Picture this Post reviewer Lauren Katz recommends (Re)Discover Theatre’s “daring” production, calling it “fascinating storytelling” and “not to be missed.”
Read the full review here – “(Re)Discover Theatre presents FOR ONE Review: A Play for One.”
To learn more about the creation of this unique theatrical experience, Picture This Post interviewed (Re)Discover Theatre Artistic Director and production creator, Janet Howe.
Picture This Post: Where did the idea for FOR ONE come from?
I have been fascinated by the form of experiences built for an audience of one for a few years. There is something really special about that individual experience. It can be so easy to slip into a crowd or create an ‘us versus them’ status and a solo experience really asks us to connect. It puts the audience member in a vital, active role rather than one of many passive onlookers. This physical involvement can exercise that part of our brain that processes empathy and strengthen those synaptic connections. I find the neuroscience of this experience fascinating.
What was the process from spark to germination to execution?
Once we decided we wanted to go forward with the project, I toured the Gunder Mansion to determine how many plays the building could accommodate. From there, I reached out to artists that I admire and invited them to be a part of the project. I gave them a few simple guidelines in which to create.
First, the play had to be built for an audience of one in a way in which if a second person was there, the show would not be the same. Second, the audience member had to be an integral part of the forward momentum of the piece. And third, the play must be 9 minutes long and able to be reset in 1 minute. Other than that, I wanted the artists to share their personal voices and what excites them.
As we were thinking about what we wanted to do in fall of 2017, I came back to the idea of theatre for one because I wanted to engage in that one-on-one connection. Now more than ever, it felt vital to remind people that what they do does matter and that every individual has a complex, nuanced story. We chose to have each play created/directed by different artists because there are so many incredible creators/writers/directors/devisers in our ensemble and in our Chicago theatre community. As an Artistic Director a big part of my job is creating space for artists to share their voices with the community.
They each pitched an idea and we went from there. I won't get into the minute details of the process because it's a big elaborate puzzle. I find it exciting and interesting but not nearly as exciting a the product that resulted. Once I had a sense of all the plays, I built the experience outside of the rooms. It was important to me that the full experience get love and attention so the audience feels consistently well taken care of.
What challenges did you anticipate in this project? What challenges arose that you hadn't anticipated?
I knew the biggest challenge would be the number of people involved. It's a huge project with lots of people so getting people in a room together has been a big challenge. There are 48 artists working on this show and we've actually never had everyone involved in the same room at the same time. This is the biggest challenge working with talented artists: they're busy!
I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning for this show so unexpected challenges we ran into were fairly minor. Things like figuring out where to house a live stream. How to most safely work in a building without air conditioning. Balancing volume and sound bleed. I suppose you could say that what the audience brought in with them was something we had to adjust for. One can never fully anticipate what any individual will bring into a room. From my experience working on immersive theater, I knew this would be a factor. In anticipation of needing changes, I set up a preview and tech process that allowed us time to make and rehearse adjustments.
What has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working on FOR ONE?
There really have been two “most rewarding” things. First has been getting to work with so many amazing artists. The people working on FOR ONE are artists I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. They are all talented, inspiring, and generous in spirit. It’s been exhilarating collaborating with them all and seeing everyone get inspired by this form that I love so much. Which leads me to the second most rewarding aspect, seeing people be inspired by the work.
Director’s Lab Chicago heard about FOR ONE and reached out to us about visiting our rehearsal and doing a workshop. The workshop lead directors through a quick process of creating theatre for one and by the end of the session each left with a short play of their own. That night, they visited our rehearsal and got to be test audience members for some of the plays. Many of them expressed interest in the form and the intent to create something in a similar vein themselves. It’s rewarding to see how a project like this can create a ripple of inspiration.
What has surprised you most about the process? About the production?
I was most surprised by the variety of the work. When we began, I thought perhaps a central theme or tone would naturally emerge, but we got something so much better. A wide spread of human experiences that ranges from haunting, to touching, to urgent, to hilarious. There is something here for everyone.
What have you learned from creating this piece and how will it influence your artistry moving forward?
Oh my goodness! I have learned so much! Both as an Artistic Director and an artist. I am inspired by all the artists who have worked on this show. Their voices will certainly influence my personal work as a director and creator.
As an Artistic Director, it has been endlessly rewarding creating a space for all these artists to share their voices. It has been heartening to see how this project has been invigorating for artists and audiences alike. Responses to FOR ONE have given me faith in the work I am doing. Making immersive and site specific theatre is not easy. It takes more time and organization than a traditional piece of theatre. The impact this show has had makes every minute worth it. All the time, on all the spreadsheets, figuring out the mechanics was time well spent.