Plank has been open for a week, and there is one observation I've been making with bemusement and even sadness. It is how theater-goers are programmed to attend a theater production.
Every night I watch patrons enter the space and skirt the playing area--what others might call the stage--on their way to their seats by following an invisible line that is drawn by the first row and two “rocks” that actually are hiding two lighting instruments. The patrons are clearly thinking, I’m not allowed to cross that line and walk on the “stage”—the sacred place where only actors are “allowed.”
But there is nothing stopping anyone from going onto the playing area; it's all in their heads. There's nothing stopping anyone from taking a closer look at the details in JiYoung Han’s gorgeous set and immersing themselves in the underwater light of the preshow, i.e. entering the world of the play. I would encourage anyone to do that.
Plank and Alley Cat Theater is also about breaking down the barriers and expectations that I feel traditional theater (and even ourselves) have set up to limit our theater experiences. The first part of the play is based on movement and magical realism, two elements I would bet most American audiences aren’t accustomed to. Long pauses are built into the script allowing the audience to experience what Potpee is experiencing. (It takes a bit of time to read Moby Dick and you might be surprised to see what can happen.) If you’ve been trained by popular culture to expect snappy dialogue, repartee, and quips, you're going to be disappointed or even angry because they are just not there. I think instead what you'll hear is interesting conversation. And in the second part of the play, if you’ve come to expect scenes of a certain length ending with a kicker line (again, a major influence of especially television) you just won’t find it. Not only did that little geometric diagram, length x width x height break apart for Potpee on the Ocean, but your notion of dramatic structure might--and maybe it should--break apart.
I hope you do come see Plank. And when you do, try to jettison as much of your expectations for theater as you can before entering the space. Let your expectations wash off your plank the same way everything was washed off Potpee’s plank. Walk across the set to your seat. Put away your notion of time and story-telling in the theater. Don’t try to control the theater in the way that Potpee first tries to control her plank, but instead, like Potpee, give into the plank and let it take you on your own journey.
Alley Cat Theater
Alley Cat Theater produces new work that is intelligent, compelling, and thoughtful, telling stories by pushing the boundaries of the theater.