Theatre Replacement’s BioBoxes combines a clever concept with impressive performances and, in doing so, it offers people an opportunity for an unparalleled shared experience (click here for details). Not only is Bioboxes entertaining, I think it affected my whole outlook on theatre, on the performing arts, and on life. Not bad for six ten-minute stories performed one-on-one inside an intimate photo booth-sized “box.”
My Bioboxes experience can probably be attributed to two specific choices. First, given the proximity of the performance, it seemed to me unfair not to participate in the performance fully and completely. So, I let the performers into my world and tried to give back to them as much as they gave to me. Second, I experienced each performance, for the most part, in a foreign language (the performers can switch between English and another language at the discretion of the “audience-member” and I always switched to the foreign language once I had a sense of the character involved). As a result of these two choices, the Bioboxes experience became, for me, one of pure intuitive empathy. And thanks to some marvelous performances, the shared experience was incredible, powerful, and direct. I can’t remember the last time I almost bawled my eyes out in front of a complete stranger, or experienced such good-natured happiness, or such loving warmth.
So, for me, much of the success of Bioboxes originated in the intimate proximity of the performance and the fact that it motivated me to empathize directly with a very talented performer and his or her performance. Of course, the concept might as easily have motivated me to do the opposite and I might have turned myself off to the performer. And I am sure, for many audience-members, this was the case and, as a result, I suspect these people had a totally different experience than I.
Many people — myself included — often use the literal and conceptual space between audience and performer as a reason not to participate in the performance. We are here and they are there and a wall of passivity divides us. It is tempting to blame the culture of moving picture shows to which we have all become so accustomed, but I suspect a major reason for this complicity is that too often performers use that wall as an excuse to ignore or even alienate the audience — even when they think they are breaking through to them. Successful live performance is a shared experience and it involves a shared responsibility. All parties to the experience need to make an effort to engage each other genuinely and respectfully.
Each and everyone of us everyday faces the choice I faced in those boxes with each and every person we meet. And I, we, all of us so often do not make the choice, time and again, to be open to the shared experience — even with those people with whom we are meant to be most close. A friend of mine was randomly and drunkenly assaulted (thankfully not seriously) on Saturday night. The fear of these unexpected and random acts of physical and emotional violence from friends and foes alike keeps us closed up inside our own boxes. The fire of alienation is also its fuel.
The conventions of theater (and all other arts, performing or otherwise), for me, are a mechanism, a means, and / or an excuse to inhabit this shared space of pure intuitive empathy. I know for myself the enjoyment of performing is that it allows me to be — to exist for myself and others — in a way that I rarely have the courage to do so in day-to-day life. I have this courage on stage precisely because in a properly rehearsed show I know exactly what it going to happen and, in the end, I know no one ever really gets hurt.
In Bioboxes, I took a leap of faith and was greatly rewarded for it, but ultimately it was Theatre Replacement and their performers that took the much greater leap of faith and they deserve to be richly rewarded for it. Go, be a part of their world, by letting them into yours.