I think some of the most beautiful theatre I have ever seen or been involved in has utilized a white sheet. That’s not to say the best theatre I’ve ever seen has included said white sheet but, as far as I can remember, the most visually stunning pieces have. Ultimately, I think my love of “the white sheet” is a symbol for my favorite adjective for theatrical staging: simplicity.
As I type the beginning of this blog post, I have to laugh at myself. The show that inspired these thoughts was Julie Taymor’s interpretation of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I saw earlier this week. As the inaugural production for the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn (the new headquarters for Theatre for a New Audience), it is a spectacle to behold and often, anything but simple (read: expensive). Filled with trap doors, incredible lighting, moving platforms, and projections and requiring a normally unprecedented three weeks of tech time, the show is like the sweetest candy for all the senses. And yet, the times I found myself most engaged in the production were those moments that were the most simply staged. A stage full of slightly distressed white poles hanging from the ceiling representing the forest was one such moment. Another? A white sheet expanding forever from the bed that opened the show, to fill the whole space, be pulled to the ceiling, and to become a vast sky scape. Beautiful.
In theatre, a white sheet is literally a blank canvas which means it is the most simple and complex tool at our disposal. It can be the vast sky, the sea, snow; it can represent an erupting volcano factory, a mountain, clouds; it can be filled with any color. As a performer and collaborative theatre maker/deviser, a white sheet is always in my stock. Seattle-based Blood Ensemble keeps multiple white sheets (and purple and red and shiny sheets) in their stock suitcases. If you have an empty space, a couple of willing performers, and a white sheet from your bed, you can create a compelling piece of theatre.
In my opinion, it is the very example of what makes theatre magical, what makes it important and relevant in the contemporary age, and what makes it important. While a budget that at least covers costs is certainly necessary, theatre-makers of my generation seem to be embracing what I’ll call “the white sheet method.” (Others call it DIY. I think my term is fancier.) Often this embrace is necessary if you want any work produced in an often commercially saturated market. Still there is something lovely and near to my heart about “the white sheet method.” Because of the endless possibilities of creating potentially life-changing performative art with nothing more than you have in your bedroom, a focus on new and collaborative work is making a come-back (last really seen in the small theatres of the late 1960s and 1970s). Don’t get me wrong, we’d all love to make money. Hell, we’d love to make enough money to have theatre-making be our sole profession. (We deserve it too…but that’s another blog post.) Still, when the work is fulfilling, other aspects move down the “essentials” list.
I guess what I’m really getting at is:
I’m in love.
I’m in love with a white sheet.
I’m in love with a white sheet and everything about it.
And I think it’s a lasting love y’all.