Monthly Archives: March 2013

Actions You Can’t Fake Onstage

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about liveness in theater and about the simple choices we can make as theater artists to enhance our competitive advantage as a medium (especially in an era when we’re losing so much ground to digital media). I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see a lot of wonderful theater of late that keenly takes advantage of theater’s “competitive advantage” as a medium. Throughout these pieces, I’ve noticed many very simple physical actions or activities that are theatrically breath-taking precisely because they are “real.” They are not faked. They cannot be undone or reversed.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about activities and actions (such as sex and violence) that theater artists attempt to render representationally but only fall flat theatrically precisely because the audience knows the actions they’re witnessing are not “real.” Violence is something I’ve rendered in a lot of my plays, and it’s precisely because I find representational renderings of violence so unsatisfying in the theater that I always try to render violence metaphorically so as to capture the truth of how characters emotionally experience that violence. This is my theatrical attempt to make the violence in my plays more haunting and brutal.

And now I’m working on a play that puts sex and sexuality front and center. I feel similarly about representational renderings of sex onstage as I do about such renderings of violence. So now I’m trying to assemble a list (I started by soliciting contributions on facebook) of actions or activities that you can’t fake onstage. Actions that are, theatrically, the antithesis of representational renderings of sex and violence. I guess it’s my hope that, with this list, I (and whoever reads this) can begin to brainstorm more arresting ways to metaphorically render activities like sex and violence onstage.

Can we replace our representational renderings of sex and violence with metaphorical renderings that employ these activities so as to heighten the sense of danger and immediacy the audience feels? By doing so can we more effectively communicate the emotional truth of the moments of sex and violence we’re rendering onstage?

The list is below. Thanks to all who shared their thoughts on facebook. Feel free to add any other ideas, thoughts, or reactions in the comments on this post.



Shattering plates






Throwing sharp knives and/or saw blades

Squeezing oranges for juice

Food preparation in general

Doing flips and other challenging acrobatic/athletic feats


Painting a person’s body


Cutting hair

Shaving a head

Holding breath under water

Hurling yourself at the ground

Melting ice

Setting something on fire

Tightrope walking

Painting nails

Building something from scratch (such as hats in Far Away)

Whipping cream by shaking it in a jar

Churning butter

Lighting a match

Ripping up paper

Sledgehammer to the set

Pies to the face

Physiological reactions



An erection

Letting the audience cut off pieces of a costume (like in Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece)

Rolling dice

Playing games of chance

Building a house of cards

Playing an instrument




Stringing a guitar

Chemical reactions

Putting together furniture

Putting on/Taking off makeup