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Improvised theater performance where the only actors are the spectators and every spectator gets to play

Image credit: https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/media-and-interactives/media/theater/its-not-just-a-stage/

Povilas S
Povilas S Nov 29, 2022
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Improvisation-based theater performance where there are no other actors apart from the spectators that came to see it and each of them gets to play. At first, this would best work as a specific performance in a repertoire of an ordinary theater. If proven successful, later the whole theater functioning by this principle could be established.
The spectators are not amateur or "to be" actors, but ordinary people, they buy a ticket and come to the theater just like they would for any other performance.
  • A different kind of theater experience - get both to watch and to play.
  • A way to practice your acting skills while having fun.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • There are forms of theater like interactive and participatory theater that involve the audience in the performances, but I haven't seen or heard of cases where the spectators would be the only actors.
How it works:
The setting of the theater hall: The cover image represents it quite well. The stage is in the center of the theater hall and the spectator seating is circularly placed around it. There should be not too many rows of seating, just one, a couple, or a few and the seating should be arranged in a way that it would be easy for people to walk to the stage and back to their seats quickly without bumping into each other.
The front row is close to the stage. The stage is not elevated, it's just the floor of the room, instead - the seating around it is. There could be wider gaps between different parts of the spectator seating to make it easier to bring decorative elements in during the performance. The backstage is behind the spectator seating.
The performance: People buy tickets to the interactive performance, come and take their seats in the hall. There are many ways how the performance can be organized, I'll give one example:
The performance is guided by a member of the theater staff. He/she doesn't appear on stage during the performance, just speaks through a portable microphone as a storyteller. Before the performance, this person explains to the audience/actors the basics of how this will work.
The act consists of many short performances with related or unrelated plots. Before each short performance, an automatic system randomly selects a few actors from the audience. A few spotlights are directed to some of the seats in the audience and those people all walk down and stand close to the stage (the stage circle is brightly lit, and the rest of the hall is in darkness). The storyteller is also close to the stage, in the darkness, with the to-be actors. He/she walks around and whispers in the ears of the actors some specific details of that scene if that's necessary. Other staff members prepare the setting of that scene by moving decorations a little bit and changing lighting/projections but it is mostly imaginary.
Let's say there are two empty desks brought on stage. The storyteller then begins by introducing the setting of the scene, e.g.: "It's an empty classroom in an ordinary high school". He/she then touches one of the actors and continues: "A girl walks in, sits down at the desk, and starts writing something in her notebook" The touched actress acts that out. The storyteller then touches another actor and continues: "After a while, a boy walks in and does the same". The touched actor acts that out. The storyteller continues: "Suddenly the girl looks at the boy and says..." The actress now has to come up with what to say, cause the storyteller only governs their actions, not their words. The performance continues that way and ends after about 10 minutes.
The actors then get back to their seats, the system picks other spectator-actors for the next scene, a different setting is prepared and the cycle continues until all the spectators have participated. The same spectators are not picked up again unless all of them have already participated and there's still time for the performance to continue.
Other details: This would be a theater's recurring or permanent (once or twice per week, month, etc.) event so that people would know what it's about and how it works and could go whenever they want. In the case where the whole theater works by this principle, different performances are organized differently according to the nature of each performance.
There would only be in-advance tickets sold online so that the staff could know the number of people attending in advance and thus better prepare for the performance. Each ticket has an assigned seat with a number and you must sit in your place. You can switch places with another spectator if you want, but you can't take seats that don't have tickets ascribed to them, because then you won't be able to participate in the performance and moreover - you'd complicate it.
Due to the unusual nature of the theater, the ticket cost could be lower or it could be donation-based at least at first, to attract more visitors and gain popularity.
Creative contributions

Connect with fellow spectator-actors after the play

Povilas S
Povilas S Nov 29, 2022
Another "why" of the idea is meeting people in a non-conventional way. After the performance theater staff could put the names of all the spectators next to the roles that they played. For example: "The schoolgirl" - Laura and their contacts (e.g. link to social media account) if that person agreed to give that information. This way people who liked particular actors or who played with them in the same scene could reach out to them. Since tickets to such performances would be booked online in advance, people could be asked whether they want to provide their contact details when booking the ticket and explained for what reason this is being done.
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Monetizing such an improv theater

