action, respond directly, and have interactions with the players and story. They are a part of the story, and their engagement helps drive it forward.

Julie Douglas — your fearless reporter — as Circe, engaging an audience member with her wily and “intensely seductive” ways. Photo by Tracy Martin.

In theatre there is always a conversation with each unique audience. Their energy can be felt on stage. It fills the room. Now imagine it filling an island. In this kind of theatre there are spoken conversations and shared experiences between the players and audience, between audience members and with the surroundings.  Shows that engage everyone in this way can change how audiences think of themselves and their influence. It can also help us as performers truly feel the necessity of the audience and inform our relationship to that audience in all forms of theatre. It is a high wire act that requires full commitment because you never know what might be thrown your way. You are looking your audience square in the face and know if they are or are not along for the ride.

Nick Trengove, Lizzie Nichols, Megan Trout, Charlie Gurke and Geof Libby — all We Players friends and collaborators — watch a scene during a dress rehearsal. Photo by Tracy Martin.

In “The Odyssey on Angel Island” there are many miles walked with the audience, many scenes that have improvisation, and nature is an ever changing partner as well. How the show manifests, in many ways is dependent on that unique audience’s personalities and choices. In rehearsing the Odyssey we did our best to stand in for each other’s scenes as audience, to fill in those gaps of experience for both the audience and ourselves that would make up a large chunk of our show. We also made use of happenstance audiences that thought they were just coming to a state park for a picnic.  A family laughed as they got called out as rabblerousing suitors. A man on the beach bonded with Hermes by yelling out his approval. A group of boy scouts were drawn to our happenings, unexpectedly finding themselves a part of a scene. These joys and challenges of performing in a public space began in rehearsal, but something we couldn’t simulate was engaging with and moving an audience of over a hundred people to a point that they want to actively join in the story and enjoy it.

An audience member dances with Penelope (Libby Kelly). Photo by Tracy Martin.

Our opening weekend started with an invited dress, then preview, followed by Saturday and Sunday shows. Our audience doubled each day, which was a great way to learn what these new partners might do as they grow in number. Of course each audience is and will be different and not just in size. This audience talks back, they want to participate in different ways and to different degrees, they challenge your engagement as a performer with unexpected questions and actions.  Making connections with these individuals as well as the group at large is key so that we fulfill our objectives not just with our fellow actors, but also with the audience that doesn’t know the script.  The skills needed to play directly with the audience will grow and change with each show. This is the truly exciting part that keeps the story alive now that the final partner is cast, the audience, and the reason why we do this, the ones with whom we share our gift of communal creation and wonder.

The audience joins in a folk dance on the island of Aolia (Camp Reynolds, Angel Island). Photo by Tracy Martin.

Julie Douglas can be seen running around Angel Island in “The Odyssey” as Athena, Circe, and other ensemble roles. She is a Bay Area actor, theatre-maker, clown, teacher, director and mask maker. Most recently she directed a youth version of…yep, you guessed it…”The Odyssey” and performed with Shotgun Players in “Road to Hades”. JulieDouglas.weebly.com

The Odyssey on Angel Island runs weekends through July 1. For reservations and more information, please visit www.weplayers.org. You can also “like” We Players on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @weplayers for more behind-the-scenes tidbits and the latest news.

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One comment on “Postcards From The Odyssey #3: Our Partner The Audience

  1. Joe Buck says:

    My family participated in (“saw” is the wrong word) your amazing production last Saturday. It was fantastic, I loved it as did we all. My wife and daughter love doing amateur musical theater; I cheer them on and love to hike. You were amazing, all of you, I thank you and am eager for more.

    Joe

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