And no, I’m not talking about babies or children. I’m talking about theater created specifically for a small number of people to experience at any given time.

In the span of 3 weeks, I observed 3 different performances that sparked this thought process:

Magic Futurebox's co-production of FGP FEAR, a multidisciplinary night of performances that took place in various spots around MFb and featured a handful of installation performances designed for just one person. Between and after the public performances, there was a constant line to experience whatever was happening in those curtained or boxed or headphoned off areas. Everyone wanted to try everything, and many of the artists were begged to keep going long after they had plans to break down.

• Our production of Forth, a live rock n roll radio play theater experiment, in which an audience of less than 40 sat in rolling, swivel-seat office chairs in the center of a tiny space and watched the performers around them.

• My most recent and last visit to Sleep No More (documented here) where one-on-ones have become so well known that audiences spend the whole night crowding performers, hoping to be chosen to enter a room with a character and hear the door click closed behind them.

When Meiyin Wang, the director of Forth, came to us and said she wanted to place all of the action of Forth in one tiny, 22’x22’ room of MFb’s 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse space, I have to admit I was skeptical. Here we were with enough space to accommodate literally a thousand people, and we were confining everything to a space that comfortably held only 25. But the execution of the piece, in which 2 or 3 dozen audience members braved 200 feet of a long dark hallway to sit in the small, safe womb of the tiny room distilled the subject of the piece (the intoxication, addiction, & disorientation of opiate use) perfectly.

It was inevitable, with the success of Sleep No More, that other companies would try their hand at large scale theatrical experiences meant for hundreds of people at a time. This summer, I attended The Tenant, a free  production in the same vein that used several floors of a church to tell the story of the 1976 Roman Polanski film. While the work was a valiant effort by several incredibly talented and notable New York playwrights, directors, designers, and actors, the production suffered from ambition that far outstripped the financial and material resources needed to make it as successful as the intricately naturalistic Punchdrunk piece.

After Fear and Forth, I started to consider what The Tenant, or any other immersive theatrical experience, would be like if, instead of trying to create an entire world for hundreds of people, we started focusing on making perfect little productions that can only be experienced by a small audience. While the income incentive of having hundreds of people pay for tickets is obvious, the expense to do it at the level of Sleep No More is extraordinary, and to attempt something that grand and intricate without the resources to do it can be frustrating for artists and audiences alike.

As indie theatre artists, I think it’s critical to the success of our art that we work within the bounds of what is available to us and explode through those restrictions by wringing every last drop of potential out of them… But that doesn’t mean we can’t create worlds for our audiences just because we don’t have millions of dollars. Maybe thinking small is the new way for us indie theater artists to think big.

  1. suzaneraslan posted this