I had the fortune to participate in Simon McBurney's current Broadway experience, THE ENCOUNTER. I got to my seat early and had the opportunity to see the headsets attached to the back of each seat that directed me to make sure I had them oriented on the correct ears. Then Simon came out very casually with the house lights still on to dialog with us. It's a one man show but we all felt included from the very beginning. The Danish couple next to me were sweetly translating the encounter to each other and the worst NY moment was the jerk in front of me telling them to quiet down; lame.
Does my headline sound derogatory? I am a huge fan of the podcast format but I have questions for Simon; I hope he returns my tweet request for an interview in altSpaceVR (check it out, seriously). THE ENCOUNTER was on my radar immediately this theater season due to the three dimensionality it explores and the production delivers aurally, but the visuals were left to our imagination; why?
At this point I should say that the story Simon tells is extraordinary. Its about the photographer Loren McIntyre travelled to the Javari valley in the Amazon and the subsequent novel he wrote. Simon retells the story of his journey with a microphone – we listen with those headphones attached to the backs of our seats. Despite the hallucinatory nature of its narrative, the story behind The Encounter itself isn’t in dispute. In 1994, McBurney was given a copy of Petru Popescu’s 1991 book Amazon Beaming by his fellow director Annie Castledine. The book is based on a real-life encounter between an American photographer, Loren McIntyre, and an Amazonian tribe called the Matsés or Mayoruna. Elusive and little studied by anthropologists, the Mayoruna are known as the “cat people” for their practice of inserting thin wooden spikes into their noses in imitation of jaguars; adding to the mystery, the tribal chief seems to have been able to communicate with McIntyre telepathically. The photographer related these facts to the rescuer who found him six weeks later floating in a canoe, starving and half-naked; the other tales he told were even more unfathomable.
Now that I do some research re: the intent of the project, I understand a little better what Simon and Complicite intended to explore but I guess I am sculpting my opinion with Marshall McLuan in mind: WHY BROADWAY??!!? I assume that there must be some metric out there that has to do with commerce, EGOT-awards and personal habits on stage and the venn diagram those three things envelope because, when I attend any live performance these days, I am functioning under the laws of physics (as far as they are understood by my creative brain/heart) in combination with the five elements of production: scenery, lighting, sound, projections and costumes to support the text and performer; am I forgetting anything?
So my thoughts about the PRODUCTION ELEMENTS --
AUDIO fantastic: Sennheiser is an industry standard in my book. It did not surprise me at all when Simon introduced us to the NEUMANN KU100 Dummy Head microphone by approaching the "left ear" of the mic (see the pic at the beginning of this post and buy at www.collabRjabbR.com) and talking directly in to the correlating left ear now embedded headphone in my LEFT ear. It was disorienting, uplifting and similar to those moments I have in the car when I transport into the podcast I am listening to and forget about the LIE around me...
LIGHTING, SCENERY and COSTUMES simplistic: which I assume is distinctly deliberate. Contrast Does = Greater Interest and the audience was clearly engrossed in the sounds injected into our ears making us feel the hallucinations, attacks, exhaustion and visceral FEAR that Loren felt. My fav moment btw was when he awakes in his hammock and his camera is up in a tree and the meaning of his entire journey becomes pointless removing his ability to document the Mayoruna visually (I too have been transformed in to this state of mind with my iPhone in my pocket and my children by my side as though what we did together does not exist without video). But about 12 minutes in to the story I took my headphones off; I wondered what the theater sounded like? Was there a soundscape in the theater as well? I didn't sense one. A missed opportunity. And I waited for the lights to change color but they stayed within a very tight palette of warm-to-cool "white light" and six distinct angles. His costume certainly evoked adventure, maybe even war-like environments, but no added textures or colors as the story reached its deep embedded psycho-drama for the photographer, the head of the tribe and the indigenous community he infiltrated. And the scenery of a white desk, mic, videotape and roadcase were tabula-rasa that embodied aural elements, but not visual ones. At one point Simon strewn(s) across the stage this huge mass of VHS-like videotape and uses it to exponentially increase the blast inside our headphones of leaves rustling and forest attacking Loren, but, no increase in the visual dynamics. Why not?
PROJECTIONS lame: Too strong for me to say, I am sure, and I sense my place in this discussion. Mr. McBurney and his longtime producer Judith Dimant know way better than I do about the use of the production elements available to them in a West End or Broadway space/budget and this is why I hope to amend this post with their reply/interview but, I will speak very personally, I was bored. I saw a super bright projector that played games with my depth/imagination but ultimately, with a story so visual and rich, why not take us to different to a wider range of "places"?
This is not a rhetorical question; please, tell me. Please.
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