The more performance art I experience, the more I realize how personal that experience is. I love that it is personal. I love that it is ephemeral, too. It is impossible to sustain or even to reproduce exactly, because it is live. The only way to truly experience a live theatre piece is to be present for it, open to it.
If you are a regular reader of Indy Theatre Habit, you know that I took a long step back in 2011. I needed a break for a number of reasons. One was that I was having an existential, “what am I doing here?!?” kind of crisis. I still haven’t found satisfying answers to the many layers in that question, but I am making good progress. And in the meantime, I have found that I miss writing publicly about my experiences at the theatres. Maybe it’s an ego thing. Maybe there’s more to it than that. But in any case, I miss it.
So…I have decided to blog about theatre again in 2012, but this time doing it more…personally? More authentically? Anyway, more mindfully and selectively, and just see where it takes me. As I say, I’m still figuring this out as I go along.
But first, a look back at 2011:
I experienced 91 live performance art shows in 2011. I missed that many and more just around my home in the Indianapolis, Indiana area, so I really shouldn’t use the words “most” or “best” or whatever in this post. Still, 91 is 91. Here are a few end-of-the-year thoughts:
The Best Shows Artistically from 2011
Looking back over all of the shows I saw in 2011, there happen to be six shows that stand out to me now for their artistic quality. In each of these shows, the many elements – script, acting, directing, set design, costumes, sound, lights, and more – came together in an exceptionally satisfying way. I’m sorry I can’t list every person that contributed to making each of these shows a special treat but I appreciate them all. The six shows, in the order I saw them, are:
- “I Hate Hamlet” – written by Paul Rudnick; directed by Lori Raffel for the Carmel Community Players. (I saw this one twice.)
- “Avenue Q: The Musical” – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; directed by Bryan Fonseca for the Phoenix Theatre. (I saw this one twice, too, and am delighted that the Phoenix is bringing it back for a second run in 2012.)
- “The Drowsy Chaperone” – book by Bob Martin and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison; directed for the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre by Ron Morgan at the new Center for the Performing Arts.
- “Lost: a Memoir” – written by Cathy Ostlere and Dennis Garnhum; directed for the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Going Solo” series. It starred Constance Macy.
- “Night of the Living Dead,” adapted by R. Brian Noffke from the George A. Romero cult-classic film, directed by R. Brian Noffke for Acting Up Productions, presented at the Indy Fringe Theatre. (I saw this one twice.)
- “The Student” a short play written by Matt Hoverman; directed by Bryan Fonseca and presented as part of the Phoenix Theatre’s “Our Goose Is Cooked: A Very Phoenix Xmas 6.” It starred Scot Greenwell and Charles Goad.
The Most Personally Powerful Shows in 2011
Looking back over all of the shows I saw in 2011, there also happen to be four shows that resonated with me on very personal levels, beyond the artistry and content of the shows themselves, if that makes sense. I mean, I admired the artistry in them, but I treasure my experiences of them because each one caused a strong healing or teaching or something else extra within me. I’m not going to take a lot of space to try to explain what I mean here because it’s personal. I’ll just list the four shows in the order I saw them and add a brief comment:
- “Paul Strickland: Any Title That Works” written and performed by comedian Paul Strickland at the Indy Fringe Festival. This autobiographical one-man show included letters to his future self, which intrigued me and got me thinking about my own future self and what I might say to her. But also, I was at a point in my life right then when I desperately needed to meet an honorable man in order to remember they exist. This show did that for me.
- “Beer Can Raft,” written by Lou Harry, directed by Karen Irwin for the Indy Fringe Festival. This piece consisted of four related vignettes that on one level spoke to me joyfully and mischievously about the capriciousness of life in general but which on another level made me realize what an idiot I had been about a few things in my own life. The wake-up call made me cry, but I appreciated getting it.
- “I Love to Eat,” written and directed by James Still for the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Going Solo” series, starring Robert Neal. I hated that the IRT had hired a slim actor and put him in a fat suit to portray TV cooking show host James Beard. Were there no fat actors skilled enough, deserving enough, to play this juicy role? Seriously? You couldn’t have paid me to watch an actor in a fat suit. On the other hand…it was a play written and directed by James Still. I love James Still’s work. Love won over hate, but just barely, and I dragged myself kicking and fuming to see this show. I even experimented with being “skinny and mean” (James Beard’s expression) or rather, cold and closed off as an audience member, and for a while during the show this made me feel powerful. But then…James Still’s words broke me open. I can’t explain it any better than that. And then I just didn’t care any more about who has the right to carry what baggage. Robert Neal did a great job of bringing James’ words to life, and I left the theatre feeling wracked, but also as if I had spent the afternoon with two complex, fully human people: James Beard and myself. It wasn’t all sweetness and light, but it was good.
- “The Student” a short play written by Matt Hoverman; directed by Bryan Fonseca and presented as part of the Phoenix Theatre’s “Our Goose Is Cooked: A Very Phoenix Xmas 6,” which was a collection of short plays, songs, etc. “The Student” starred Scot Greenwell and Charles Goad. Right after I saw the Phoenix’ Xmas show, I wrote in the comments on Lou Harry’s Arts & Entertainment blog on IBJ.com that “My favorite piece was called ‘The Teacher’…” (I had the title wrong) “…I was surprised to find myself weeping during it. I guess it just pushed (in a good way) a lot of my buttons related to storytelling, writing, and teaching.” But later I came to realize that I loved it even more because it was about the complexity and poignancy of self-acceptance. This little two-hander is on both of my “best of 2011” lists.
I also treasure the one or two theatre experiences that were almost a complete waste of my time in 2011. I don’t want more than three of those per year and I am not interested in naming them publicly but when I go to a show and there comes a moment in which I think, “Hey, I am actually pretty bored here! I wish I had not chosen this show today over all the other possibilities!” it makes the moments at other shows in which I suddenly hug myself and think, “Oh, I am so glad I’m here!” all the more satisfying.
In other words, experiencing a bad show now and then makes the sweet risk of theatre-going all the sweeter when I find myself at a great show. It makes the pay-off for risk-taking all the more gratifying.
Thank you, everyone that helped to make my theatre-going adventures in 2011 so very sweet and rich.
Hope Baugh – Indy Theatre Habit
(Photo above was taken by me with my trusty iPhone. I bid highest for this snowpeople basket in the Phoenix Theatre’s holiday auction a few years ago so now it is mine.)