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Theatre: Senses, skin, and live performance

By Robert W. Bethune
ART TIMES online July 2014

There are two productions I often think about when thinking about theater. I saw the one many, many years ago; it was a production of Lorca’s Yerma in the Studio Theater at Wayne State. I saw the other one a couple of years ago; it was a production of Metamorphoses at the Water Works in Chicago. I remember both of them for one reason:


As I keep insisting, the essence of theater is the mutual presence of performers and audience in the same space, sharing the same air. It is obvious that sight and hearing carry the main burden, but what about touch?

In the production of Yerma, the actress playing the main character came on stage and wordlessly washed her arms, face and neck in a bucket of water.

In the production of Metamorphoses, almost the whole play was staged in a large pool of water, deep enough to that the actors could submerge themselves completely, and even enter and exit underwater. The audience, in the rows where I sat, was kindly provided with towels, which turned out to be quite useful; it’s amazing how much water stage combat can disperse, and the distances to which it can disperse it.

But most importantly, you could not watch these performances without feeling, in that magically theatrical way, the sensation of cool water on your skin, and what that soothing, enticing, refreshing sensation can mean, physically and emotionally.

You can’t get that from a screen.

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