For 30 years, Lawrence (Larry) Bridges has been known for Red Car, his successful, four-city postproduction company. At the same time, he has developed a personal body of creative work.
It covers a broad spectrum, from music videos (he edited Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video) to full-length film projects. The latter include 2003’s groundbreaking narrative film, 12; shot over a ten-year period it’s the longest continuous production in film history, and the 2007 documentary Muse of Fire, based on writings and interviews with American soldiers and their families, as well as contemporary American writers.
But from now until July 15, a very different kind of Bridges project – live, nonreplicable, and immediate – is unfolding at Collaboraction as part of this year’s Sketchbook: Reincarnate festival.
First produced in 2010 with Los Angeles’ needtheater, “The Interview” presents a different person onstage every night, sitting in a plain wooden chair and responding to a series of questions from an offstage interviewer.
Unlike, say, the Bernard Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton has adopted for “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” the interviewees in Bridges’ piece (developed in association with Ian Forester of needtheater, a former Collaboraction associate artistic director) have no idea ahead of time of what they’ll be asked to talk about.
At the performance I saw on June 9, Collaboraction artistic associate John Ross Wilson spun a thoroughly absorbing narrative about his youth in Texas, prompted by questions such as “Tell a story you’ve never told anyone before.”
From the horrifying accident that took a young cousin’s life, to the influence of his tough-but-loving grandfather, to an attempt at smoking crack that took a hilarious (albeit benign) wrong turn, Wilson held the stage for about an hour as the interviewer (Scott Ray Merchant) presented the series of questions.
The performer must entertainingly engage the audience
Wilson says, “I got a sheet that basically told me how it was going to go down. ‘You’re going to be asked questions about your life, and be asked to answer them as honestly as possible.’ And I was told that I should give five seconds of silence after each answer so they would know I was finished.”
The impetus for the piece, says Bridges, was “for the performer to engage the audience in an entertaining way. I don’t want to sound cheap or exploitative, but the audience is coming for both entertainment and enlightenment.”
He also stresses that, for the performer, “It says ‘You’re in a community, you’re in a safe environment, and you’re going to tell everything in terms of personal stories. But you’re expected to go to the mat and open up.’”
Perhaps ironically, none of the segments in “The Interview” – are preserved on video. That too, is very much by design, says Bridges. “I don’t think it should be recorded, because there’s always the chance that someone could use it to send a message to somebody. ‘I’m doing this confessional play but I’m really doing it for the girlfriend who dropped me.’ It would skew the piece away from the connection with the audience.”
Performer aware of a narrative happening
Wilson, who is an experienced storyteller as well as a performer — he has appeared with the acclaimed 2nd Story series – still found that opening up to the extent required by “The Interview” was a bit nerve wracking.
“I like to think that my answers wouldn’t have changed, but if [my girlfriend] were in the audience or my parents, it might have been a little different.” And though he didn’t really plan to make so much of the piece about his grandfather, he also notes that “I was aware that there was some sort of narrative happening.”
Afterward, he says “You feel like you walked out with a big weight off your shoulders and you want to go have a martini.”
“There is an invisible arc that renders itself through the stages [of the questions],” notes Bridges. “The stories about lost love elicit an array of characters in a person’s life, and it becomes a theme.”
Bridges’ finds a common thread
But though the project seems on the surface to be far removed from the groundbreaking work Bridges has done as a filmmaker and with Red Car, he finds a common thread. “My work is indeterminate and open-ended. And life is also indeterminate. If it makes any sense, it is in the sense of whatever narrative you impose on it.”
For the performer, Bridges says, “It’s not going to exploit you or denigrate you, and if you trust that, you could give the best performance of your life. And it’s only happening one time.”