Do you agree with the following statement?
Theatre presents a special art form because of the actors’ personal, intimate relationship with the audience. They share in the same, live moments, unique to that performance because every performance with a different audience is different.
I’ve often heard or read this idea, expressed by people who work in theatre. As I felt understanding theatre largely depends upon similarities of audiences’ experiences, I disagreed. Until now.
If you are literally one of the lucky few who has the chance to see the site-specific performance, Hotel Project, immediately snap up your opportunity. I emphasize the word one because this show is “an experience for one spectator at a time,” as described by its producers, The Internationalists and Neighborhood Productions.
Three 20-minute plays were staged in different rooms of the Grand Summit Hotel, a stately, country inn built in 1868, in Summit, New Jersey. The guests/audience waited in an elegant reception room, sipping wine, while actors playing hotel employees registered arrivals. Ticket holders’ programs started at different and staggered times. An actress playing a hotel guide/personal usher, dropped off and collected each guest at one room at a time, where a different play would come to life.
Playwrights and directors from around the world came to the hotel, and created plays specifically tailored to and named after the rooms, where the plays were performed. The Internationalists artistic director, an American, Doug Howe, said the teams first interviewed the hotel staff. The theatre folks repeatedly heard about the rumors of ghosts and haunted rooms. This set the creative stage for stories to develop.
“Room 207”: Vincent Ingrisano, Becca Ballenger
The first play, “Room 207”, written by Beatriz Cabur of Spain and directed by Howe, presented a traditional physical and verbal comedy of errors. A young groom in a tuxedo argued with his brother in one room. The stage soon expanded to the adjoining room, where a bride in a wine-stained wedding gown fretted with pre-wedding stress to her friend. I shadowed the characters, often standing within inches of the action. The play neatly resolved in a happy reconciliation and ending.
In escorting me to “Presidential Suite D” (a collaboration between Romanian playwright, Peca Stefan and American director, Tamilla Woodard), my guide built up an eerie suspense, by nervously humming, while we waited alone on a hallway bench. Eventually, I entered the suite, to find a young man, lying on a bed, in his underwear, waiting for a romantic evening with his fiancée. She surprised him (and me) by popping out of a storage cabinet. The story unfolded — the fiancée died in a car accident, coming to meet him at the hotel. Yet she lives on and on, haunting him in his unending sadness and grief. In this emotionally intense piece, one of the largest rooms in the hotel seemed to shrink into a very small space.
My guide then walked with me down the long, muted yellow, softly lit, carpeted corridors and down the stairs. As the hotel also housed actual guests, it felt strange not knowing whether those who passed in the hall or smiled at me were part of the play or not. This heightened the displacement of erasing the boundaries of theatre.
In the last play, “Room 49” (written by Mexican playwright/director, Alfonso Carcamo, and Romanian director, Ana Margineanu), a pharmaceutical sales representative tries to commit suicide. Suddenly, from the back window and backdoor, a bride in a flowing, white gown, who suffers from amnesia, enters the scene. As they attempt suicide together by drinking his drug samples, bubbles gracefully float by in perfection, outside the window.
“Room 49”: Calaine Schafer
“I can’t marry you because I’m bankrupt,” he says. She responds, “And I can’t marry you because … ” providing a hauntingly sad reason that closes the play with a logical ending.
In tightly written, clever, fast paced stories, sure-footed actors gave polished performances, never wilting in energy, despite their grueling schedules, under extreme close-up observations. No separation of stage, actors and audience existed. I picked any vantage point to watch the plays. Although we never spoke or directly communicated, I know they perceived and responded to my reactions. My proximity to the actors heightened both the comedy and tragedy, for us all. I felt the authentic discomfort of voyeurism in watching what without a stage would be extremely private moments, including the intensity of viewing the most private thoughts inside a character’s mind.
It was strange and exciting to be so close to the characters. I did feel the intimate relationship of sharing the same live moments, unique to that performance. Go see Hotel Project. You will feel the production was all created just for you. And it will have been created just for you — and the love of theatre.
The next production consists of a new set of plays, created by another international team of writers and directors, specifically for performances at the Washington Jefferson Hotel, in New York City.
Hotel Project – The Grand Summit Hotel in Summit, New Jersey (January 27 – 29) and at The Washington Jefferson Hotel, New York City (February 3 – 5) Tickets $55,