Audience is ‘part of the equation’ in ‘Life and Times: Episodes 1-5′

Anne Gridley and Gabel Eiben star in Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Fringe Festival show.  Credit: Reinhard Werner
Anne Gridley and Gabel Eiben star in Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Fringe Festival show.
Credit: Reinhard Werner

When Pavol Liska asked Kristin Worrall, a member of his theater company, Nature Theater of Oklahoma, to tell him her life story, he expected the conversation to last a couple of hours. He’d undertaken similar projects in the past, asking acquaintances to recall the stories of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Rambo,” which he then transcribed and turned into offbeat theater pieces. But Worrall proceeded to stretch her 34 years over 10 phone calls lasting more than 16 hours.

The resulting pieces, “Life and Times: Episodes 1-5,” will be staged by Nature Theater of Oklahoma (which, seven years after the conversations were recorded, still counts Worrall as a member) as part of this year’s Fringe Festival in a single marathon 12 ½-hour performance – and it’s still only half finished. (For those of a weaker constitution, the episodes will also be performed individually over the preceding four evenings.)

By creating a show of such a monumental duration, Liska says, “the primary drama happens in the performance itself. The drama is an actual drama rather than a fictional drama that’s in the story. The audience is able to witness the fatigue and decay on stage while they experience their own fatigue and decay. The responsibility for entertaining them goes away after a while; there’s nothing I could possibly make that would keep everybody entertained for 12 1/2 hours, and I hope people don’t expect that.”

The staggering length of the play is ameliorated by the fact that each of the five episodes is rendered as a completely different genre, from a musical to a locked-room mystery to an animated film and even an illustrated manuscript distributed to the audience. And the company also serves food during the breaks – barbecue after episode one, and hot chocolate to send everyone home happy.

“Making hamburgers is just as important to us as choreography,” Liska says. “For us, making theater is a social event. It’s not just about the art. We’re inviting people to come and have this experience with us. You get to know your neighbor in the seat next to you, get to know their reactions and what they’re experiencing and realize it’s different from yours. It’s very important that the audience understands that we think of them as an important part of the equation.”

“Life and Times: Episodes 1-5″
Sept. 10-14, 7 p.m. (12 1/2-hour marathon Sept. 14, 1:30 p.m.)
Wilma Theater
265 S. Broad St.
$35 for individual shows, $65 for marathon, 215-413-1318
www.fringearts.com


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