By Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, Associate Director of Artistic Programming
Can an audience of kids and families be a part of the creation of a new show? How can their reactions, ideas and questions help artists during their creative process? We’re hard at work (or should I say, play) answering that question this month as the 2013-14 New Victory LabWorks artists complete their residency year and present their works-in-progress to an audience of New Victory members. What will these artists learn from family audiences and how will feedback shape these shows that are being designed with kids and families in mind?
For the past year, Parallel Exit, along with three other New York-based companies, were provided with support, feedback and rehearsal space at the New 42nd Street Studios to experiment with new ideas and breath life into new shows for kids and families (read more about these projects). Known for their vaudevillian humor and physical comedy antics, Parallel Exit set out create something totally new during their residency: a theatrical world in which “there is no separation between the artists and the audience,” described Mark Lonergan, artistic director of Parallel Exit. The company was intrigued by “the idea of surrounding an audience with a live experience” and “seeing how this unique company of artists can connect with an audience in a new and exciting way.”
After three creative residency phases over the last year, the company presented their “first draft” of Best Fort Ever this past week, a performance about a group of friends reuniting in their childhood fort. To help realize their ideas, Parallel Exit built a full-sized fort out of hundreds of cardboard boxes, creating a makeshift performance venue (ultimately, the company plans to build a fully-designed fort for their set). When the audience arrived, they were taught the password to gain access to the fort, and were invited to enter by way of the visitors entrance, a winding cardboard tunnel lit by a string of lights. Once inside, the audience was seated in the four corners of the fort, and the antics unfolded all around. The story itself, a funny and nostalgic ode to playfulness and what happens to the ability to play when we grow up, struck a chord with both kids and adults in the audience.
Following the 30-minute excerpt presentation, kids and parents were asked to provide feedback for the artists. Completing a questionnaire designed in collaboration between the artists and the New Victory staff, parents and kids had insightful debates about the story, the design and the overall experience of the show. Families shared their responses with the company and the rest of the audience. Finally, they told the artistic team what they would include in a fort if they built their own, adding to the ideas that the company will use in their next iteration of the show.
It was thrilling to see kids and parents actively engaging in conversation with each other and with the New Victory LabWorks artists following the show. Not only did the guest audience enjoy a sneak peek at a brand new performance in the making, but they also participated in the creative process, taking an active role in a piece of theater that is being created specifically for them. It can be challenging for a group of adult artists to know what will actually work (and what won’t) when making a show for family audiences. New Victory LabWorks provides the opportunity for the audience to give valuable insight and for kids and families to be in the rehearsal room to contribute their ideas, questions and creativity. We look forward to seeing how their feedback might ultimately inform the course of artistic development in the future of these new works.
Our next work-in-progress showing on June 27 and 28 when Shoehorn Theater Company presents the first public performance of Light: A Dark Comedy. Also stay tuned for the announcement of the 2014-15 roster of New Victory LabWorks Resident Artists – offering New Victory audiences the chance to interact with a whole new group of artists, participate in the creative process, and see several new works-in-progress in the coming year!