BWW Interview: Edward Einhorn on PERFORMANCE FOR ONE at Chashama
Performance for One is a one-on-one performance event written and directed by Edward Einhorn, presented in 10 minute slots at venues across Manhattan. The performance is about memory, but even more so, it is about relationship between performer, audience member, and author. What is the responsibility of the audience member, and how is it felt differently when there is only one audience member? Who is the story teller, the author or the performer? What happens to a memory that two people share after one of those people is gone?
I had the opportunity to ask playwright and director Edward Einhorn a few questions about this innovative new work.
What inspired the idea for this piece?
That's a complicated question actually. A few things. One is from the IT Awards, I was asked to judge the show I was the only audience member. I told them could come back another evening, but they said, "No we'll do the show." And it turned out to be a two-and a half hour evening of kitchen sink dramas about relationships and a lot of emotional reactions. So I'm sitting there and they knew I was a judge. And I was so aware of my responsibility there. It made me think about the experience of being an audience member.
Now that you say it, it makes complete sense. It's a compelling concept - it can be a gamble whether a show gets a full house, or maybe a handful of people show up. It can put both the audience and performers in a strange position. So the genesis is interesting. What were your next steps in creating this?
I thought about the experience of being the audience member, and I was just thinking about the responsibility and perception of the performer, as well as the author. What are the highs and lows that we know unconsciously, and fears involved for being an audience member?
We really like defining what the roles of performer and audience member are in a way that we know, but we don't really think about conflict. In Performance for One, the first thing the performer says to the audience is, "You're doing very well," so we involve the audience from the beginning. It's "I'm the performer and I'm going to be doing the speaking, and you're the performer and you're going to be doing the listening," but still it's a collaboration. The piece also talks about memory, and the idea of conveying those memories. So a big part of it is, as an audience member, you connect to the performer, but you don't connect emotionally with the author. The author is sort of a theoretical figure in the room.
You're the author and director of this piece. From what perspective did you write this?
It's about myself in a sense, but I knew Yvonne was playing this. In her performing this, it has become about her, and in the eyes of the people who are the audience members. I wanted to choose people, like Yvonne, that were different from myself in some way - age, background, ethnicity, all kinds of differences between the performers and myself. I find that interesting because that's also part of being an author. Everything you do is always transformed through the performer and so you write for a character, and see what happens as a result.
Yvonne has been in your other work, The Neurology of the Soul. Did you write this role specifically for her? How is this character different from what she's played in the past?
The thing I knew Yvonne would bring to the piece, in particular here, is an earthiness and welcomeness. She connects emotionally very easily as a result, and she is coming from that place. Everybody is playing me, in essence. All of these different characters, they feel different and distinct, but anytime an author writes there is always an element of ourselves in that. So to an extent, the performer take the place of the author. I wanted to concentrate on that specifically.
How has the piece transformed from the rehearsal process and where it is now. Have there been any surprises for you?
I did this originally presented during a fundraiser at the Ezair Gallery on the Upper East Side. It was later presented at the Secret City Art Revival in Woodstock (we did the festival twice) Secret City also does a sort of art church, in New York, which is how those ideas got mixed together. It was amazing how people responded. People were very emotional and would see me but they didn't know how to relate to me. They had these intimate conversations with Yvonne, because they saw Yvonne and would relate with their own stories, but they didn't even know what to say to me, and it was kind of awkward. So seeing that reaction from people, showed me there was something essential about theatre here. I took into account how people related during the piece.
What do you feel is the responsibility of the audience member when they see a play?
It seems like a passive responsibility, but the responsibility of listening and reacting to something is a great responsibility, and you hold it lightly as an audience member but you do hold it. And when you are told a story, in a theatre, there are stories that are told, and there is a responsibility of the audience to keep that story. There is always the passing on of stories and in a way that is one of the many ways that Theatre originated from that responsibility that people feel the need to pass on stories from person to person, from generation to generation. And audiences being made aware that the story is passed on, and that the decision of whether or not they remember it, think about it , or tell it again is up to them. Every time you hand off a story you hand off a very small responsibility.
