Invisible Theater
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23 February 2014
By Lee Walton and Erika Rauer
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Greetings Class,


Experiments in Boal's Invisible Theater were very exciting. Much like any craft or discipline, performances that blur reality and happen in time and space take practice. However, we hope this initial experiment gives you some idea of how powerful real "action" can be, not only for the public, but audience and actors alike.


Please take some time to reflect on the three Invisible Theater works. In the comment box below, please share your thoughts about all three performances. 


Some things to consider:



  • How would you do things differently a second time?  Feel free to comment on all three.
  • How did the location change the feel of each performance?
  • What is the potential power for Social Change in a work like this?
  • How does invisible theater create less or more impact than a formalized, staged event?  Pros and cons?
  • How could different characters change the meaning of the performance? (for example, imagine a person wearing a business attire finishes the stir fry?


Dont worry about grammar, spelling, etc.. on these comments. Just write what comes to mind and get it out of your head and into the world!



Lee and Erika

Leave a comment:
Hannah Hedrick - Overall, I was fairly pleased with how our scene went (at Yum Yum's). As many others have already stated, setting our scene in a place that was technically on campus, but still open to the public seemed to maximize the effect of what we were trying to do. In all honesty, I was really shocked at how others seemed to negatively perceive Harley and Camryn. That was certainly a wake up call for me. Although the intent of the scene was to impact at least one other person in some way, I felt very impacted myself. It was a rude awakening to see so many others sneer at the "gay couple" in our scene. In hindsight, I think I would have planned more thoroughly what us "mean girls" were doing. Rebecca, Norma, and myself felt stagnant and uncomfortable at times, like we didn't know what to do next.

As for the first scene, it was certainly more subtle. As others have already said, I think it would have been more effective if the scene was set in a place that didn't have so much traffic. Students in the EUC are often focused only on getting in, getting lunch, and getting out, without paying much regard to their surroundings.

The scene outside the statue was interesting in a different way because the group was actively engaging other people, which I thought was really clever. This made spectators be a part of the scene. It was interesting to see other people's reactions and concern for the missing Sebastian. It would have been nice to see Sebastian make an appearance at the end and see if someone noticed.
Dylan Gurrera - I would have set our scene in a different atmosphere. I think that we if we are trying to start a conversation about the rising cost of food (along with the waste of perfectly good food), it may be more effective to find a more intimate atmosphere with an attentive wait staff. If we are looking on Tate St, we may choose to reset the scene in Boba House. This has an attentive wait staff, it is a smaller environment, and no booths block the vision of other patrons. I think that it would be interesting to do this scene twice--both with different characters. How would we see this scene if the character appeared to be homeless? How would we see this scene if the character appeared to be rich?
In the last scene, I think we saw the impact invisible theater can have on minority communities. I think Yum Yum's location was perfect; this is probably the most politically diverse part of campus. Students and older adults frequent this spot. The impact can be huge, if a student were to admonish the bullying group, because it could cause the conservative older adults (or students) to think how they rationalize or justify their own prejudices. This idea could change ideologies, or atleast prompt people to have a more informed opinion. Of course, I wonder how this scene would be different if the couple showed less innocent PDA. Would people have been more outspoken? This scene would have more impact than a production because it doesn't ask people to voluntarily spend their time and money on a play. Instead it puts it in their everyday lived experience and asks them to actually manipulate the dramatic action.
Rebekah Jones - From what I've heard our performance in the EUC was a little too subtle for anyone to take notice and be affected by the experience. I didn't get to witness the big event, but while playing my part to set up the performance I felt really vulnerable. I wouldn't usually sit at a table for four by myself and in a spot where so many people could see me. It put a lot of pressure on for when I was going to leave the food, even though now I know barely anyone noticed. I've been wondering what this would look like in an actual food court, like at Four Seasons, and if the actors were more spread out. That food court seems to be a little more empty and you can't help but to people watch. If our performance was formalized or staged I think it would completely lose its goodness. When you know that actors are doing something strange for a purpose then its normalized, but when it seems like a happenstance out in the real world its more interesting.
Josh Peek - I think the Yum-Yum scene was executed really well and I think that was the perfect location to do it. Even though it's technically on campus, it was interesting to be in a more public place where we weren't only around students. It was definitely an uneasy feeling being around a bunch of older white people and seeing what would happen. I would have been interested to see what happened if someone had said something bigoted or done something hateful, however, I'm glad that didn't happen.

I think my group (Minerva Statue) may have had more success if we had gotten the timing right, but that's probably mostly my fault. I think it was a good idea that just became a little redundant after a while. It would have been better/more interesting if someone had actually approached me and told me they were looking for me.

The EUC group also had a good idea, but I feel like maybe that wasn't the best place to do it. It's no fault of their own, but other people just simply weren't paying attention. I did enjoy the looks they got from the girl who sat down at the table after Adam picked up the food, though. It would have been interesting to see more people freak out about it. I also feel like it would have been a completely different situation/response if he was dressed in business attire like Lee mentioned.

I think the difference in invisible theater and normal staged works is pretty self-explanatory in that even though it isn't exactly "invisible", it does go unnoticed. I feel like most of the reason we didn't get more reactions is because no one knew we were putting on an act, which I guess is part of the point. I would be interested to see what happened if we came up with some new ideas and locations.
Rachel Siminoski - I think that our group was still a little bit unclear as to the timing of our skit when we went into it, and that caused some confusion and lack of response from our spect-actors. It was harder than I thought it would be, especially as a mildly shy person. I definitely feel like the EUC was so busy that people were more focused on their own meal than what was going on around them, but we were hoping that the density of people would result in more reactions. You live and you learn.

