Guest Blog: Paul O’Donnell on “We’ve Got Each Other”

In our latest Guest Blog, Paul O’Donnell writes about the total reliance of audience participation in his musical, We’ve Got Each Other. Do not miss We’ve Got Each Other on 14-16 December at 7.15pm part of our Autumn 2017 programme. Click here for tickets.

WE’VE GOT EACH OTHER: THE AUDIENCE AS

EQUAL COLLABORATORS

I always aim to put audiences at the very core of my performances and We’ve Got Each Other is the most extreme example of this to date. We’ve Got Each Other is a full (West End) scale Bon Jovi musical… that is almost entirely imagined by ‘you’ the audience.

Facing my inability to resource the full multi-talented cast of 35, the 7 piece live band, the decadent costumes and opulent sets, confetti cannons and hydraulic lifts that we have come to expect of a full musical, the audience is instead left with… well… ‘me’.

What follows though is a beautiful relationship built between the audience and I where together we attempt to bring the full spectacle to life with next to nothing. Assisted by: my live descriptions of the show, 180 lighting cues, twelve cover versions of Livin on a Prayer and, most importantly, the powers of your imaginations to bring the rest of this spectacle to life.

The relationship built between us in We’ve Got Each Other is, for me, the most intriguing element of the show, and something I reflect upon often. It’s also the ‘livest’ element of the show, and the most dangerous element of the show. It is a relationship dependent on a shared trust, and ‘want’ from us both. We both ‘want’ to believe in the magic of the musical, we both ‘want’ it to be a triumph.

As soon as the shows ‘Overture’ begins I can feel the audience go: “yep ok, I’m with you Paul, lets make this happen”, and from there, we’re both invested in the shows success as equal collaborators, of sorts.

It is a purposefully flawed musical with a questionable plot line, and every single musical theatre trope you could possibly imagine. It follows Tommy (an American docker), and Gina (a Spanish waitress) as they come to terms with their forbidden love for one another. The two of them torn apart by an age old violence between their two rivalled communities… sound familiar??

Despite all its entertaining flaws, and its empty presentation, you should still leave the theatre with the feeling that you have ‘seen’ a full scale musical. You should still leave with what I call ‘the musical theatre glow’; that delirious state following a musical where you’re taken aback by the spectacle of it all, where everything seems brighter, and you feel as though you could burst into song. And this all happens because you made half of the show a reality, you bring my descriptions to life in your own heads and are therefore very much included in the shows creation (for yourself at least).

At one point, in one of my most recent showings at Contact Theatre Manchester, I said a groan worthy sort of punch-line and one audience member, from three rows back, audibly exhaled “Oh Goddd!”. His ad lib there happened to become one of the best punch-lines of the show (dammit) and got a huge laugh from the rest of the audience. I of course embraced it, and referred back to it later on in the show. When I spoke to him following the performance he said “I’ve never done that at the theatre before… ever”. It was an impulse that in the moment he felt comfortable enough to express… audibly… to the whole room.

It was there that I realised that I’ve achieved something in the show that is ‘unusual’ for theatre. The traditional ingrained rules in which an audience member comes in, sits in the dark and silently watches as a balding chap talks ‘at’ them for an hour aren’t so rigid in We’ve Got Each Other. Instead you should feel a part of it (there’s no enforced audience participation, don’t panic), you should feel invested in it and you should feel like you created it… you are half of the show after all. In We’ve Got Each Other you are my equal collaborator.

I hope you are able to make it to CPT on the 14-16 December to share this space with me. Together, you and I, we can bring the spectacular story of Tommy and Gina to life.

“We’ve Got Each Other, and that’s a lot for love”.