At least twice a rehearsal, a potential audience member wanders in and asks what we’re doing. They ask what play this is, if they can watch us rehearse, when we’re performing, whether we need more performers, and if we ever hold open mic nights. These are people from the neighborhood who have never heard of our company. They don’t follow us on Twitter. They’re not our friend on Facebook. We’ve never sent them an e-mail blast or a season mailer; we just made ourselves visible.
Edgewater Artists in Motion space
We’re rehearsing at this venue for the first time: an empty storefront on temporary loan from the owner to a local artist as part of a neighborhood revitalization program run by the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce. The space is used by a half-dozen other groups, including an environmental non-profit, a series of art classes for children, and CAPS (Chicago Alternate Policing Strategy). Colorful flags cover the drooping ceiling, and original artwork hung by the venue’s curator decorates the walls. The space is about the same size and shape as the storefront theater in which we’ll be performing. But there’s one important different: the windows aren’t covered.
Anyone walking by rehearsal sees not just the poster for our show, but also the actors working. Yes, they get to see our art being created. The neighborhood’s other three performance venues are nearly invisible to passers-by: one’s inside a larger building, and the other two have windows swathed in blackout curtains. Well obviously: stage lights don’t mix well with street lights. Still, at those theaters, no one walking by is going to have his eye caught by artists working live.
Rehearsing in this fishbowl has taken some adjusting. I certainly wasn’t prepared the first time someone walked in the door in the middle of a scene and asked loudly what we sold here. (“Uh… Theater?”) Let me break down the experience so far:
- * In such a high foot traffic area (four doors down from an El stop), we get over a hundred people walking by each hour and seeing us work.
- * Because the venue looks like a store, potential audience members feel comfortable walking in and asking questions. Also, these aren’t your typical theater patrons: not a single 65-year-old white woman has stopped by.
- * According to the Chamber of Commerce, the conspicuous presence of an occupied arts venue brings down crime. In any case, the local beat cop seems to like us.
- * We, the artists, get to talk to people who are interested in our work.
- * In such a high foot traffic area (remember the El?), we sometimes have to compete with outside noise. Glass doesn’t stop a lot of sound.
- * There might be an interruption in the work when a visitor walks in. Usually the stage manager or ASM will greet the person and ask him to hang on until the next stopping point, when we have a minute to chat. But sometimes things don’t happen that neatly.
- * The more open atmosphere isn’t particularly conducive to intimate moments: we’re postponing work on the sex scene until we’re in a more private rehearsal venue.
If you’re dreaming of getting more involved in the neighborhood where you make art, could you modify a part of this method to help? How would your rehearsal process change if you rehearsed in a fishbowl? How would your relationship with potential audience members change?