National Elevator Project at FemFest 2015

Ever covertly watch people in an elevator – now we invite you to do it openly as we offer plays in elevators at FemFest 2015! We have a special post from Melissa Thingelstad. She is the Director and Co-curator of the National Elevator Project. She addresses the innovative performance style of the plays and how each performance is different based on the audience. We cannot wait for FemFest to be part of this creative performance experience.


The relationship between audience and performer has always fascinated me. There are so many factors at play that determine the experience. Every night is slightly different depending on the script, performance space, and audience size. Theatre in found spaces adds a whole slew of new ingredients to the mix. We take the standard theatre going contract (audience sits in chairs, politely watching and listening to the performers who are on a defined playing space – you know the rules) and tear it up. Depending upon the content of the play and the environment, a whole new contract is created. Then you have to find a way to communicate this change to your audience and be prepared for the unexpected from all sides. This results in a distinctly different experience for audience and performer.

National Elevator 2 - 3 Shots - 04  In the National Elevator Project, audiences get on working elevators to take in short  plays that run between five and eleven minutes in length. There is nowhere to hide as an audience member in this kind of environment. It can be an overwhelming experience for the audience as their senses are on overdrive. As a director and as performers, it is a challenge to discover a way to keep the focus of the audience members as their minds get filled with all sorts of questions. “Can I talk in the elevator?” “Can I address the performers?” “Where should I look?” And the list goes on. It is vital that the performers create a space that the audience knows is safe on a certain level, while still  maintaining the impulsive spirit of the found space and the living  moments in the script.

Heather Inglis and I discovered that it is largely through the performance that you need to subtly clue in the audience regarding their role. This can be through the use of eyeline; the energy that the performers enter the performance space with; the placement and blocking of the performers, etc. The audience decodes these clues and then has to readjust for the next elevator play because it may be a whole new set of rules. And while they’re decoding said rules, they may end up breaking a few of them, leaving audience and performer to work together in order to make it to the end of the play.

I was a performer in one of the productions in Edmonton and ended up stuck on an elevator for 50 minutes with an audience of two (both students in the sciences). I stayed in character for about a minute or two when I realized things weren’t quite right and then all bets were off. Luckily, I had my cell phone with me, as this is what we use to cue to the actors, so I was able to get in touch with stage management to find out what was going on. I invited the young gentlemen to grab a seat on the floor of the elevator with me and we ended up having a great chat about art, why they do or do not attend different types of National Elevator - 3 Shots - 04artistic events and a bit about life in general. When the elevator was fixed and we were all back on the main floor they didn’t want to leave. They had been through something with me. It was a truly shared experience. This is the most dramatic of cases, of course, and not something we often have to deal with – thankfully elevators are quite reliable these days. That being said, even without the elevator breakdown, it often seems like the audience comes away with that feeling of experiencing something with the performers as opposed to a more standard voyeuristic experience where we quietly find our own catharsis through the work of the artists involved. From people who impulsively reveal their vulnerabilities to a single performer as they dance together, to an audience member spontaneously placing their hand on a performer to assure them they are going to be okay – intimate connection is immanent and spontaneous between them.


The National Elevator Project will have two plays in FemFest.

The Club on Saturday September 12th, 2015 –  4:00PM, Tuesday September 15th, 2014 – 5:30PM, Tuesday September 15th, 2015 – 8:15PM.

Closed for Urgent and Extraordinary Work on Sunday September 13th, 2015 – 7:00PM, Monday September 14th, 2015 – 5:30PM, Monday September 14th, 2015 – 8:15PM.

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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Lorraine James and commented:
    I’m performing in “The Club”. Looking forward to this!


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