Are you out there? This is Cameryn...
Challenging oneself by "using" the audience
by Cameryn Moore
The first iteration of my first solo show Phone Whore was not a monologue; it was a dialogue between me and a recorded voice, that of an invisible interviewer for a would-be documentary. That character was represented in the performance space by a prop video camera on a tripod, just standing there in the center aisle. That voice asked me questions, and I answered them.
… Because I think I’m going to need a buffer.
After suffering through an early preview in a conference room at a hotel, where the AC kept coming on throughout the performance and seriously obscured the interviewer’s lines, my director sat me down to have a chat.
“Okay, seriously, you’re going to be performing in 17 different venues with 17 different tech people and 17 different AC systems, which are almost certainly going to be randomly running during your show. Also… 34 sound cues, hon. That’s a lot for a one-hour play, especially when you only have three hours to tech. Why do you need that character in there?”
Well, I need a reason to talk.
“That’s not an issue, I keep telling you, you can just talk, have a conversation with the audience.”
Yeah, but I need something to focus my attention on.
“Why can’t you look at the audience?
Because I don’t think they can handle my talking directly to them.
Because I’m saying awful things and dirty words and I think they’re going to need a buffer.
… Because I think I’m going to need a buffer.
I bump into new variations of this audience-trust challenge with every show.
So I cut the interviewer out. It made the script flow so much better. It also pushed me face to face with my fear about speaking to the audience, about trusting my viewers to step up to the plate, listen to what I had to say, and just… deal with it.
Maybe it’s because my work so far has been intimate—very, VERY intimate—but I bump into new variations of this audience-trust challenge with every show. It only takes one read-through of the new script for me to find it, that moment of “oh, SHIT, this is going to be hard”. Not the memorizing, not the blocking, but something about the content and how I need to interact with the audience is going to be hard. I bulldoze through it, but it’s still hard.
I had gotten used to responding to everything the audience did...
For example, my second show, slut (r)evolution, consists of a string of flashbacks involving invisible people, woven through a current-moment, pre-hook-up conversation with an invisible person. All of the play, in other words, needs to be contained; the fourth wall needs to remain intact. The challenge when I first started doing it, see, was that I was freshly off tour from Phone Whore, in which there is no fourth wall; everything except the phone calls is essentially a conversation with the room. I had gotten used to responding to everything the audience did—turning my head to focus on a gasp, grinning in response to someone’s laughter, breaking a strained silence with a gentle question—but in slut (r)evolution I couldn’t do any of that. Consequently, I found myself struggling to believe that I could maintain a whole universe by myself, and that the audience would stay engaged if I didn’t hold their hands and look them in the eye. My director laughed a lot about that: “Last year you were dying because you had to make eye contact, now you’re bitching about not being able to.” She opened her notebook and smirked. “You’ll figure it out.” And I did. The first few shows were tough—my gaze felt like it was being pulled around to look at the audience by a junkyard magnet—but eventually I learned to trust that all of those people would still be there at the other end of the show.
That buffer I used to think I needed? I still want it, more than ever.
And now power | play. Good LORD. I’m not just going back to a more conversational relationship with the audience, but I’m going to be going right INTO the audience. And TOUCHING them: stroking the backs of their necks, touching their fingers, brushing hair away from their foreheads. Pulling someone up on stage to feel up a feather, dragging a chair next to someone else and flirting with them. Through storytelling and audience participation and spoken word and old-fashioned riled-up soap-boxing, I’m modeling different choices and paths toward more self-aware and awesome sex. As I say in the opening scene of power | play, “I’ve done two years of ‘let’s listen to Cameryn tell us dirty things about herself,’ and now I think it’s time that y’all took some responsibility for what happens between you and me, right here in this room”. And I have to trust that most of them will be brave enough to take that responsibility and come along with me for the ride.
That buffer I used to think I needed? I still want it, more than ever. This article is coming out five days before the preview of power | play, and honestly, right now I am scared shitless about looking an audience in the face, or sprawling seductively in a chair right next to them, and asking “Well? What should we do next?” But I am also eager. I want to see what they’ll do, when I invite them to come along. I have to trust that this three-year relationship is ready for it, and that I’m ready for it, too.