The first thing we found was that we had too much money. That seems impossible. But impacting, innovative theatre does not need floor to ceiling sets, animal puppets, or fog machines. (We did want a fog machine at one point.) There was something both vulnerable and accessible about a bare stage and simple costumes. Instead of distracting, or entertaining the audience with special effects, we focused on communicating the messages of the piece. That communication took several forms. One of the main forms was direct address. We took that a step further and created what I call interactive monologues. One person does the majority of speaking, using the audience and other actors as points of inspiration or connection. I have often found direct address to be lacking in subtlety and abundant in cliche. However, the themes of Charisma - connection, identity, sharing stories, and fears about the future - particularly lent themselves to direct address The audience, many of them college students, had a personal connection to the material presented.
What was unique about Charisma was that we weren't playing fictional characters, but rather heightened versions of ourselves. The bare stage reflected the baring of our own personal thoughts, fears, and hopes for life after college. Current college students in the audience were able to relate to the experiences we portrayed onstage, and adults were able to reflect back on their own experiences and the experiences of their children. Multiple students approached me and my cast members after the performance, some crying, some laughing, all appreciative of the truthfulness of the performance and the content. One of the audience members, currently a teacher at the university, stated, "I had heard these themes throughout my time in education, but this show shed a new light on them that I hadn't heard before." Another confided, "It was really comforting, on some level, to know that you are all still struggling with some of the same things I struggled with when I was in college, and that you're trying to figure out how to turn your struggles and challenges into opportunities to not only make your life better, but the lives of those around you as well."
Live theatre is unique in its ability to create a powerful, personal connection between performers and audience. The creators of new work in theatre must identify their audience, find the possible points of emotional and contextual connection, and commiserate, educate, and illuminate. In a world where social media dominates public attention, live theatre holds a precarious position. Integration of media and technology into theatre is a bold and necessary step forward. But a return to the simple, the visceral, and the personal is also necessary. The beauty of theatre is an ephemeral beauty, and that is what makes it precious. The experience of theatre is of watching real, live you-could-reach-out-and-touch-them people saying words that will never be said in the same way again. And yet the words, the messages, the performances, stay with the people in the audience who have experienced them. Charisma 2014* was an original work of theatre, music, and dance, which grew from intense trust and collaboration and existed for three nights of performance. The connection formed between actor and audience will endure. The play will not. That is live theatre.
© 2014 by Anne Yumi Kobori
*Charisma 2014 featured the work and performances of Laurel Bettis, Rachel Bove, Tennyson Jones, Danielle Kaigler, Anne Yumi Kobori, and Gavin Mueller. It was directed by Gavin Mueller and advised by Carolyn Silberman.