Performance #2- 946: The Amazing Story of Alphonso Tips

“Life is SUPREME!”

     I finally made my way to the Globe theatre for a performance tonight! I saw a performance of 946: The Amazing Story of Alphonso Tips.  I had never heard of this show before tonight, so I was going into this performance without any expectations. Although it was a musical, it wasn’t musical theatre. Or, to clarify, it was a play with music, not music with words. I really appreciated that although their singers were talented, they were cast on their acting talent rather than their belting talent. I think I’m being too cruel to musical theatre and I’m probably projecting my own dissatisfaction with modern musical theatre on a poor unsuspecting play.

As many of you may have seen or know, at the Globe theatre there is standing room area where “the Groundlings” would stand in Shakespeare’s day. These tickets are now only 5 pounds, and for that price I would see any piece of theatre! That is not a promise, I repeat, that is not a promise. I cannot firmly argue as to why I believe these are the best seats in the Globe, because I have never sat anywhere else. However, I will still present my case for the standing room section. Locking eyes with an actor (or audience member) during a scene is one of the audience’s (and actor’s) greatest pleasures. For the audience this makes them feel singled out and special in a crowd of hundreds of people. For actors, (from what I have heard, experienced, and read) connecting with an audience member is a moment of true theatre magic. As soon as your eyes lock with someone else’s, you have made a connection between two people in very open and vulnerable states. No one else has held this moment but the two of you, and that is why it is such a tiny  but wonderful detail of performing. Oy, writing about these instances makes me feel like I’m writing someone’s Tony award speech.

This play followed the heavily covered (as in suppressed) story of Exercise Tiger, the WWII war “rehearsal” that ended devastatingly. Over 800 young soldiers died in an operation that was supposed to be practice for the landing on Normandy beach. Government and media officials covered it as an “incredible accident,” never taking the full responsibility of their mistakes. More specifically the play follows the lives of a country family in Slapton, England that is forced to move in order for these war practices to take place.

I am continuing to notice that there is a difference between delivering your lines to the audience, and including the audience in your lines. One is very boring and cold, often more like an oration recital than a performance.Including the audience takes a very talented actor to creatively utilize audience “participation.” Obviously in many plays and performance spaces  the audience and actor relationship is extremely different for purposeful reasons. At the performance tonight every actor made those special little connections and used them well. It never seemed like the gaudy character-breaking in Saturday Night Live, but like we were joining the conversation that was happening on stage, or that we were lending an ear for characters to convey their side thoughts and quips.

A good ensemble is like a well-oiled machine: each part moves perfectly with and against their counterparts, creating a seamless rhythm of production. This was exactly how the ensemble of 976 was. There was no prop, actor, design or song that was a “weak link” to the production. The almost constant scene changes proved a good challenge for any company, and this group of actors pulled it off beautifully. Even throughout the scenes of sorrow this company seemed so comfortable on stage. I must realize that the stage is bigger than it seems from my lower perception, but it was so nerve-wracking to see people riding bicycles or doing ecstatic swing dancing on the furniture! There was some wonderful Nicholas Brother’s style of swing dancing-the synchronization was awesome! There was incredible puppetry work throughout the show from the family dog to the Nazi planes flying over England.

Every actor played at least three roles, all of them noticeably different from the other. Because of my own challenges with some characters, I always try to note what exactly actors are changing in order to create their characters. The voice is always changed at least slightly, and of course costume, but if the physicality is not altered than the audience will not believe your performance. Like I said, I speak from past learning experiences. In the case of this play, many characters were meant to be caricatures, so extremely flamboyant physical choices were definitely acceptable. It was refreshing to see a man playing a woman as a woman. He wasn’t putting on a delicate and high-pitched screech, but simply lightened his voice and carried himself slightly differently. So great!

This may be my unlearned mind when it comes to play analysis, but for me it is one of my pet peeves when we definitively rank plays. I use a general “we,” because I don’t want to single any group or person out, because there isn’t one.  With a shocking, confusing, and mind-bending production of 1984, how am I supposed to weigh and rank that to a (mostly) zany and high energy musical? Plays are not the same as MTV music videos, we do not need to rank them on lame criteria made by grumpy old men. Ranking plays of varied genres also seems somewhat lazy, to me. Ehhh, I can sense myself stepping deeper and deeper into the murky pond of snarkiness and offensive general statements. So, I will use the iceberg strategy and leave the rest of my opinion in my personal journal.

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