Are you hoping what you've written changes the conversation on how the conversation on how an audience should respond, and how they take theatre in?
Yes I am hoping for that. I always think that an awareness of roles and responsibility does change the way people look at things. I think that it is also a little bit, I hope, of a gift to tell people they have a responsibility to the story being told because once you have a responsibility, you become an active participant, and so and there is a whole different way that you engage with something. It's much more satisfying in a way.
Are these skills you are hoping audience members can take away when they see a show on Broadway, or even into their everyday lives?
Yes. I've often felt, for me, that religion or church, etc. are connected because theatre seems to be a holy place. I think an audience needs to feel that way - they also have to feel the connection. It's about connection between people and the active listening.
Tell me a bit about how you chose the venues you did for this piece and the setup of Performance for One?
We're going to move from venue to venue. Almost all except the final one are in a semi public place because I want this to be a mixture of people who know they are coming to see a show, and people who just stumbled upon it. Most people just walk by and keep going, but it's free, so it's not like we are acting like we are asking random people to give us money, but rather, we are giving all an opportunity to engage. At Chashama we will be by the window so people see what's going on, at another venue we're in a house so people can see what there is to experience. There are lots of opportunities for people to just come by as well.
What are the next steps you're hoping for?
This is such a mobile piece, so it's very easy to produce. My ideal would be to have enough people to come see it, where it can move to community theatres, or other venues as almost as an installation. It borders on performance art. And I really like the idea - many of these plays I've done - are complicated in their logistics and technicalities, but this can really be in other places and be seen by other people. We are going to connect with other parts of the city as we move. I am hoping to do this in many other new places - and reach people we don't normally reach in our NY theatre scene.
So you're also hoping to reach people you wouldn't consider the New York theatre crowd?
Very much so. In Woodstock, half of the audience were residents, who were not always savvy about art. Some were wary at first, and then got very excited about the idea, and it was amazing to hear them process the performer, and idea. There is something great seeing directly when something touches, excites or moves someone. You're right there. And you see the effect that it has.
Your work always opens up so many brilliantly thought-provoking questions. Untitled Theater Company #61 is a "Theater of Ideas." You explore science, politics, philosophy, and many other ideas extremely theatrically. How is this piece contributing to that same conversation?
I call it the theatre of ideas because it's essentially about how we take in and explore ideas. Philosophy, politics, but Performance for One explores the essential idea of THEATRE. The question that is explored is the purpose of theatre - what we expect of the audience, performer, and essentials about the concept of theatre itself. It feels like a miniature distillation of the exploration that we do. One of the possible titles I thought of was "theatre in miniature" which I was debating for a while. But it seemed a bit less active. But that is essentially what it is: trying to apply this "theatre of ideas" to the work we are doing itself, and what is the idea behind theatre, what is it we want from theatre? Why are we creating theatre?
Your work is always insightful and intellectual, yet also extremely funny, poignant and engaging. How do you feel you've achieved that balance here?
To me it is equally important that people are engaged emotionally. Ideas can feel abstract without the emotional aspect. The pursuit of the ideas and trying to figure out the world of science - that is an emotional pursuit - it's exciting and emotionally uplifting - the idea of ideas! When I was in school, there were classes that didn't touch me at all, and I made my way through them, as we do. Then there were teachers, and something about them converted their excitement about whatever that subject was. This was when I felt here was something emotionally fulfilling about being involved. As a playwright and director it is my job to be that teacher - not that I'm teaching people - but be the person who shows why there is an emotionally fulfilling element of theatre. What do I connect with and how do I convey that connection I feel to someone else?
Einhorn continues to set a new precedent for theatre, ideas, and the emotional connection we feel when we see a performance. Be sure to see this groundbreaking new work, September 6th through November 3rd.
Performance for One
Written and directed by Edward Einhorn
Originally developed with Yvonne Roen
September 6 - November 3, 2019
More information is available on the Untitled Theater website: http://www.untitledtheater.com/previous-productions/performance-for-one.html