Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bring theater to your living room.

Banks Helfrich, Jack Graham and Tisse Mallon present experiential performances in living rooms.
This unique 50 minute show consists of short segments focused on fun, connection and authenticity. I went to a performance at Tisse Mallon's home in the quiet College Park neighborhood. Daylight savings time meant that it was dark when I arrived. A table was set up on the walkway to her front door and there was a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine along with wine glasses. For a suggested donation of $5 I had a cup of red to loosen up my line work.

I was a bit anxious since I knew that there would only be 50 minutes to sketch the show and I'm used to having two hours to complete most sketches. The living room was only about 12 by 12 feet. I sat on one of the two couches and about 18 people squeezed in. Folding chairs were set up until everyone had a seat. There were familiar smiles and some people I had never met before. In Victorian times long before TV invaded our living rooms, people would perform for each other for entertainment. These improvisational performances harkens back to those simpler and more creative times.  


Tisse is a talented photographer and life coach and Banks is an independent film producer and director. I had never met Jack but quickly learned that he is a talented acoustic guitar player and actor. The separate acts were tied together by a common thread of connectivity built from honest incidents from the actors lives. In one particularly powerful  scene, Tisse sat alone on stage and silently looked at each of the audience members. I paused my sketch as she looked at me and I felt her smile widen as we looked at each other. She addressed everyone letting then know she felt they we beautiful and she acknowledged how we tried to always get it right. "Darn right" l thought. "This sketch isn't turning out like I'd expected." Perhaps always struggling to capture the moment keeps me from appreciating the true warmth of being in the moment.

In another scene the living room went pitch black. l stopped sketching. The actors were warming up their voices and started setting a beat by pounding the floor. I joined in by pounding my unfinished sketch. Everyone in the audience joined in. There was a primal, playful joy in that moment. Scenes were separated by the sounds of birds singing the trees. It felt like seasonal separations that marked the moments of our common experiences. Scenes addressed love, compromise and betrayal.  In a rather dark scene, Banks lay on the floor claiming that his spine was severed. Jack, as his brother reassured him. In an unexpected turn he offered his fallen brother fresh pancakes. Back in the kitchen, off stage, we all heard him moan and then fall to the floor. Banks called on to his brother but never rose. Once again the birds chirped as the room went black.

In the talk back after the show, Tisse explained that rehearsals had established how long each scene was but how each scene unfolded was different every time they performed. Tisse came up with the concept of Living Room Theater and they hope to bring the show to everyone and anyone's living rooms. There is no cost to book your living room as one of their venues. They also hope to someday take performances on the road. It is a great idea. The intimate setting makes you feel like you are on stage, very much a part of the action. The fourth wall is broken. There were a few moments when I felt an awkward pause as an actor searched, trying to decide how to react and where to take the  scene. What was never lost however was how fearless and honestly connected they were to each other. Mark Your Calendar, the next Living Room performance is Saturday November 7th.

1 comment:

Banks Helfrich said...

Absolutely brilliant, Thor.