Since the A.R.T. blog went live, there have been several blog entries chronicling the night before a play has its first audience. I’ve previously resisted writing such an entry because it seems dangerous to write a reflection on the final days of a rehearsal process. It’s vulnerable. So much will be fixed and changed in the final 24 hours before the first audience enters the room. But after watching the run tonight, I was struck by how much energy went into creating The Killing Game in the past 31 days. Yet, what will the audience reaction be? Will they find it as funny as we do?
It all began exactly a month ago—May 1st. It was important to Scott Zigler that the final project for the class of 2007 be an ensemble show, so this script gave the class the opportunity to work as a “collective creation.” Collective creation is a more democratic process. The ensemble presents to the company stylistic and conceptual ideas for a scene and then the director edits. Conversely, the actors have to be prepared for constant changes and be understanding if a favorite joke gets cut from the show. Zigler warned the actors not to get attached to one particular thing. In the past month, I have admired this cast for being extremely willing to change things at the last minute and make adjustments.
It was also important for the actors and director to look at the source material that inspired Ionesco to write The Killing Game. In particular, Ionesco was struck by Antonin Artaud’s statement that “Theatre is like the Plague” from The Theatre and It’s Double. What is interesting about Artaud’s essay on the plague is that it was first delivered as a lecture and got a very emotional response from the audience in 1933.
“At first people gasped,” observer Anais Nin recorded, “and then they began to laugh. Everyone was laughing! They hissed. Then one by one, they began to leave, noisely, talking, protesting…But Artaud went on, until the last gasp.”
If this was reaction to Artaud’s argument that theatre should be like the plague, what will be our audience reaction’s to Ionesco’s play that attempts to make theatre like the plague? Will they laugh? Will they hiss? Will they walk out?
Artaud wanted theatre to create an experience for the audience “so they will be terrified, and awaken…[The audience] does not realize they are dead.“
In the breaks during tech and on my subway rides to and from the theatre, I have been re-reading Camus’ The Plague, another source that inspired Ionesco to write The Killing Game. Fragments of the prose strike me as extremely relevant. “At the end of these weeks, after all these evenings…” “…[the] dreary struggle between the happiness of each individual and the abstraction of the plague…” “…blurred with fatigue…” “…a male nurse came in wearing a white mask.” But one sentence from The Plague really hit home.
“However, where some people saw abstraction, others saw truth.”
Everything in the show that has been created up to this moment has been an abstraction. Until the audience arrives, it remains an abstraction—actors, sets, lights, costumes, props, video, music are all just pieces arranged in a composition. Without an audience, it is meaningless and (dare I say it) absurd. The hope then, is that after our last 24 hours of working together, the audience will arrive and judge for themselves if they can see truth.