A Show That Cannot Exist Without An Audience

by Emily Tarquin

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.) 

Can a show exist without an audience? I think most would say that an audience is needed to complete a live theatrical experience. If you’re performing Hamlet alone in your room – is that theatre? Or if you’re performing Hamlet in your room in front of a friend – is that theatre?

In order to explore this idea further, we at Off-Center @ The Jones, part of the Denver Center Theatre Company, dedicated ourselves to creating a show that could not exist without an audience…literally.

The show was WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE: the scariest game show ever. It was a live taping of a game show that was later edited and aired on YouTube. The audience was the “live studio audience” and the colored pom-poms they were given when they entered decided their teammates for the night. Those who were brave enough could fill out a waiver and have a chance to be a contestant. The host, hostess, and musician were all actors. They had a basic outline to follow and the games were all planned in advance but the rest was up to the contestants. If chosen, the audience member was taken backstage and put into yellow coveralls to protect their clothes from what was about to befall them. The games were everyday tasks made terrifyingly difficult (think sorting laundry into different baskets, blindfolded, with your hands zip tied behind your back) and at the end of each game we were left with a winner and two contestants who now had to spin the dreaded Wheel of Misfortune. The misfortunes included beer-bonging a Mountain Dew, walking barefoot over Legos, and our favorite – being slapped by an octopus.

The internal misfortunes were also plenty: rehearsing it was difficult, it was taxing on our Human Resources department, it was messy beyond compare, someone in our test audience left bleeding, we spent more time creating waivers then content, and  my Co-Curator and I had to do our fair share of playing “contestants.” We pushed ourselves to create audience interaction that was completely authentic and necessary. Had no one wanted to be a contestant…I’m not sure what would have happened. And when the technology failed for one of our games and an audience member suggested we substitute it with a dance-off…we did.

Off-Center services an audience that craves a more active and unexpected night out. WHEEL OF MISFTORTUNE was the extreme realization of that desire but it opened us up to looking at the complete experience in a new way and involving the audience in the creation of it.

Off-Center is also in the fortunate position of being the testing center for a larger organization. We can afford to be riskier because our other three stages are offering a more traditional experience. In one night at the Denver Center, someone can be getting slapped by an octopus in one theatre while an actor is playing Hamlet for hundreds of people in another. You can choose which experience is right for you.

Additional Information:
Off-Center @ The Jones
Curated by Charlie Miller & Emily Tarquin
Part of the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC)
Part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA)
Located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC)
Located in Downtown Denver, Colorado (DDCO)
Confused yet?

Created, Directed and Curated by Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Developed by Emily K. Harrison, Bruce Montgomery, and Mark Sonnenblick

Emily Tarquin is the Artistic Associate of the Denver Center Theatre Company. Within that role she acts as Casting Associate, New Play Coordinator, and Producing Curator of Off-Center. Emily creates, directs, and curates shows and conceptualized the Off-Center productions of DRAG MACHINE, a drag queen time machine, AUDIO KICKS, photography meets music meets dance, and LIVED/RE-LIVED, the live realization of true stories. She is also the New Works Festival Producer and Director of Theatre at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp. Emily graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Media & Performing Arts.