Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brendan Regimbal, the stage manager for Ontological-Hysteric Theater and curator for Ontological-Hysteric Incubator (he was also my first director in college). The Ontological-Hysteric Incubator seeks to help guide emerging theatre companies from workshops to full productions. As Brendan explained it to me, the main qualification for being selected by the Incubator is not what the final performance looks like, but the method of getting there. The Incubator is looking companies that are not based on the model of writer, director, actors, and designers. Instead, it seeks to foster productions where a basic theme or collection of texts are developed by all the members in the group through a collaborative process.
There is someone who takes on the role of "director" in order to give coherence to the work. There are also people who have the role of being on stage during the performance, as well as people who are assigned to be in control of lights, set, etc. But instead of being confined to one specific role, are all present and active during the entire creative process and each has the opportunity to provide input on what the production as a whole should look like.
As you can imagine, combining so many creative minds to produce a production from such a loose foundation can take a lot of time (Brendan mentioned on show that took three years). It also requires a lot trust between the company members--trust that everyone will bring ideas to the table, trust that ideas will be listened to and lifted up, trust that rejection of an idea will not equal rejection of a person, trust that trying something utterly ridiculous will not be ridiculed, and trust that someone will speak up if something doesn't work. It sounds a lot like church.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a rehearsal of "Behind the Bullseye," a show based on interviews about why people shop at Target. True to form, the rehearsal started of with the director distributing books about installation art (which is a major aesthetic in the production) and then asking the cast to throw out themes and imagines about what was going on in the world the show created. When the actors did a run-through of the show, they were given free reign to move about the space and interact with the props (consisting of lots and lots of Target bags and products) based on the themes with only very minor instructions. As the actors experimented, so did the director, overlaying various pieces of music at different points and seeing how the actors interacted with it. When notes were given, they were always encouraging actors to think of new and and unexpected things. I'm told that soon decisions will be made about what to keep (the show opens in two and a half weeks), but for now, the cast is having a lot of fun playing with extremes, and as an audience member, it was great to watch. If you're in New York at the beginning of July, I highly recommend getting tickets--the interviews are fascinating and the thematic options being toyed with are insightful.