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 30, 2022
I agree with the advantages of improved discussion and dialogue among the actors to make connections and showcasing their talent on stage, like an open audition. However, I am worried about the financial part that needs to be robust for the system to be sustainable. Everything starting from booking the theatre to advertising and creating a plot or direction for the improv will require money. Moreover, the actors/ spectators that you get will either be people who are amateurs or budding actors looking for roles. Seasoned actors may not need to be at such places since they are known to all (or at least to people in the field) and are directly contacted for roles. Therefore, the newbie actors/ spectators may not be able to buy expensive tickets or even donate money that is of the magnitude of the costs incurred (explained above - theatre booking charges, etc.). Therefore, such a theatre group may require other steady sources of income.
Another drawback that will add to the financial inviability is that new actors will join the group and as soon as they find concrete roles elsewhere, they will leave, probably to never return to improv theatre. Newer and newer actors will join the group who are not in a good position financially.
Here are some options:
  1. The discussions and improvisation theatre lead to something concrete once in a while. One of the actors takes charge to convert it into a script and the play is then opened to the public. The shows go on, which are monetized, and simultaneously, the improv theatre continues. Once in a while, something concrete comes up and that is converted into another play that is monetized.
  2. The theatre group invests more in advertising and getting more and more new actors into their group. They approach casting agencies and supply them with actors from the group. The casting agencies pay them a certain commission.
  3. The improv theatre is open to students pursuing acting or even school students. The improv theatre also comes with lessons so that the students get some learning out of it rather than only the experience. The improv people charge the schools and universities for conducting such sessions on their campus.
  4. The improv theatre has a theme (as you explained) and they perform at relevant events/ locations. For example, at a non-conventional wedding, the improv theatre is a part of the wedding where the theme is "everlasting love", "marriage problems (satire)", etc. that entertain the guests. The bride and groom pay for the theatre.
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni J. Nikola I edited the idea a bit with regard to your remarks, hope it makes more sense now:)
This could also work as a party game with the right people. I'm willing to try it once gotten a chance.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia year ago
Povilas S I am trying to gather what is in it for the spectators to come and make the idea sustainable. Based on the updated session description, I think newer spectators will join for either of the following reasons:
  1. To see if acting is their cup of tea. They will join the performance, act, and reflect. They might ask the coordinators for feedback. Providing feedback is another thing that the theater staff can do to promote the activity.
  2. To brush up on the acting skills (mentioned in the why section). Actors who had taken a break from acting for various reasons and want to make a comeback could try out the idea first.
  3. For entertainment
Is this correct? Anything else you think could be the reason apart from the why section?
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
I think you misunderstood the idea - the improvised performance is not for amateur or "to be" actors - it's for ordinary people just like any theater performance, for people from the street so to speak. The only difference is that it's interactive and you have to want to participate. The roles should be simple and short enough so that anyone could, in principle, do it. The roles could also be improvised on the spot by the guiding person, the stories/scenes as well, but it would perhaps be better if the staff guiding the performance would prepare the roles and situations a bit in advance.
The main work of the theater staff, therefore, would be to come up with scenes that would not require much skill from the participants but still would be fun to engage and watch. They could always fix the scene a bit by guiding the story if the spectator-actor lacks the creativity/skill to make it interesting. So it would be a collaboration between real actors guiding the performance (but not acting) and the spectators as actors trying to improvise according to their ability/creativity. The main responsibility still falls on the theater staff.
I've been to similar performances, so know how it works. Just that those performances never involved only spectators, but I think it would be cool if they did. About the ticket price - it could be usual just like for most other performances or it could be lower due to the lack of true actors. Such performance is more of an engaging activity than something to watch, but engaging activities are also something to pay for.
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