I was able to be a part of Etiquette, the new play by Theatre Rotozaza from the UK now set up at Baked Cafe, at First and Main. It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Yep, you’re sitting down, yep there are actors and a stage, and lines, and things are acted out, but you are the participants and no one in the cafe knows you are doing it. It’s visceral and you feel as if you are being used, a bit, by the play. After all, the voice tells you what to say and what to do. You will be talking about it for awhile.
You participate with one other person sitting across from you. You wear headphones and whatever the voice says to you on the headphones to say or do, you say or do. But it’s not so loud that anyone will ever hear you. It’s not embarrassing. It’s a conversation you are having with another person who is also wearing headphones.
The play is called Etiquette because it seems to want to examine the whole idea of proper things to say. Here you are, being the actor, being fed lines, much like you go to a Book of Etiquette to know how to say appropriate things at a wedding, funeral, dinner party. You are handed lines in those situations. But there are some situations you won’t have words for…
In the course of the play, you are directed to pick up small objects and figurines, place them on the table, do things with them. The play uses you to get itself acted. It’s really clever that way.
It references at one point Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Doll’s House, and you witness the last scene of that play, where Nora does something that no woman in theatre was ever allowed to do, until then. She leaves her husband. He is left nearly speechless. There’s nothing he can say–nothing that makes any sense. This is the crux of the play Etiquette, not Ibsen’s scene, but the idea that we need words to understand how to act or feel at certain times.
There will come a moment when you have to read a note while looking through a glass of water. Hold the note close to the glass and move it sideways. It will be clearer if you do that. If you can’t, just flip it over and read the note outloud. The rest of the directions are pretty easy to follow–you pick things up and place them on the table in front of you, you turn, look around, look at each other.
I can’t tell you much more about the play—you have to live it to know what it is. And whichever character you are, you will only know the play from that perspective. This challenged a lot of what I think about theatre–about the audience’s ability to stay as observers to the play. Here, you are forced to BE the play, and you don’t know what the other character will say, or what you will say, until you’ve said it. But all the elements of theatre are there. They are on the table, in your hands, out of your mouth. It’s unique and visceral, and if you get a chance to sign up at Baked Cafe to do it, do it. It takes 30 minutes, and there are only two tables in the room to use (so only four people can participate at a time). No one really sees you or thinks about what you are doing. It just looks like you are having a conversation. But you are really deep inside a play, while the rest of the world drinks coffee around you.
Etiquette is brought to you through the 2010 Pivot Theatre Festival arranged by Nakai Theatre. For more information, see their website.
Etiquette happens Tuesday January 26 to Sunday January 31,
Baked Cafe, every half hour between 1 and 6 pm, $20/pair
Tickets available at Baked Cafe starting Jan. 26 at noon.