When we tell stories, we are doing more than entertaining or orating; we are sharing part of our identity. Many of us approach the stage sheepishly, as if we might get kicked off. Some of us make nervous requests, fiddling with our guitar. Some, like Alex Gilliam and Emily Loftis, request politely for attention, shuffling through printed poems or scrolling through our phones. Meanwhile others, like Paul Power and his violin, or Peter Biggs and his impressions, relish showmanship and almost demand attention. A small sum of us seem to shrug off the audience and ascend into our own world, like Vivian twirling her scarf as she danced, or Vicky, eyes closed, listening to the smooth crackle of her voice. Every Stage Time & Wine, performers are revealing a part of themselves and entreating the audience to listen, if not to accept.
Often, the audience’s most important job is simply to listen. Red Room’s Stage Time & Wine LXXIV began with a listening exercise. The main precept of this exercise requires silence from the participants. Though participants start the exercise with skepticism, they often discover a number of sounds beyond voices they’d previously ignored. The exercise reminded Red Roomers of the multitude of ways we can listen to even the smallest things.
Throughout the night, as the audience watched the performers, I watched the audience. Some had laid down, stretching out lazily, eyes closed while Alex read her poem. During another performance, some were bobbing and raising their hands and grinning as another Red Roomer free-styled. Some of us fidgeted or hunched over ourselves. Later, I would watch the listeners tip-toe up to the performers to convey a compliment or inquire about the meaning of a line.
As I continued to watch I was reminded of a comment a professor had once relayed to a class. She said she had watched a teacher in a classroom grow increasingly frustrated with students who refused to make eye contact while she spoke, or who doodled during her lecture. To her, these behaviors evinced a lack of interest. Many students had been taught, after all, that listening meant eye contact and straight backs. Yet, this is not the reality. In reality, people listen in many ways.
Sometimes a head is not bowed in disinterest, but in intense focus, as if removing the sense of sight would sharpen the notes and words heard. The writings collected at the end of the night were proof of this, some people had written compliment like “Magical Mister E gave a magical performance”, others their favorite quotes—a line from a Daniel Black poem or Kyle.
As the evening drew to a close, Julie Chiu entranced us with the ‘moon’ gong, bringing the room to a contemplative quietness. The gong master whirled around us, drawing deep rings from the instrument and keeping rhythm. Someone shouted from the back. “Can we have a group OM before we go?” he asked the audience over the sounds of rustling papers and bags. Tentatively, Red Roomers rose and interlocked hands. The rustling reduced itself to a exiguous whisper before being extinguished by the echoing sounds of chanting. We listened deeply to our own voices layered into the voices of others.
Editor, Red Room