|The Theatre for One (AP)World's Smallest Theater Parks In Times Square
Posted: June 8, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) -- Does this sound too good to be true? You can now catch a great show in an intimate theater smack in the heart of bustling Times Square put on by a Tony Award-winner. Plus, there's the cost: free.
That unbelievable proposition is a reality this week as "Theatre for One" returns for its second year, parking a 4-foot-by-8 foot portable theater near the TKTS booth in Duffy Square and inviting one audience member at a time to see one short play performed by a single actor.
Here's how it works: Five actors and at least one musical act will perform 5-minute-to-10-minute pieces in rotation on a first-come-first-served basis during a six-day stand that started Tuesday night and ends Sunday.
Each lucky audience member slips into a section of the theater and waits until a partition rises, revealing a performer who then begins his or her short piece. Which performer the audience sees is largely the luck of the draw, adding to this unique theatrical event.
"A lot of what happens is unique to every audience member," says scenic designer Christine Jones, who conceived and leads the project. "Both the actor and the audience member are equally invested in it."
This year, the cast includes Steve Cuiffo, Birgit Huppuch, Marin Ireland, Tasha Lawrence and Dallas Roberts. The playwrights commissioned are Zayd Dorn, Stephanie Fleischman, Jacquelyn Reingold, Emily Schwend and Beau Willimon.
Roberts will be acting in the box for a second year and credits Jones with creating a very powerful theatrical experience for both visitor and actor. "She's done an amazing thing distilling it to just its bare essence."
Roberts, who appeared in the films "Walk the Line" and "3:10 To Yuma" and plays Julianna Margulies' brother in "The Good Wife," will this year perform a powerful piece by Dorn that has left him and audience members crying.
"It's remarkable how quickly you can feel something with someone else," he says.
There will be a musical guest or two that haven't been revealed. Last year, Billie Joe Armstrong left an unwitting Green Day fan jumping with joy when he came face-to-face with his idol and got a private concert. The theater apparently shook with the fans' excitement.
Sitting facing someone else in the world's smallest theater -- complete with red-padded walls and soft lighting -- is a lot like being in a confession booth, peep show or even an elevator. The performer feeds off the audience, making it seem different from a mere monologue.
"There's something about a monologue that feels like it's a performer delivering something. And this to me feels like a shared story," Jones says. "There's a reciprocal event happening."
Jones, who won a Tony for designing the sets for "American Idiot" and whose work can be seen now in a revival of Tony Kushner's "The Illusion" at the Signature Theatre, has been working on the project for years, ever since a magician left her spellbound at a wedding reception by pulling a card she'd selected out of his mouth.
Last year, "Theatre for One" performed for 676 people in Times Square and had to turn many away. Jones says she and her team are still working out the best rhythm for both performer and audience but generally lets serendipity make over.
"Someday, I would actually love to have a building of booths so that you could go in and go from experience to experience. Or to have 10 booths in the square," she says. "But it's still at its infancy."
This year, she's focusing more on theatrical pieces, moving away from the tap dancers, poetry and magicians she used last time. She commissioned the five writers to think about a piece appropriate for Times Square.
The project is a real labor of love but far from bare-boned. Jones still needs the help of a house manager, a stage manager, a technical director, a costumer, sound and lighting designers and a facilities manager, among others.
It is a rich experience -- for the price of nothing.
"The business model of it is just a disaster," Jones says, laughing.