There are many ways to make an audience feel as if they are watching true life happen before them. Two plays put on at the University of Washington attempt to do just that. They are Goodnight Children Everywhere and plays from the Ten-Minute Play Festival. Both use a number of techniques to ensure the audience is truly embraced into the world of the play. Goodnight Children everywhere, by Richard Nelson is the story of the reunion of a brother with his three sisters after being sent to Canada for safety during the war.
The now, mostly grownup children realize it may be a lot harder to get along the way they did as children may then they thought. Directed by Mark Zufelt the cast portrays the 1940’s characters as being modern adults who just want to find a life of their own. The 2nd Annual UW Ten-Minute Play Festival, by various playwrights is a series of six non-related plays all between ten and twenty minutes long. Though the plays are not directly related they all have similarities in staging because the series is set on an arena style stage, which forces the movement to be 360 degrees to ensure the entire audience sees the dramatic actions.
Directed by Mark Harrison and Mathew Arbour the series bring the audience to so close to the action they could reach out and touch the actors. There are, however, many differences between the two productions. As I stated, The Ten-Minute Play festival is on an arena stage, meaning that the audience is seat all the way around the stage in a full circle. This differs from Goodnight Children Everywhere because it is set on a thrust stage, meaning the stage has seating on three of four sides.
The use of an arena stage, in any production forces the actors to sometimes have their backs to the audience because they cannot stage towards on front, like what is traditionally done on a precinium stage. With a thrust stage, it is possible to stage to the front, but would require some extra side attention if the director wanted to keep the actors facing the audience at all times. However, in Goodnight Children everywhere, the director does not try to force the actors front, instead makes the audience feel as if they are watching a real situation, he using a fourth wall blocking concept.
This concept means that the actors are blocked without any care to where the audience is sitting, sometimes leaving the audience to stare at the actors backs. Another powerful difference between the two is the use of props. They both use props to enhance the action however, the magnitude differs widely. The Play Festivle uses some props for seating and occasional props that are used in the action but in general their use is minimal. For example a box is used to store a valuable item in one play, however these props are very limited, and very plain. They do not draw undesired attention to them, or away from the story line.
In Goodnight Children the use of props is extensive. The setting could easily pass for a real living room, complete with multiple pieces of furniture, oriental carpets, lamps, and many more large items. What makes the setting so extraordinary is the little touches; the photographs on the wall, the tile floor for the bath area, and the real houseplants create an unmistakable 1940’s home. While both plays have very strong differences, they are both equally entertaining and creative. Goodnight Children uses its set to enhance the era and the Play Festivle uses its lack of props to stir up creativity and imagination in the audience.
In both productions the audience gets a realistic view of life; a life of pain, joy, hope, love, encouragement, and creativity. To compare these two is easy; to say one is better than the other is impossible. Being a member of an audience of any type of live production is an unforgettable experience that has little to do with stages, props, lighting, and etceteras. The true attraction is the passion the characters bring. That cannot ever be compared because every showing is different. Every actor brings something new to the production each time.