How can live performance heal our sense of isolation?
In my new show, “Alone With All of You: A Valentine’s Alternative,” audience members will begin by entering a labyrinth, an exhibition that isolates them as they travel through. The labyrinth will then transform until we are together, experiencing a concert of original improv music and acting. This show is a collaboration with Benjamin Lloyd at the White Pines Place, featuring musicians Wes Morton and Sam Nobles and actors from Bright Invention: Johnny Smith, Michelle Pauls, Leah Holleran, and Gavin Whitt.
“The Seven Invitations” – an anonymous survey
I started by writing “The Seven Invitations,” which invite people to share their experiences of loneliness and connection. I decided that, instead of questions, which seem more like an interrogation, that I would write unfinished sentences. A question can be a spotlight when you’re naked on a stage, a silent staring audience demanding an answer. Instead, I’m just inviting people to finish the sentences, like, “hey, I ate half of this cookie, do you want the other half?”
Alone with all of you
What’s amazing to me is how similar everyone’s responses were to this survey. In the exhibition, we will display the anonymous responses as a collection. One of my favorite things to do with my performances is to bring the parts of ourselves that we hide in dark shadowy places out into the light, so they can breathe. The purpose of displaying the responses is to share how our experiences of being alone, and the things we wish to hide, are things that we all share. Maybe we don’t have to hide after all!
The Exhibition – entering the labyrinth
Set designer Rick Neidig helped us to actualize the idea of the labyrinth in the White Pines Place. In the exhibition, I wanted to let audience members contribute, in the same way that they’ve contributed to the seven invitations. In this way, every show will be different, and built on the audience’s anonymous contributions. In addition, people attending this concert can make masks to wear, make valentines, and choose to carry out fun “quests” in the labyrinth. Eventually, the labyrinth will shift and change, and our walls disappear.
The Performance – isolation was just a mirage
Our goal in this show is to let the performance develop moment by moment, being truly present with ourselves and the audience. Therefore, much of the music and acting is structured loosely with the idea that we can react spontaneously to each other and to the audience. This is a stretch for me, because I’m much more comfortable with having every detail of a performance rehearsed. I’m challenging myself to allow the music (and lyrics!) to develop as we go. The show features a few new pieces of music, as well as songs from my album “My Own Frankenstein,” songs from 2015, and even a song from the 50-song summer that I’ve never performed live. In addition, I’m playing some new instruments. Sometimes with music, and sometimes in silence, the Bright Invention actors will do improv around the 7 invitations and suggestions from the audience.
But what will Noelle stick in her eyes? What will she put on her head?
We all know I love to see how much junk I can stick in my eyes. How difficult can I make it to actually see and play my instrument while balancing things on my head? It’s a fun game I like to play. Anyway, this show revolves around masks, and the idea that we wear different faces to meet different people and different situations. That’s all I’m telling you. You’ll have to come and see!
Take the survey and experience the show
Join us for two shows on Saturday, February 6th at from 8-10 p.m. and on Sunday, February 14th from 2-4 p.m. at the White Pines Place in Elkins Park, PA (just outside of center city Philadelphia). You can buy tickets and find details by clicking here. We can only seat 45 people, so buy your tickets in advance!
Photo credits: Top photo by Patty Maher (that’s not me in the photo). Bottom photo by Joe del Tufo (that one is me).