Home > Directing > Site Specific Venues -WTF? I Wanna See, Too

LANGUAGE AND CRANKY LADY ALERT

I had a really unfortunate Fringe this year in which, for various reasons, I missed a lot of or deeply important moments in plays because I couldn’t see. Let’s be clear: I am short. And short people got no reason to….  But, hey, I bought a ticket, too.

I am not going to name the shows in question because I am not trying to shame anyone. As Mamet says, careful what you criticize other shows for because two years later, you’ll find yourself doing the exact same thing. This is true. I am living proof. Better to stay humble, I am thinking.

But my series of unfortunate events at Fringe this year made me really think about site specific and the challenges therein in terms of blocking. I have quite a bit of experience with site specific – having popped up a theatre on the Danforth about five years ago, did Shakespeare there only doors from where the Coalmine now stands. And I recently put another show in a bar. I get it.

And a lot of people kinda shrug and say, “It’s a site specific at the Fringe. What do you expect?” I expect to be able to see.

So, I have advice and here it is. I wish all directors of site specific theatre the best of luck. You have the hardest job; so cheers.

THE FUCKING PILLAR, THE FUCKED PATRON, and FUCKING ON THE FLOOR.

Sounds like a Fringe play, seriously. Look, I know. I get it. You walk into the space and there it is, THE FUCKING PILLAR which blocks a chunk of audience from seeing a lot of the important moments in the show. Or you walk into the space and the shape is odd and people may be partially or fully obstructed (FUCKED PATRON) because they chose the wrong side of the room to sit on. Or, you have no raised space and all the cool parts of the show are FUCKING ON THE FLOOR; soooooo, everyone but the front row misses poignant shit.

Firstly, dear Director, sit in the space. Sit in it. Sit all around it; every part of it. Get a strong sense of what the space is about in your mind. It will help you in rehearsal, trust me. What areas of the stage are blocked? What are your challenges? Run the play in your imagination and see where you think things are going to be staged. Then, imagine being a short, slightly portly (okay, really portly) middle-aged woman. Imagine, then, someone super tall beside her or in front of her or irritating leaning constantly in the way guy. Ask yourself: can I see everything?

Now, I am guessing just going through that exercise alone would have opened up a lot of those obstructed shows for me. A lot of directors forget that someone other than them is watching and a lot of directors tend to sit in the best seat in the house to watch their own show during rehearsal. Also, there is sometimes the sense that the art is more important than the experience for the audience but I can tell you that we perform to please, we produce to please one body: our audience. We owe it to them to let them all see all the things.

So a few ideas about how to deal with obstructions:

  1. Can the playable area be moved so that there is no longer an obstruction? Just because a room is currently set up a certain way does not mean that you have to set it up that way. Most site specific in the Fringe allow for more time to set up, too, so move things around a bit.
  2. Be creative with play settings. Just because the script says a person dies here or cries there doesn’t mean that those moments actually have to occur where written. But, you say, my vision! My heart! Yeah, yeah. But, buddy, I bought a ticket too. So.
  3. Move your actors during the scene. Block them such that they shift the picture enough to allow at least part of the scene to be visible to people behind THE FUCKING PILLAR. But, you scream, it’s a quiet moment! It needs to be still. Yeah, yeah. Figure it out. You’re smart and that’s why they hired you.
  4. Raise the stage, if you can or raise the audience. Risers are dead easy to come by. We all want to see what they’re doing FUCKING ON THE FLOOR.
  5. Consider some built in standing room seating – especially for 60 minute time slots. I often, if I know, choose the standing room only because I can see the whole thing better.
  6. Make sure FOH knows about obstructions and tells folks where to sit and not or suggests that short people stand, for example.
  7. And, finally, if you cannot do any of the above, block off the fucking obstructed seats. Don’t sell them.

There. I feel better.

#fringefestival #theatre #Toronto #fringe #directing

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