I have been reading or listening to interviews about relaxed performances. Many of these focus on the benefits for the audience.
I have just finished two days of consecutive performing of “Curious Jac” at the Spot On Children’s Theatre festival at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. One show per day was a relaxed performance. The benefits are also for the performers and I want to expand on this a little today.
As the performer there are three fundamental ways that the experience differs; warmth, surprise and practicality.
By far the top of the list is that there is genuine warmth that develops in the theatre throughout the show. It is palpable. It is hard to explain and I will try my best so please stick with me. At first all are expectant and getting used to the space and what is going to happen in front and around us. As the story and performance take over there is a moment when we all converge emotionally. The room fills with this enthusiasm and becomes a pulsing energy that is warm, it holds you as a performer and human and it brings the story to life. This warmth is also filled with the enthusiasm of being there, the sheer joy and raw emotion of the audience.
That is the magic of theatre for all. It is a moment in time, it is un-recordable and if we tried to re-enact it we couldn’t. It is the pure energy of being in the moment and it is the epitome of performing. And yes, this moment can happen in relaxed and non-relaxed performances. When you put it together with the surprising array of responses and the honest enthusiasm of being there that the relaxed performance audience tends to hold it is rare and I believe fairly unique to relaxed performances.
Second are the surprises.
This audience constantly surprises all of the performers with their ability to truly think out of the box. I ask for a lot of interaction and input and this audience will ask questions and give perspectives that are heartfelt, creative and honestly things I had not considered previously.
An example; Curious Jac the show is about a girl who is curious, always asks questions and loves adventure. She has her questions answered by stories from around the world (Why So stories). I ask the audience for their questions. One boy asked from his heart – “Why don’t we all play instruments. I mean some people are poets, some people sing but why don’t we all create with instruments?”
Another question – “Why do we all see things differently?”
These and other amazing, thoughtful questions that have stayed with me. So true and honest and I am still considering.
Also the responses to a story or event in a story can be surprising. This week one child came to the front to help in a tug-o-war section of the Anansi story of how the Spider got his skinny waist. This was the first child I have encountered in the three years of performing this theatre show that had absolutely no interest in competition. Not even to fulfil a story. The notion of a competitive action did not enter his physicality at all. He genuinely enjoyed being on stage, being seen and held the rope although there was no connection at all to competition with the other helper and pulling on the rope. I was shocked, it’s the first time that has happened and it was awesome. He challenged an assumption that I have relied on for years – that we all understand competition’ even if we aren’t a competitive person by nature. I feel so happy to let go of that assumption and to be taught differently by this one persons ability to stay in his body and perception of the world!
These kinds of events make me feel alive and honoured to be there.
Finally the third difference is the practicalities.
For me as the storyteller and the live musicians this means a few practical differences that impact our time. We are all on stage as the audience enters and we all intro the music, the story line, any interaction and cues for large sounds. Practically it means we are on stage longer. A relaxed performance adds 20/30 minutes to a 55-minute performance.
The house lights are kept up and people can enter and leave at any time. This can be distracting as the storyteller. You can mix where you are up to and a person leaving can grab the attention of the audience. You have to be good at catching yourself, any shifts in your attention or concentration; you have to be very good at finding your grooving again and again and again.
In fact a relaxed performance is the ultimate test of your performance and creation skills. When you have openly given permission to leave or call out whenever the audience want you need to make sure you have no boring bits in your play and if there is you will know it in seconds.
For me as the writer of the script and the performer that has got to be the ultimate test. And I LOVE it.
Performing stories on stage is wonderful. Performing with intuitive musicians is a blessing of creative interaction. Performing to an audience an honour and to a relaxed audience it is a heightened honour and joy. I hope all performers and creators out there jump in and do the relaxed performance shows.
For those not in the know a relaxed performances “are designed … to extend a warm welcome to anyone who might find it difficult to follow the usual conventions of theatre etiquette.” This includes people with autism, Tourette’s or other non social norm compliant conditions.
House lights are normally left on low and strobe lighting may be removed. Loud noises or explosions are either taken out entirely or reduced. The audience is free to go in and out as needed and latecomer rules are relaxed. Making noise during the performance is not discouraged. There are additional staff members on hand to assist as required and the cast and crew has awareness training before the performance. Chill-out areas are provided for anyone who may become overwhelmed by the performance. The house opens earlier. In some performances a cast member will speak to the audience before the show, welcoming them.