Maids 3:337 - Life As Theater
Kept Off Balance While Struggling To Find Meaning
February 21, 2011 / Long Island City LIC / Queens Buzz. Continued / If needed use the search function to find story introduction. I arrived at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center a few minutes before the show was about to begin. I was met by Solange, one of madam’s maids, who would be our guide throughout the event. She was shadowed by another maid, who seemed to imitate her.
Given the nature of the show, the audience was kept small [there were six of us] and we were guided down a long hallway. Standing in the hallway were two women who held frames around their faces, like wall portraits. They were dressed and coifed identically. As we left them, they moved into the center of the hallway floor and following a signal from madam, they sang a very brief but beautiful choral tune and then disappeared.
Experimental Theater In Long Island City Queens
We found ourselves standing on the loading dock alongside the freight elevator. The elevator door opened into what seemed to be a dining room. Its walls included a picture and there were chairs lined around the table for us to be seated. The maids were drinking champagne and talking poisoning their mistress: Madam. We were served champagne, and as I sipped I wondered, "Would we also be poisoned?" Eventually the maids left, the elevator doors closed and we were taken up to a staging area where a looped film was running of the maids dressing and undressing.
Competing for our attention was a woman all dressed up, descending from a short balcony, doing a soliloquy complaining about something. Solange, our maid guide, donned a luxurious fur coat and lead us forward. Had she just become the Madam I wondered? We followed her down a long hallway, backstage of LaGuardia College's main theater. The two women who we'd encountered in the hallway in the picture frames, were standing on either side of the entrance onto the main stage.
Maids 3:337 Explores Audience / Performance Interaction
We found ourselves peering onto the main stage where a couple of beds were situated and there were two women, madams, in one of them. Another woman [maid] was hovering over the madams [and Solange in the fur coat shadowing her]. The hovering maid was contemplating killing madam or was she about to wake her? The two Madams eventually awoke and came to the front of the stage.
We were guided to sit in chairs in front of the actresses and they began to perform in parallel, some words spoken in French, mirrored by the same spoken words in English. What did it mean? Why all of the duality? It was hard to keep up with what was going on, as it seemed that all of the actresses were acting in a choreographed sequence, but not really interacting with one another.
Art As Theater / Theatre As Art In LIC Queens
The visuals were as confusing as they were aesthetically pleasing. The attractive young actresses wore beautiful, and oftentimes, alluring clothing. Some of them were in front of us and some of them were behind us. Some of them giving us orders, while others served us. Master / slave ... audience / participant ... and the stage kept moving out from under our feet, like walking the city streets. So much going on that we were unable to process and assimilate. I was, at this point, pretty confused, but nonetheless enjoying the trip.
Eventually we were lead back to the foyer near the elevator and we circled about the main theater again. The play ended as we sat down again in the chairs on the main stage. We were asked by the creator and director, Handan Ozbilgin, if we had any questions. We did. And a dialogue ensued.
Maids 3:337 & Maids 4:39N - Avante Garde Theater
I asked how this production fit with the first show: Maids 4:39N [click to that story for more information about the original play upon which this production is based]. Handan explained that the themes she’s exploring in these productions are the interaction of the audience with the performers, as well as slave and master. The audience isn't able to just sit comfortably in its seats watching. Sometimes audience members were asked questions, prodded to move along, and asked if they wanted champagne. The audience was very much like Madam's guests at a dinner party, and the performance imitated life, continually changing.
Audience & Actress Roles - Success Requires Trust
Several of the actresses mentioned that they were unsure of their roles, not quite sure what Handan was trying to accomplish, and where the production was going. Many of us in the audience also experienced those very same feelings. In the end all of us, both actresses and the audience had to trust the creator / director to engage and entertain us. It occurred to me that this is always true - not just in experimental theater - but everytime we attend an event. We're trusting whoever is producing and performing the theatrical production to entertain us. And the producers and actresses are trusting us in the audience to provide feedback - which they hope will be affirmative. One can easily take this analogy to dinner parties, business meetings and probably any other event.
Theatrical Themes - Slave & Master
The other theme that's explored is that of servant and master. In this production these roles are played out in Madam and Maid. Madam remarks that "Housekeeping is a combination of luxury and filth". The maids envy the Madam, they want to be like her, and yet they hate her so much that they want to kill her. All of us play the roles of master and servant. From serving our employers, to instructing those who work for us, to having our hair done, to taking out the garbage. I don't know what your life is like, but most of my roles seem to be more the slave than master.
April Evans, one of the actresses, talked about how women aspire to reach certain unattainable ideals of beauty. In this sense, she told us, women are slaves to an ideal. And even though women know they cannot attain an ideal beauty, they continue to strive for it. This was one of the vignettes performed in the show.
Art As Theater / Theatre As Art In LIC Queens
The visuals of costumes and sets, the audio and the lighting were all designed to stimulate the audience. These elements distracted and competed with the performers for the audience's attention. And what people pay attention to is reflective of who they are and what they bring to the performance.
We were told that the original production had been slightly modified based on audience interactions in prior performances. In fact, we were the first group to be taken around the theater a second time. This action provided a sort of epilogue.
Maids 3:337 is akin to modern theatrical art. Unlike traditional theater, Handan has abandoned the traditional sequence of events / narrative. Comparing an experimental theatrical production like Maids 3:337 versus a traditional Shakespearean play is like compariing abstract art to a nature scene. We have begun to enter new dimensions in theater.
But like art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and attending these productions is not for everybody. I can see this production developing a following of theater-goers looking for a pleasantly disorienting and totally different theater experience. These shows are explorations and journeys, full of visual and theatrical vignettes, but no easily comprehensible narrative or story. I found the production aesthetically engaging, intellectually stimulating and delightfully disorienting.
Maids - Four Part Theatrical Series LIC Queens
The next play is scheduled for springtime – in the early May time frame. Handan said that ideally the next production will be performed in a hotel or hotel-like setting. As always, Queens Buzz will post a notice of the next Maids performance in its monthly events calendar. Stay tuned.
The actresses in the play as shown on the stage in the photo to your left are [left to right]: Tony-Ann S. Nelson, Catalina Jackson, April Evans, Ege Maltepe, Hazel Patel and Carmen Zowodny. The play is an adaptation created and directed by Handan Ozbilgin through the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center in LIC.
LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center - Slide Show - Maids 3:337
The following is a sequentlal slide show of the experimental theatrical production of Maids 3:337 which was performed at the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center in LIC Queens. You may use the control buttons on the bottom of the slide show to move through it at your own pace.
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