Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hopper Does San Francisco

I'm sitting in a rented apartment, about half an hour before I need to catch my flight out of town. I've spent a week with four other members of the DICE crew in the foggy neighborhood of Sunset in San Francisco. We just finished our show last night.

Like all DICE shows, it was (almost) entirely improvised. Each night, two of us would step onstage, one as Edward Hopper, famous 20th century painter of Nighthawks fame, the other as his wife Josephine, or one of the other people influential to his life and art. After a ten minute improvised scene, we would show a painting, and two more people would come on stage, starting in the places of the characters in the painting, and improvise a scene of what happened to those characters. Sometimes the parallels were obvious, sometimes they were subtle. But you could see them every time.

The show was part of a theater festival hosted by foolsFury, called Factory Parts. The point of the festival was to give ensemble pieces without a traditional scriptwriting process a chance to do something analogous to a staged reading. Were were still working out the kinks in the concept. Others were still working on the shows themselves.

There was a workshop over the weekend before we performed, hosted by director Mark Jackson. It started off seemingly as an unassuming list of lists of things about theater. But some of the items and discussions it provoked were certainly memorable. Aside from a few odd proclamations from participants about crop circles or brown rice, one thing that Mark himself said stuck with me: As artists, the product we create isn't the performance, or the object, or the thing we actually have our hands on, it's the experience of our audience. That's the thing we make, and as I interpreted it, that's what we're responsible for in our art.

It's something I'd always sort of felt, but never before quite had the words to explain. When I'm concerned about a piece of writing or a performance I'm part of, I'm usually thinking about the audience's experience. Obviously we can't be responsible for every single reaction of any audience member, but it's important to acknowledge that we at least share the responsibility.

Which is partially why I had a good time working with DICE on this project. People really enjoyed the piece. We got great feedback from our audiences in talkbacks and immediately after the shows. Sometimes when I'm doing dramatic improv, it doesn't totally feel quite like it's fitting. But when you hear afterwards that your audience thought it hit home, you know that no mater how you felt, you did something right.

I don't know what's next for the company, but I think we're going good places.


  1. Great post! Break legs! Looks like whatever you're doing its working!!

  2. Hi Joel!

    I know that this is an older post, but I hope that you'll still see this comment. Congratulations on getting to work on this project! I wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for the Liebster Award on my blog.

    Have a good day!