Interviewing the Audience

  • Our critic's rating:
    February 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (11 Feb 2011)

    Like Spalding Grey who created events, Zach Helm has created an event as well. Actually this is more of a ceremony because it involved people from the audience.

    And within roughly 5 minutes it is clear to everyone in the theatre that we all have stories to tell that may seem simple, but are as rich and exciting as anything created by the best of playwrights. As a matter of fact, so skillful and generous is Helm as a host that he spends most of his time listening. I’d say he has about 50 lines in the entire evening. The evening is a short one – roughly 75 minutes, so the balance does not seem that off. But still. An actor on the stage who doesn't talk? What's up with that?

    There are three guests in the evening, gently selected from the audience (and there is the occasional refusal handled gracefully as well) and brought up on to the stage. What Helm makes clear is that this particular event will be like no other. This is of course the heart of theatre. Every performance is different, and woe to the actor who tries to, to paraphrase Lynne Fontaine, "give last night's performance to tonight's audience."

    The three audience members I saw, and I assume it that, Helm being the common denominator each time it would be the same for nearly all the interviewees, are eager to give up the goods. Each is greeted with the same question: How did you come to be here? And from there we are off to the races. One was a set designer and Starbucks manager, another a full time artist, the third worked with children and theatre. We heard the names of 21 cousins listed with a sweet reverence that gave us all time to think of ones we loved. We listened to silence. We heard the tale of the five iguanas, the first of whom was purchased with funds from a fourth grader's garage sale.

    Who cares? Well, that's the odd bit. We all end up caring. I think, however, that we end up caring because we hear our own stories singing as we listen to these people. That is the lovely miracle here. Sort of a Walt Whitman moment – we hear our own music in the songs of others.

    Is this theatre? Nope. It is ceremony. It is an event. It is story telling, which is the source for any theatre. It does not have a beginning, middle or end. We don't wonder or fret as to how it will all turn out, because we know we are in caring hands.

    So this evening left me unsatisfied on the theatrical side and very full on the human side. Conundrum! Something happened in a theatre and it wasn't too bad. I was never bored. I felt a connection to the people on the stage and in the audience. All I was missing was the fiction.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "An unusual but hardly revelatory hour of mild diversion."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Talk show as theater makes for a likable little evening."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "The exchanges were neither particularly insightful nor revealing."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "My only quarrel with this gentle and amusing experience was its brevity."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage