Director’s Notes - 200 Funny Things
Let’s face it. You can’t name a show 200 Funny Things and than claim that it’s not about getting laughs. It is about getting laughs. But, it’s also about “how” you get those laughs. In this case, the “how” is a kind of free association that occurs between actor and audience. On stage, the actors are free-associating on every level: physical, vocal, verbal, cerebral, etc. The audience free-associates off of what the actors are doing. In the middle of this free associative mayhem, flashes of abstract communication occur, that results in laughs. No one really knows why
the thing was funny. It just was. It’s the classic “you had to be there” sort of a situation.
You may be wondering why I created this festival of bizarre behavior. Well, I’ve got my reasons and here they are.
Most theatre, including classic improvisation, is language driven. It plays out in the realm of socially acceptable behavior. It presupposes recognizable characters and linear story lines. That seems to work pretty well, but I thought to myself, what if I didn’t use any of that stuff? What would that be like? I liked the answer that came back. It would be like a waking dream. It would be like “live” abstract art, a kind of theatrical Dadaism that would liberate actor and audience to interact with each other in a purely abstract way.
I decided this waking dream should play by the same rules as a REM sleep dream. Anything can happen and you go with whatever shows up. That’s exactly what the actors are doing in 200 Funny Things. Essentially, they are spilling the full expressive range of what they are experiencing into the performance space where the audience can experience it. Through the rehearsal process the actors have created these things called “entities”. An entity goes well beyond the concept of a character. It is derived from what the actor is experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. Essentially, the entity is a continuously evolving chain of experiencing. Each time the actor evokes an entity it will be different, because what they are experiencing at that moment is different. The entity can experience itself as human, or subhuman, or superhuman, or not human it all. It's really an experiential universe that continuously unfolds in the consciousness of the actor.
I also wanted to find out what happens between actor and audience when you eliminate the usual formal distance that exists in most productions. The show had to be comedic in nature so we could gage audience response. There’s no mistaking a laugh or a lack there of. Also, it’s impossible to get a laugh unless your audience is really engaged. Bored people don’t laugh. The absurdity of not quite knowing what you’re laughing at seems to eliminate any sense of distance and bonds actor and audience into a singularity of abstract communication. You can’t explain it any more than you can explain an abstract painting, but you can experience it. Once again, “you had to be there”.
The inspiration for doing 200 Funny Things is kind of personal. Throughout my adult life I have had laughing dreams. I’m asleep. I’m dreaming. Then something happens in the dream that sets me off. I can’t stop laughing. I laugh so hard that I wake up but I still can’t stop laughing. Sometimes it takes several minutes for the laughter to subside. In the aftermath I feel wonderfully liberated. The irony is that when I think back to the thing that set me off in the dream, I have no idea why it was funny. It just was. I’m trying to capture that same experience in the waking
dream that is “200 Funny Things”.