Why do you perform on a small platform?
Our goal is to tell a Big Story in a Small Space. By doing so, we force ourselves to be more creative by finding the freedom in the constraint. If we had infinite time and space to tell the story of The American Revolution, the task would be overwhelming. By limiting ourselves to seven actors, 21 square feet and 50 minutes of stage time, the task feels freeing. Plus, this way, we only create about 50% of the stage pictures and still allow the audience’s imagination to create the other 50%!
Where does this “platform” style come from?
Theater Unspeakable learned the “platform” style when director Marc Frost studied in London at a school based on the work of the physical theater master Jacques Lecoq. The “platform” exercise was intended to help students challenge their physical imaginations by telling a big story in a small space. It may be useful to think of it as a living comic book frame as Lecoq originally called it “comic mime”. For more information, please click here.
What made you choose the story of the American Revolution?
Theater Unspeakable had previously done a story about a comic book superhero and decided it was time to discover America’s “origin story”. Looking for a big story we could tell inside of our small stage, we went for the story of America’s founding because of its epic scale and because of how different life was back then. We thought these points would make it fun to recreate in a tongue-in-cheek, physical theater style.
How did you create the show?
We created the show through improvisation and collaboration. First we came up with a timeline for the story based on the historical events. Then, the director (Marc Frost) would come into the room and say something like “Ok, tonight we are going to create the Boston Tea Party, here’s what happened…” The actors would split into two groups and create images, movement and dialogue about the Boston Tea Party and then show it to Marc who would help to consolidate and shape the ideas into a narrative. Eventually, the piece was shown to an audience who also helped us to know which parts were working and which parts still needed work.
How long did it take to create the show?
The entire process took about two years, though we were not working on it every day! First, we spent a few weeks creating a 15-minute version and invited a few people to see if we were on the right path. After that, we spent several months creating a 30-minute version of the piece, then a 60-minute version and then finally trimmed it down to 50 minutes (it was tough to cut those ten minutes off!). Many people were involved in the process over the two years from actor/devisers to designers and dramaturgs. Everyone worked together to make this piece.
How do the actors change their accents so quickly and not forget their lines?
Most of them went to school to become actors and learned the craft of being an actor. For this show, they are working very hard to memorize dialogue as well as choreography (movement patterns). They also have to practice their regional accents (Bostonian, Virginian, English, etc.) which they do by listening to YouTube videos and tapes of people from those regions speaking. They spend a lot of time practicing on their own and then a lot of time playing together with the other actors!
Why do all the actors wear the same costume and perform in bare feet?
The “platform” style is intended to move as a fast as a film so there is no time to change sets or costumes. This being the case, the costumes serve the function of helping the actors to create “stage images” where some actors may be playing people while others are playing objects (sometimes they are even playing another character’s legs!). The actors need to be able to blend into the scenery and wearing all the same costume helps them do that. They also need to stay safe because there are so many of them in a small space and they are two feet off the ground. That is why they are performing in bare feet, so they feel the edges of the platform with their feet and so if they step on each other’s feet it won’t hurt too much.
Has anyone ever fallen off the platform?
Yes. In rehearsal, we do fall off the platform a lot, especially when we have new actors who are just learning the style. In performance, it has only happened once or twice. However, there have been many “near-falls” where someone grabbed onto someone else to keep themselves from falling. A big part of playing on the “platform” is learning to trust your fellow actors.