Friday, April 15, 2011


The Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is one of the halls in the Place des Arts in Montreal. It seats 2,990 people and is a classic proscenium stage. Beyond that curtain, there is a sea of hinged seats covered in red velveteen; there are balconies and boxes; there are foyers, bars, and a cloakroom that charges a loonie and a toonie to care for your coat.

Look up, and a towering void threatens to fall on you. It houses lights on rigs and flattened worlds. Suspend belief, it says. Not you on the stage. You're supposed to stand here, or there, in this light and not in that one. It's so bright and so warm that you threaten to sweat, except for the moment when the curtain hauls up and it seems like everything is spilling out in the plushy dark beyond.

Theater Artaud was once a factory belonging to the American Can Company. It was built in 1925, in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Cracks and gaps around the windows let in rogue chills, sometimes blocked by the enormous curtains provided for artificial blackout. It seats 256 people, and the seats climb steeply. There is more face to face here. If you find yourself at the front of the stage, you could hold a conversation with the first row in comfort. The stage is deep, though, and the audience can see right up to the ceiling, so there's a tiny rush of bottom of the well vertigo. 

The Garage is what we call a "black box." Black floor, black walls, black ceiling. Encased in black. Floating in black. It's easy to lose track of where you are in this situation. Limbs feel outrageous in length. Feet are a distant country. The Garage was once a garage, and now it's a black box. Not many people can fit. It's nearly eye to eye here, and there's something secret about the whole venture, like you're in the center of a clamor and all around are sound-proof walls.

CounterPULSE is almost a white box. It's a few streets away from the Garage in the SOMA district of San Francisco. It holds, probably, about 80 people. You are pinned to the floor here, exposed. White walls cut your outline neatly from the surrounding space. Houselights up or houselights down, there's a finite spareness. You are on the spot. Hiding is not an option.

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