RALEIGH — As First Friday whirled around, with deejays and circus performers on a blocked-off Martin Street, four 20-somethings sat at a table outside Brewmasters Bar & Grill. One of the four had just arrived unexpectedly from out of town. Asked why he was there, he answered in a way that could be considered evasive.
Gathered in a semicircle in the street, a dozen or so observers watched them talk and made comments to each other by text message:
I think he is hiding something.
Everyone is hiding something.
Because they have NY haircuts.
At least for the four people at the table, this wasnt a social occasion. They were the cast of Moving Pieces, a play that happens each First Friday through the summer. The stage is downtown Raleigh during First Friday festivities, as the actors move from place to place for each scene the Hue apartment buildings lobby, out in the street, the Visual Art Exchange, Contemporary Art Museum and even inside a parked car, among other locations with the audience following, led by an organizer holding up a clipboard.
A musical trio featuring a stunning young singer, Anne-Claire Niver, also pops up at various spots along the route to play acoustic jug-band versions of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Jets Are You Gonna Be My Girl and other songs as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the plot. But the most unusual (and intermittently snarky) form of commentary about it comes from the audience texting.
At the beginning of each Moving Pieces performance, audience members mobile numbers become part of a texting group in which the actors send one another messages as part of the storyline. And from the very first performance, attendees were not shy about joining in and answering back as they followed the actors from scene to scene.
The texting element is something that just happened organically, said Renee Wimberley, the Seed Art Share director who helped organize the play. That makes it even more of a shared experience, for us as well as them. Usually you never get this sort of immediate feedback in a typical theater experience, where people generally dont boo or throw tomatoes or yell. Its cool to get that instant feedback, whether positive or negative. After the first show in May, we made some adjustments based on things people texted.
Moving Pieces began to take shape last fall. Sue Scarborough, a retired drama teacher at Raleighs Enloe High School, had in mind to direct a play in which movement was literal as well as thematic. In her words, she knew the shape of it but couldnt hear it.
So Scarborough asked one of her former students, Logan Sutton, to write it. (After Enloe, Sutton went on to Elon College and New York City, where he works as a stage actor.)
I knew Logans writing voice from when hed been a student of mine, and I thought hed be great for this piece, Scarborough said. Its a rotating cast, so everythings different every time, but also kind of the same. Things change because of the situation downtown, too. Sometimes there are streets blocked off with things going on, and that all kind of becomes part of the show.
Scarborough instructed Sutton that the story should be fun and upbeat as well as mobile, focused on two young lovers on the precipice of a big event in their relationship. The plot included texting to help drive events and an audience vote to decide the ending, plus it was all to be set during First Friday. There is a script, with actors changing from month to month, and the show goes on rain or shine.
I was totally on-board, Sutton said. First Friday is already so fun, and this exposes people to places they might not have known. Its a valuable thing the show offers to audiences and the city at large, putting people in this story where they engage with different places and mindsets.
Flexible and fluid
As originally conceptualized, part of Moving Pieces was to take place on a moving bus, which had to be abandoned for technical reasons. But just walking from place to place adds a lot to the experience. The festive atmosphere of First Friday makes downtown Raleigh almost another character in the show.
Equal parts interactive live-theater experience, street-band busking concert and art-district tour, Moving Pieces takes attendees into places they can return to on their own after the show. It definitely shows downtown Raleigh in its best light.
Junes show coincided with the opening of CAMs Wander Box beer garden, which helped draw a record 2,862 people through the museums doors that night. Between the perfect weather and the rock band Widespread Panic playing Red Hat Amphitheater down the street, downtown was humming with activity.
Depending on how the rest of the summer goes, Moving Pieces might also be held over into the fall possibly with an expanded storyline that extends some of the characters into new situations. The show has already evolved a bit based on the audiences text feedback. After the first show in May, the timing of a breakup phone call was shifted to after the audience vote on the conclusion, so as not to stack the deck against that particular character too much.
Part of what makes this show so much fun is that its flexible and fluid, Wimberley said. It involves improv elements, and the audience is right on top of the actors. Sue calls it a sense of heightened realism. What happens has got to be big enough to cut through everything else going on around it, but small enough to be believable for those parts where the actors are sitting next to you at a table.
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or www.newsobserver.com/OnTheBeat