Site-specific audience participation in Annie Baker's The Flick
Lattimer, Katie Leigh
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Annie Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Flick" is about ordinary people--movie theater workers--living ordinary lives. I contend that her style, which at least one critic has called 'anti-theatrical,' might benefit from a production that blends Baker's use of unnaturally long pauses and silences--unusual on stage, but very common in life--with a production approach that intensifies moments of interaction among the audience and the performers. My thesis consists of two parts: 1. A workshop production of "The Flick," directed by me, explored audience-performer interaction and site specific, environmental staging in rehearsal and performance; and 2. The accompanying essay examines theories of spectatorship and audience interaction and analyzes the effectiveness of the application of these techniques in my production. My production of "The Flick" had two performances, April 11 and 12, 2015, in UB's CFA Screening Room. In my production, the "control group" or "traditional audience," sat where the movie screen is, as Baker describes in her stage directions, or in the side sections of the house, while an "experimental group" comprised of a select handful of audience members sat in the house center seats that served as the cast's playing area. The experimental group was invited to participate in controlled moments of improvisation with the cast during three scenes, for example when Sam and Avery played "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" or discussed the merits of Avatar. My production and essay explore the following questions: How do a director and ensemble prepare to perform the less scripted, improvisatory moments of a performance such as this? How does the director find a balance between allowing the audience freedom to participate in the performance versus exerting control over them to behave in certain ways within a given space? When an audience views a performance from such different perspectives, do the two groups need to share certain experiences in common? To skillfully balance the moments of interplay with the audience throughout the piece, while retaining Baker's special attention to rhythm and tempo, I explored the play as a series of rhythmic starts and stops--slow, deliberate naturalistic sections, punctuated by sudden accelerations during emotionally charged lines/conversations. The essay incorporates the choreographic methods and tools I've learned through my participation in workshops with Brooklyn-based dance theater company Third Rail Projects, while focusing on the recent body of literature examining theories of spectatorship by contemporary scholars including Gareth White and Helen Freshwater. The last section of my essay draws conclusions about the combined effects of the moments of audience interaction and the playwright's use of long periods of silence/pauses on the performances' ability to maintain momentum and audience interest.