It's not often that I talk about why I perform. Recently an old family friend asked me about recent projects. And as I began explaining the most exciting projects I've worked on the past few years, many of these were immersive works that utilized one-on-one performance. Curious to know more, he asked what a one-on-one performance was, and what about it excited me. This is a paraphrased articulation.
A one-on-one is a theatrical moment that involves just one "performer" and one "audience member." I put these characters in quotation marks, because when just two people involved, the sharp edges around these roles quickly blur, and what happens is often remarkable and unreplicable. As a "performer" of one-on-ones, I always set out with an intention, and I have a script. But the very moment that I grab someone to share a specific experience, everything that I do has got to become as lyrical as the wind; the person I grab is not simply an audience member, they are the other half of the experience. And who they are, how they're feeling that day, their expectations or hopes or fears, their sense of bravery and adventure, completely shape the moment we will have together.
My first experience with this type of performance was when I was an audience member of Sleep No More, in the spring of 2011. My friend and longtime collaborator Jenny Koons told me, "Just go. If you go with someone else, split up immediately and go off on your own. You can share experiences later. Say yes to anything that happens." She told me nothing more than that. When I finally went to the show, I split up from my date, and within the first 15 minutes I found myself alone in a room with a performer. She grabbed my hand, pulled me into a smaller room, took my mask off, pushed me to my knees at a tiny pew, and began whispering in my ear. Her lips brushed my earlobe and every hair on my body stood up on end. She rubbed rock salt behind my ear, ripped out a page of a book, shoved it in my hands, and threw me out of the room. My entire body was shaking. I continued to explore the large "hotel" that Sleep No More inhabits, but that was the moment that my hunger for these types of experiences began.
The next year I auditioned for Sleep No More, but didn't make the cut. The following year I auditioned for Queen of the Night, an immersive, dinner-theater, circus, nightlife, spectacular event, as was hired as one of the original creative cast. Being on the other side, and creating these incredibly unique moments, and having the opportunity to share these moments with strangers for over eight months, was nothing short of life-changing. It may be hard to imagine, but every day for eight months, I was changed. Constantly changed by existing in a space with a stranger, and encouraging them to be open with me, as I was open with them. And this hunger has not yet been satiated.
If you have yet to go to a production that features this style of performance, I highly encourage you to do so. Maybe we'll find ourselves in a tiny cave, sharing secrets over a delicious cocktail that I'm preparing only for you. Or maybe you'll create a tiny raincloud in your hand, and as the wind rushes by, you lean your head back and taste the rain. Or maybe it's the future and we've decided to leave earth, and we're figuring out how to exist as a part of a brand new colony together. Who knows?