When I walked into a room of around 25 people in Theological Hall, it became clear that the first performance of Transference was going to be a very intimate experience.
The producers, Scott Forster, ArtSci ’16, and Andreea Ionescu, ConEd ’17, who’ve paradoxically forfeited all control over their own production, gave an exposition to the audience beforehand, explaining exactly what they were going to see.
The concept is relatively simple, but odd enough that the show is unique. Four different actors perform on stage one after another. Alone, they perform what is essentially a cold-read of a script they’ve never seen before. The four different scripts are kept confidential even from the directors themselves, and are only read by the playwrights who wrote them before they’re performed.
With no direction, the purpose of the show was to see how each different person self-directs, and how much of their own personality they put into their acting.
All the actors but one left the room and the performance began when the first actor chose a manila envelope containing their script at random from the set of four, sat on a stool on a bare stage area and began reading aloud.
Before coming to see it myself, I expected the entire thing to be painfully awkward and full of pregnant pauses, mixed-up words and second-hand embarrassment. In reality, the show was painless, funny and self-reflective.
The scripts, while differing in style, tone, and voice, all felt like a mixture made up partly by diary entries, partly dramatic monologues and partly conversations with the audience.
The performers all had clearly different, even opposing, acting styles.
I found myself amazed that each one was able to hit all the right notes with their script. They earned laughs from every joke and vocalized every emotion in a way that felt oddly organic.
There was no way of knowing if someone was ad-libbing a hand gesture as they read, or if the script directed them to do so. Doing things like ripping a page in half during a rant, laughing at their own joke or looking an audience member in the eye while saying the word ‘you’, weren’t clear choices made by the actor or playwright but a blurring of the two.
Each performer inevitably stumbled over words as they moved forward, but held their composure and characters no matter what their scripts threw at them.
One script told a first-person story of losing their virginity in graphic detail, including sexual noises and mannerisms. The performer, Serena Fenn, impressively brought the awkward scenario to life without shying away or skipping a beat.
Another script contained simply one side of an argument between a couple, that actor Lizzie Moffat, ArtSci’18, executed as if the other was right there firing back at them.
With no time to prepare or decide what direction they’ll take the words on the page, the actors were forced into an authenticity that rehearsed dramatic readings can’t replicate.
The intentional confusion of the performance, and the invitation to the audience to evaluate it, is what makes Transference engaging for anyone, regardless of whether or not they’re a theatre buff.
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