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Plays in Hotel Rooms

April 27, 2011

Hotel rooms don't make much sense as settings for plays, at least from a business and audience comfort sense. At best, you can only fit between 10 - 20 people in the average hotel room, meaning you can only sell a very limited number of tickets. And the sorts of hotel rooms that accommodate fringe theatre companies tend to be the kind that don't have very good temperature control. It's always either way too hot or way too cold.

So it's surprising in a way that theatre companies should gravitate so often to hotel rooms as venues for site-specific performances.

And yet, at another level, it's easy to see why they do. They're intimate for one thing. Plus, doing a play that's set in a hotel room in an actual hotel room has the potential to compound the metaphorical power of hotel rooms as spaces of transition, where people are given license to behave in outlandish ways and think about deep existential questions.

It's a good thing that art wins out over questions of commerce and audience comfort in the case of the Alley Theatre production of Stephen Belber's Tape. The play, which reunites three high school friends over the disturbing half-forgotten memory of a date rape committed some ten years previously, is currently playing in a room at the recently renovated Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver. The room was boiling hot. The seats were cramped and two of the three cast members smoked cigarettes a foot away from where I was sitting. But I felt completely engaged in the action nonetheless.

Hotel rooms, being so small, tend to exacerbate flaws in the writing, direction and acting. But cast members Daniel Arnold, Matthew Kowalchuk and Marisa Smith flowed through the space, commanding it entirely. They allowed the tensions to arise from the script, rather than from the awkwardness of performing a play in front of a room of strangers seated almost in their laps.

And yet for all that, I think it's time that playwrights and theatre companies started doing more interesting things with hotel rooms, if they continue to perform in them at all. I've been to so many of these productions at this point, that I'm growing a little tired of being a fly-on-the-wall in the cramped and airless spaces.

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