The next morning, further reactions as promised:
Boy howdy, that restricted vision. I knew I'd be able to see nothing much past my front paws, er, my hands on the floor, and thought I had prepared adequately for that. The cat's toy was jingly for two reasons, one artistic (?) one extremely practical. And as I said before, Jeff and I established when we did our tech-through that I wouldn't react to anything he was doing unless there was an accompanying noise. That worked nicely in the broad strokes, but it wasn't until I saw the videotape that I realized how much fun stuff I still missed, like the fact that he sat on audience laps. Knowing that might not have changed anything I did, but it might have. At the very least it meant I missed out on a key part of the audience's enjoyment. In that vein, it's interesting to notice the audience member who reaches out to pet my head. Again I didn't know this was going on at all, and had she actually made contact, I might have have freaked out, sure I had somehow managed to bump into something or someone. Worst case scenario, I might have even hurt her, if she had reached out to touch me just as I made a sudden move. It was just dumb luck--and perhaps some wise caution on the audience member's part--that kept any of that from happening. She was playing along, engaging, being a great audience member (and it does look like I'm staring right at her, doesn't it, not to mention the fact that I've practically crawled into her lap) while I was completely in my own world.
This whole event was geared towards audience interaction, and this piece appears to be in keeping with that spirit, but since I couldn't SEE anyone I wasn't holding up my end of the deal. Bumping into the table and the light stand made patently obvious to the audience that I wasn't as in control of the situation as I should have been, and again, it was just dumb luck that nothing got broken, and no one got hurt. (I don't think Conor's beverage actually spilled, Greg, but the threat was bad enough. He's an actor at the theatre, and an easy-going guy, so I don't think he held it against me, but that's just luck on my part too.) Events like this want to create a sense of controlled chaos, and audiences, if they like that dynamic at all, like it a lot. This crowd was very ready to play along, and that was fantastic. One couldn't have asked for a better house. But they need to be safe, and they need to KNOW they're safe, that they may be put in slightly embarrassing situations, but not physically dangerous ones. Another item on the list of dumb luck is the fact that my biggest blunders came right at the very end (and the second one didn't involve any audience members), so just as the audience was figuring out maybe I wasn't that safe to have around, I was already gone. So let me just say to the fine folks in the house that night, thanks, you guys were swell! Sure glad I didn't hurt any of ya!
In my own defense, I will say I had anticipated this issue somewhat as well, in particular when it came to the cat toy. I very carefully made sure it was in the center of the stage before going gonzo on it. But then adrenaline kicked in, I lost control of the ball's movement, and that is what sent me colliding into things. I had been careful up until that point, but once I'm playing cat hockey, like, wow. So, the dangerous part was really only there at the end, but it can't and won't happen again.
Now many of these discoveries would have been made in rehearsal, had there been any, and it was perhaps a wee bit intemperate of me to tackle so many experiments at once when I was going into a performance where it was understood improvisation was the name of the game. I'm used to creating pieces on the fly, that find their full shape with an audience, and that was certainly how I approached this piece. Some of that happened still, but I'm going to do a lot more work on it, preferably with a director, before I perform this piece again.
Some basic lessons I've already identified:
1) Stillness is my friend with the cat mask. Cats spend a lot of time being still, plotting their next move. I have a tendency to keep low-grade movement going on with a new mask, fearing that if I don't have some kind of action going, the mask will cease to read. Of course nothing screams insecurity like unmotivated, undifferentiated movement. So, it's a general lesson, and one I've certainly 'learned' before, but it has added resonance with this mask. He can spend less time prowling, and more time sitting and thinking.
2) Given the sight limitations with this mask, further performances would benefit from, ahem, tight choreography, and possibly a proscenium stage. Three quarter staging like you see here was invented in part to increase the connection between audience and performer. I'm a big fan of three quarter stages, but wonder if this piece might, at least for a while, need the greater sense of remove one gets from a proscenium. That separation doesn't have to deaden the effect; in fact can it increase the magical aura. For now, this piece might need to be something audiences interact with aurally and emotionally, not so much physically.
3) On a related note, some questions to address with a director include, what is the exact window of the mask? By this I mean, when does it read and when do we lose the character, and become aware of it as a construction sitting on someone's head? All masks have a window that is particular to them. Looking straight out, one may read beautifully, but tilt your head too far back, suddenly all we can see is the separation between the mask and the face and the illusion is shot. Turn too much in profile with certain masks, and suddenly an audience can't help but focus on the elastic band holding the thing on your face. Everyone has known it was there all along of course, they've probably seen it even, it's not news to them, but they happily suspend their disbelief as long as you don't make it impossible for them. This mask comes with different rules, and audience members will happily accept those as well, I just need to be very clear on what they are. Right now my understanding is too general. The video makes clear to me that seeing the cat from the back isn't terribly effective, so this another reason to shy away from three-quarter staging.
This mask came with a very interesting wrinkle on the window question. When I hold my head at certain angles, it reads as a cat (which is what I was going for, so, like, yippee). Change the angle slightly though, and suddenly the audience sees a dog. I had anticipated this problem sculpturally (more on that in a moment) but it wasn't until I saw the video that I realized how much my movement affected this. The sight problem comes into play here as well; occasionally I would forget myself, and crane my neck back in a (decidely doomed) attempt to see a bit farther ahead. When I keep my head down in the way it's supposed to be, I think the illusion of cat is achieved. Tilt my head up just a bit too much though, and it is definitely doglike. Practice, and a director's eye ('drop your head, you're looking up again') will help with this problem. (A director will also be able to remind me to keep my butt down. Honestly, I thought I was, but nope, I kept forgetting that too. Cat or dog, it just looks wrong.)
The dog/cat dilemma is also a sculptural problem, as I, Friend Marta, and my boy Bill all noticed as I worked on it. Here, let me show you.