Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shanghai Grand Theater, the Studio

I was at the Studio Theater in Shanghai Grand Theater tonight for the first time. I have seen several performances in the main hall in the past, but this was my first time in the smaller, more intimate setting of the Studio.

The show tonight was good enough, and the actor who played the lead was very good. As good as she was, though, she couldn't quite cover up for a weak script. I am not sure (yet) exactly what didn't work in the story line, for me, so I'll leave that for another post.

What I did find very impressive, besides the performance of the actors, was the venue. The Studio is a small cozy little place for a performance. It makes you feel like you are right in the middle of it all, and really pulls the audience into a performance. The seating tonight was good, but I noticed after the show that it was all on collapsible risers, meaning that it is possible to rearrange it to suit whatever is on the program for that particular night. Tonight's show had a pretty straightforward set up for the seating, but I could imagine doing something really creative with that in order to make good use of the whole space of the theater. Even with the rather traditional seating of tonight's show, I felt that the actors are so close to the audience that they are still able to make use of what you would normally think of as the "audience's space." It almost felt as if we were actually in the girl's apartment for the duration of the show.

The lights and sound system were top-notch too. Tonight's performance made good use of both, though there were a couple of times I thought the cast might have missed their spots with the lighting. (Always a risk when you make use of so many changes in lighting.) The sound effects were all very nicely arranged, with phones ringing, sirens wailing, and voices calling from various points on and off the stage. That made for an interesting way to change the pace of the production from time to time. For much of the play, there was only one person on stage, and she carried her part beautifully. But I do think that without these changes of pace offered by the various sound and lighting effects, the thin plot would have slowed down to nearly a standstill.

I think that tonight's production was a case where the venue really went into "making" the show. I can imagine writing dramatic texts specifically for that setting. It is the sort of place a playwright could quickly fall in love with.

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