When was the last time theatre made you feel something, either emotionally or physically? What was it that resonated with you: the lighting, the acting, an immersive set, a particular line? In her article on HowlRound.com, lighting designer Lucrecia Briceno reflects on this very thought, inspired by the last line of the fourth act of An Octoroon, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: "Anyway, the whole point of this thing was to make you feel something." While the play did not overwhelm her emotions, she did become acutely aware of how present she was with the production when cotton balls rained down on the audience, igniting a sense of powerlessness similar to that of the characters. Likewise, while watching a group of performers at the Arena of Nimes in France, Briceno's personal memories wove their way into how she perceived the play when a fan blew various smells at the audience—such as fresh cut grass or bubblegum—reminding her of home and childhood.
Lately, Briceno has been exploring the idea that design is a "medium for artistic dialogue with audiences," creating "work not just for, but with audiences." Working with Eamonn Farrell and his company Anonymous Ensemble in a piece called I Land, they began the show asking the audience questions about themselves—what is the story of your birth? can you describe your first kiss?—and then they shaped the narrative around their responses, using their answers verbatim. The lighting was essentially impromptu as well. Using handheld devices, conventional lighting, and even mobile phones, Briceno constructed an unmasked design that the actors themselves manipulated onstage, reshaping and transforming her design every night, much like the story.
In the future of theatre, Briceno hopes to see the audience making more design choices, asking them should it be bright or dark? should there be smells of cinnamon or of garlic? Surely, a theatrical performance created by performers and designers with an active audience is theatre that will make you feel, would it not? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Read Briceno's full story on HowlRound.com.