A relaxed, unfocused amiability fills the Chopin Theater’s mainstage, where Collaboraction’s 11th Annual Sketchbook Festival has taken residence. Performers of many stripes are featured; young and old, accomplished and amateur, polished and rough. As the title of the festival suggests, the evening had the air of an impromptu visit to a drawing class; I felt as if I were peering over the artists’ shoulders as they, with a smile, leaned their pads toward me and allowed me a glimpse of what they’ve been working on.
Some of the pieces were puzzling; others were delightful. None seemed to take the evening all that seriously. Performers, stagehands, directors, parents of the child performers, and others ambled (or bustled, or traipsed, as their task/destination/age dictated) through the space, across the stage, into the audience, smiles on their faces as if returning from the snack table at a family reunion. The fourth wall (discussed at some length during one of the eight pieces I saw) was established for some pieces and blithely broken immediately after. A fair number of the audience members conducted text message conversations during the show.
I am all for the democratization of theater. Certainly some theaters could take a lesson from Sketchbook’s attitude and loosen their collars a bit. I am puzzled by the seeming lack of respect for the work and the space within which the work is performed (and, perhaps most regrettably, the permissiveness of some of the parents of the younger performers) exhibited by performers who thought it acceptable to sit just to the side of the stage and chat, text, whisper, and/or giggle throughout the show. Care should be taken to allow the performers their time to build a stage picture, develop some dramatic tension, take the space, command our attention.
It is obvious that some in this festival are serious about their work. It shows. The pieces are strong. Their effect was diminished by the casual atmosphere in the theater during the performance. So, by all means, go enjoy these fine and fun new works. But don’t worry about dusting off the black tie attire or turning off your cellphone.