I recent supported San Diego REP in developing the first ever adaption (by an independent playwright) of dog & pony dc’s signature show Beertown. This was a “letter from the rehearsal room” I wrote for an email to the REP’s subscribers. Learn about REP’s Beachtown here and here.
Suspension of disbelief vs. Investment in make believe
At first glance the difference between these two approaches doesn’t seem radically different. But by the middle of the second rehearsal week for Beachtown, actors were declaring in mock exasperation “I’m having to unlearn years of training!”
Across this country, plays are written and produced with an invisible “fourth wall” separating the actors from the audience. It is believed the fourth wall preserves the illusion of reality on stage. No one crosses it for fear of breaking that magical suspension of disbelief. But the fourth wall holds the audience at a distance from the art, protecting it and its creators from audience involvement. Actors are taught to “play out and over” the audience, never directly to them. The audience is viewed as almost inconsequential to the live event. It’s expected that audiences will sit back in their seats, in the dark, and willfully accept the fiction unfolding before them as real.
Beachtownis “radical” not because it breaks the fourth wall; Beachtown never acknowledges the fourth wall exists. Beachtownasks actors to welcome audience to the show, to look at them directly (in the eye!), and engage in open dialogue with them. It asks the actors to view the audience as part of their ensemble, and invite the audience to join the show when and how they want. In doing this, Beachtowngently asks the same of the audience. Beachtownis an invitation to everyone to play. To invest in the make believe of an imaginary world of Beachtown, CA in Santa Arenas County.
The difference is as subtle as leaning forward, instead of sitting back, in your chair. But the later is a settling in, an acceptance; the former is the precursor to rising, a preparation.
When did you last see a play that invited you to come to the edge of your seat? That asked for your heart and mind to invest? I leave you with this question as you prepare to visit Beachtown. It’s possible, like the actors, you’ll have a period of “unlearning” as well. But I believe that with this cast and artistic team on your side, you’ll be voting and debating like a Beachtonian in no time.
See you at the ceremony!
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