I think that the other two performances were great, but I feel like the one at Yum Yums had the most potential for social change. I wasn't expecting Harley and Camryn to get so much- if any- negative feedback or dirty looks given that it happened on a very diverse and liberal university campus. So that came as a surprise, but then in a sense a lot of the people in the restaurant were elderly, so to an extent I wouldn't expect them to be as progressive as the younger generations.

I think that changing the characters in the performances would elicit different reactions from the "audience". Humans are inherently judgmental, and have different perceptions of people based on their race, the way they dress, their gender, etc.
Norma - I think I would definitely change the location of the first performance. I feel like people were too busy eating and talking to their friends and no one was really paying attention. It was also unclear to me what they were trying to do, until they explained it. The other two performances were more effective than the first one because they were set in a good location. I think invisible theater creates more of an impact to the actors than it does the audience. Well, this is only my opinion and my experience. It felt like that to me. Yes, it engages the audience to participate but they don't really know the purpose behind it. I think it would have been more effective if the group that was trying to look for Sebastian wore something more formal and had a megaphone.
Harley Winzenried - For our experiment in Yum Yum's... I believe the location was a great choice because of the reasons Jennie mentioned here- a somewhat small or intimate setting forces people to further acknowledge situations unfolding within their vicinity, increasing the possibility that they will be affected by what is taking place. A non-university setting provides the performers with a less familiar, less easy-going control group. I feel as though people are much less accepting of strange behavior (or behavior they consider strange) in a public place of business than in areas that are more typically populated with laid back, eccentric college kids. This is why I believe it was necessary for the "Sebastian" group to be as heightened as they were- it's not unusual for people to solicit your attention on campus for their own purposes, specifically around the EUC (not 5 feet from the back entrance a student group was doing just that, perhaps with even more unnerving enthusiasm). For our performance, specifically, I would have liked to have experimented with potentially more public displays of physical affection or even just varying manners of dress. It just so happened that, on Thursday, Camryn and I were both wearing very stereotypically feminine attire, and I'd be interested to see if our "assailants" might have received more support if we had adhered to less accepted conventions of fashion for people who present as female (if either of us had looked "more gay"). I believe that the potential to elicit reflection from spect-actors here is nearly unlimited- by involving others in situations like the ones we fabricated, it becomes effectively impossible for them to refute contemplation or to compartmentalize the occurrence into obsolescence the same way one might a protest or public forum for which the purpose is known and overtly stated. The pretense of organic interaction allows for the possibility of a more personal impact. That being said, the necessary reflection that often accompanies a structured, formalized performance is negated here in the sense that what a spect-actor derives from an invisible performance is entirely without any context for the purpose of the endeavor (this is both a pro and a con). In this vein, our display could have had the opposite effect- emboldening homophobic sentiment through our overt presentation of others who appeared to harbor such animosity towards same-sex couples.
Jennie Savage - I think for our performance, I would have tried to make it a little less over the top and fly under the radar a little more. For the one in the EUC Food Court, I might've had a planned reactor for when Adam sniffed the food and starting eating it. From what I understand, that was kinda done on the fly, though. The performance in Yum Yum's made me SO uncomfortable because I could not stop thinking about what I would say if I was entirely unaware that such close-minded meanness was happening right next to me. That being said, I could not really hear any of the interactions, but I did see Harley's face when she left and it was 100% in character and 100% pissed off.

All of that being said, I think the locations for each of these performances was pretty perfect. Especially at Yum Yum, as it a more public place that was filled non-student patrons. I think if it were possible to do the other two in a more public, non-university setting, I think the public interactions might have been different or more impactful.

I think creating situations like this that could all happen hypothetically to any of us any day take away the hypothetical and make you deal with it. We all of those moments when after the fact you think, "Man! I should have said that!" or "I can't believe I didn't do anything!!" and creating situations like these, especially with some planted spect-actors, can promote passersby to stand up, to help, to say what needs to be said, to stop taking a backseat to what is happening around them and help build a sense of community and ownership in that community.

I think Invisible Theater can have more of an impact on the audience than formal, staged theater because it is interactive, engaging and makes the audience think what they want instead of sort of being told what to think or how to react.

Different characters could have changed everything about what the performances made people think. The idea was to make people think about something regardless of what, so say if we were looking for my grandmother in our performance I think we would have elicited more concern from the people with whom we were engaging. If Adam didn't have a backpack but instead was covered in dirt and apparently homeless, I feel like that group would have had something similar to the sculpture activity we did in class. If the couple being affectionate in public was a very seemingly young man and a much older woman, or if one of the two involved seemed to be "not as into it" as the other, the reactions would have been vastly different and would be about a different social issue entirely. As an aside, I think it would have been amazing if Harley had proposed to Camryn in the Yum Yum. :)
Camryn - If I were to change anything about any of the three Invisible Theater works, I would change the location of the first one. I think if it were in a more intimate place more people would have noticed and reacted to it. I think the other two locations were perfect for the actions. I think this can help open people's eyes to what our society is really like. As a New Englander, I didn't think Harley and I would get too many looks. I was shocked to see people's reactions to two girls holding hands. It broke my heart thinking that some people can't go get ice cream without being stared down and feeling uncomfortable. Personally, I found this more effective than a formalized performance because I witnessed and experienced everything for myself, instead of watching someone else or portraying someone experience these things. I really enjoyed this little social experiment and want to do more of them!