We Are Not Alone

by Adrianne Krstansky

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

Today I came upon then funeral procession for Boston firefighter Lt. Edward Walsh.  I stopped and watched as his family was led out of the funeral home and his casket carried to the firetruck to bring his body to the church.  I watched his widow, children, parents, friends and hundreds of fire fighters mourn this loss of this man who so heroically gave his life to save others.

I stood with hundreds of onlookers on the sidewalk.  People with tears streaming down their faces. It was impossible to not be deeply moved by the sacrifice of this man and the loss his family and especially his wife and children will now endure.  It was impossible to not be moved by the magnitude of the respect and gratitude people displayed.   Lt. Walsh’s sacrifice is proof that we live in a culture where people devote themselves to the self-less care and welfare of their community.

The procession was carried out with ritual precision.  I would not call it theater, as the participants were not there to be seen and some seemed to resent the intrusion.  And those of us looking on intended a show of support, an offer of condolences.  We were not there to be ‘served’.  We wanted to take part in a communal ritual of grief and ensure the community they were not alone.

There are many ways of doing theater that can ‘include’ the audience – site specific work, interactive theater, installations, audience participation – the manner of doing this kind of theater is one thing.  The intention behind it is another.   Perhaps a useful question to ask is ‘who’ is the audience?  And what stake do they or should they have in the theatrical event?  Whether folks are onstage with the actors or twenty feet away; what are we all doing in that room together?  Mourning?  Discovering?  Exploring?  Imagining?  What role can the audience play?

Last night I had the great joy of seeing ‘Not by Bread Alone’  by the Nagala’at Theater Ensemble comprised of a group of blind and deaf actors from Tel Aviv.  At the end, we were invited onstage to eat the bread the actors baked during the show.  We were invited to touch the actors.  For that is how they can best, as one actor put it, “know that you are there”.  A young woman ran onstage and embraced an actress who sat quietly waiting to be approached.  She needed contact from the audience – she needed to know we were there.

I have no answers but I do know this question of how we can ‘touch’ each other, so we know we are not alone, is more resonant in our culture today than ever.   And whether we break the boundaries down via space or time – I do know that the spirit of invitation, to touch, embrace and share a meal, a ritual with the actors may go a long way towards convincing us all we are not alone.

Adrianne Krstansky is a Boston area professional actor and director and currently Associate Professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University. In the New England area she has performed at The American Repertory Theater, Speakeasy Stage Company, Boston Playwrights Theater, New Repertory Theater, Lyrics Stage Company, Gloucester Stage Company and Commonwealth Shakespeare among others. In New York City and regionally she has appeared at The Public Theater, Atlantic Theater Company, Steppenwolf Theater, LaJolla Playhouse. Film credits include featured roles in The Company Men and the upcoming HBO miniseries, Olive Kitteridge. She will be featured in upcoming productions of On the Verge at the New Repertory Theater and Imaging Madoff at the Boston Center for American Performance. Her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s A Mark on the Wall will be presented at the International Virginia Woolf Conference 2014 and she will act in the Summer New Play Workshop at the Huntington Theater.

She has worked as a director at Shakespeare and Company (Lennox, MA) and Merrimack Repertory Theater (MA). She directed Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra for The Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston.

She is a tenured Associate Professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University where she teaches Acting, Collaborative Process, Directing and Improvisation. She regularly directs departmental productions and her next project for the Brandeis Theater Company will be Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl. Her last project was the collaboratively devised play ‘Ordinary Mind/Ordinary Day’ based on Virginia Woolf’s short story collection Monday or Tuesday. She currently is working on a theatrical adaption of The Waves and continues her research on performing the texts of Virginia Woolf. She holds an MFA from the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of California, San Diego and has a BA in Theater Arts from Beloit College.