Emma Gross ’15 reflects on her experiences at Anonymous Ensemble’s Saturday performance of LIEBE LOVE AMOUR!
Here is what I knew prior to experiencing Anonymous Ensemble’s LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! First, that audience participation was an integral part of the production, and second, that the content of LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! might be about love.
What I did not realize was that ninety minutes after taking my seat in the CFA Theater, I would be up on stage participating in the marriage ceremony of a towering 1920’s German cinema star.
LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! is a one act, multimedia spectacular. It is cited as a “theatricalized live film,” a description that does not do justice to the show’s truly novel construction.
On Saturday, September 22, I along with dozens of other students, professors, and non-university associated community members filed into the theater. We took our seats opposite the stark set. A single red curtain ran the length of the stage, with a large movie screen off center, to the right.
When the lights dimmed, a compilation of early black and white, silent 20th century footage played across the screen. This montage culminated in a shot of a woman styled in signature 1920’s clothing, hair and makeup. Suddenly, the actress turned and addressed the audience. She introduced herself as Hilda and explained that she lived in Germany and was about to experience her thirty-third birthday. As Hilda spoke, the previously opaque curtain became transparent. It revealed a figure standing against a green screen performing for a camera set up on a tripod. When the woman onstage gestured, the actress on screen did the same. The words I assumed were prerecorded and emerging from the film world, were in fact spoken live on stage.
What ensued was an epic, hilariously dramatic love story, twisted with bizarre details, cliché moments, and break out musical numbers. This narrative was presented to the audience in a most innovative fashion.
Hilda’s scenes were recorded in front of the green screen and simultaneously projected for the audience. Her live footage was combined with film clips belonging to 20th century Austrian director Erich Von Stroheim. His footage was intercut with Hilda’s dialogue, creating the illusion that she was speaking to and interacting with Stroheim’s actors. Two live, on stage performers dubbed over the silent footage, providing the voiceover for these characters. These two actors also created sound effects using various tools and instruments in the style of an old school radio production.
LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! grants the audience the opportunity to witness the live creation of both an onstage play and a projected film. Our attention continuously alternated from the onstage action, to the film that simultaneously came together on screen.
As if this mode of storytelling was not complicated enough, audience participation added a dimension of unpredictability to the show’s narrative.
While the onstage action and film projection continued, a fourth performer equipped with a microphone, ventured into the audience. He called on individuals to respond to Hilda’s questions, give her advice, and provide story details. This interactive element not only kept the audience on its toes, but also heightened the comedic aspect of the performance. Viewers’ were hysterical as their friends, professors, and relatives were put on the spot to contribute to the show’s ridiculous narrative.
The performers fully took advantage of their power to turn the audience’s vulnerability into entertainment. At one point in the show, a student was brought onstage and told he was to play opposite Hilda in her audition for a movie. The film’s director, played by one of the performers standing along side the green screen, informed Hilda that their scene needed to end in a kiss.
In this moment, everyone around me shifted to the edge of his or her seat. Uncomfortable laughter rang throughout the theater, signaling our nervous excitement about how the scene would unfold.
The finale of the production elevated audience participation to the next level. At the end of the play, the red curtain was drawn, opening up the stage. Hilda suddenly emerged, towering on stilts and professed her love for us, her viewers. She invited everyone up on stage to partake in the marriage ceremony uniting herself and the audience.
Hundreds of seats emptied, and people of all ages gathered on stage. We circled around Hilda, recited vows and then celebrated with festive music, dancing, champagne and wedding cake. It was the most unusual and delicious ending to a theater production I have ever experienced.
Following the show, I was eager to read more about Anonymous Ensemble’s work and manifesto. Their online statement reads, “We are the new generation of Stage and Screen. At the nexus of film and theater, AnEn’s work draws from and then propels itself beyond both genres. AnEn accepts the pervasive power of the Screen in our current times but demands that the screen be transfigured by the unpredictable, the human, the never-to-be-repeated possibilities of the Stage. AnEn creates audience-based work and considers the audience to be the co-creators of each event.”
What is particularly pertinent about LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! is that the lead role of Hilda is played by Wesleyan graduate Jessica Weinstein. Weinstein created the persona of Tall Hilda in 2002, the year of her graduation. She assisted in the construction of Anonymous Ensemble’s two productions that focus on the relationship between Hilda and her audience, Wanderlust that premiered in 2007 and LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! which opened in 2012.
During the show I was seated in an audience largely consisting of students who are majoring in theater, taking theater classes, and or working on theater projects. I could sense my peers’ excitement watching Weinstein perform, knowing that just ten years earlier, she had been in their shoes.
LIEBE LOVE AMOUR! was a remarkable experience. It certainly granted me a new perspective on the range of storytelling formats available through the synthesis of live theater, film, and audience participation.