Talk-backs & Tamales: Audience Member Alice Responds to ROMA
Alice Venessa Bever attended our 24th TweetUp on Sept 22nd and felt compelled to write about her experience.
" By being welcomed, instantly I belonged."
The more I explore what works in the theatre world many claim to be dying, I see that it is the act of inviting in that is positively transforming the art I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to. Let me explain:
Getting There My Geo Metro and I found 24th street from Claremont just fine. Circling a bit for street parking helped me to get to know a few neighbors who understood by my Wyoming plates that I wasn’t a “local”. As I walked down the street to my destination, people were sitting on porches talking to each other, kids were playing, music drifted in and out between driveways. I felt that I was walking down the street of my childhood or a street in Rome (no pun intended-clearly) where people savored the passing of the evening sun with their neighbors. As my heels rhythmically punctuated the sidewalk toward the theatre I wondered if my closeted social anxiety would rear its’ head. Would I be forced to pretend I had an important email to tend to so to keep my eyes buried in my phone? Or make several trips to the bathroom? Or purchase wine then chocolate then something else, just to keep myself busy and away from awkward interactions or the feeling of being an outsider? As I approached, I saw a group of people standing outside looking busy and happy, conversating and laughing. Apparently I am still working through scarring left from seventh grade school dance mishaps because suddenly I started worrying about my hair and if the hole in my dress would be perceptible to others. Just as my thoughts were starting to go meticulously awry, my pattering feet and mind were interrupted by a hello. I’m a card-carrying weird and fragile thespian. The simple act of a stranger's greeting totally made my experience shift. By being welcomed, instantly I belonged.
The following hour was spent watching people eat tamales, talking about relevant things to strangers and tweeting (I was invited by
Cindy to be part of the 24th street Tweetup, an event which invited theatre people to the theatre to Tweet about the evenings’ performance). By the time I settled into my seat, nestled in between Jesus and Park (two incredible theatre-makers in the LA area who gave me lots of insight about my own work in between MnM’s and laughter about the 90’s [of course I mentioned project1979 and gave them a sticker!]), I had already been a participant in an event.
The Show Then came the show, of which I wrote an exuberant (is there any other way?) Facebook post about the following day:
I am still haunted by last night's performance of Roma. I left inspired. I felt welcomed by the performance and the people in it and around it. I was told a story that changed me. That is the gift of theater: the purity of intention to connect people to life in a deeper way, transcending language, culture and sound. Because of Cindy Marie Jenkins and the invite to participate in the 24thTWEETup, I found myself in an enchanting world, in the midst of an illuminating portrait painted by powerful women who know how to make a stage live. THANK YOU. I will return and in the interim I'll be sure to spread the word of your theater and its' initiatives that can serve as a model to all of us art-makers out there.
Roma was storytelling at its best. I think it’s important to underline the capacity that the women, the script, the staging and direction had in creating understated-not boring or overly-intellectual-simplicity. The women mirrored the story, real and raw. This play and the context for which it was presented did the same. Even now, what has remained in my memory was not a performance entirely in Spanish with English super-titles but a performance about life. Roma left a mark on me in a peculiar way: it made me glad to be a part of this art form. Theatre is one delicious and difficult gift to those who are part of its creation or consumption, a pulse that lives while encouraging others to do so.
In regards to the post-show happenings: I gulped a little bit (imperceptibly) when Cindy reminded me that there’d be a talk-back following the show and asked if I could film it. I hate talk-backs. I really do. If I’m stage-side I am usually fuming about the actor who feverishly embellishes their *&^$#%Y^ process or the audience member who wishes they’d been cast in the play itself by delivering a poorly-structured monologue in the form of a question, others attempting to hide the side look at their cell phone for the time, wishing they’d been able to sneak out before the whole thing started.
I quickly ate those little judgmental thoughts and found myself having to silence my excited interjections (I was becoming that audience member!) while filming. Interpretation upon interpretation, language upon language-it was communication at its best. Introducing the topic of the role that signing, super titles and translation-all in the context of dissecting a relevant play about loss of innocence and the need to dream-helped add yet another layer to the process of experiencing the evening. The post-show discussion panel which included the Deaf West Theatre did what a talk-back should do, enhance the performance.
Summary There are still so many things to say but since this is a blog post not a novel, I’ll close with this: 24th Street theatre interrupts the flatlining conversation about the audience, about getting them and keeping them, about marketing
just so to the “needs” of the audience. It is apparent that 24th Street has got more than one thing right in what they are doing within their immediate community and greater Los Angeles. Like Albany Park Theatre in Chicago, this establishment goes beyond the “If you build it, they will come” strategy. They are answering relevant questions about the theatre’s role in society with their actions, choices, and invitation for others to participate in their evolution. It is clear in 24th street’s outreach work, choice of their season or even just by having a professional outreach person on board, that in their 15 years of existence they have consistently taken small steps of inclusion which have led to big leaps in architecting the future of their theatre. As we see also with theatres like Victory Gardens, being innovative in theatre isn’t about being under the umbrella of an art form that includes you, it’s about being the umbrella itself. Any and all communities need theatre and yes, we all need to be included in the process of building that theatre that each of us inherently belongs to. 24th Street takes all the margins out of equation and creates the picture we all want to step into, each time anyone walks through those big green doors. Wait, did I mention that all the refreshments (including the phenomenal tamales) was pay-what-you-will/if-you-can?