Experimental show BLANK’s improvisation is impossible to discuss in any detail prior to its staging | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Experimental show BLANK’s improvisation is impossible to discuss in any detail prior to its staging

click to enlarge Nassim Soleimanpour - NASSIM SOLEIMANPOUR
Nassim Soleimanpour
Nassim Soleimanpour
Just about 48 hours before they arrive on set for the first time, the actors in 12 Peers Theater's newest production will get an email from its artistic director Vince Ventura. The email will contain the script and a list of 14 instructions for performing it. This will be the first time the actors see any details about the play, and even with two days to prepare, it's an incomplete outline: the script is riddled with blanks, like Mad Libs filled in by the audience during the performance.

That's the premise of Nassim Soleimanpour's BLANK, running May 2-19 at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre. Every night, a new actor takes the solitary role with a new audience, resulting in wildly disparate experiences for each performance.

"Every night, the audience have the full power to write a unique story in BLANK," says Soleimanpour. "Be smart, fun, and make a good story."

This isn't 12 Peers' first brush with experimental theater, nor with Soleimanpour's work. In 2015, Ventura and his company staged Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play with no director, rehearsals, or set, and actors who, as in BLANK, receive the script just two days prior to showtime (A-listers like Nathan Lane, Cynthia Nixon, and Kathy Najimy have each taken a swing at the role). BLANK is something of a sequel to Rabbit, but Ventura says it's not necessary to see it in order to understand. (With unique performances every night, it probably wouldn't help much anyhow.)

"My goal here is to stay out of the play's way," says Ventura, adding that he brought a lot of lessons from Rabbit to this production. "It is a machine designed from start to finish, we don't need to embellish it."

If this all seems heavy on concept and light on plot, that's because it is. Interviews with pretty much anyone who's produced it all come to the same conclusion: BLANK is impossible to discuss in any detail prior to its staging. The closest we may get to a synopsis is from the play's description on Soleimanpour's website: "The concept might be simple; the result is nothing short of empowering as a random audience member sees his or her future determined by the imagination of others." Not super helpful.

For those squeamish about interactive theater, Ventura says there's nothing to be anxious about.

"It's still traditional theater, you can still just observe," says Ventura. "But we can go on this journey together if you like, we can create a story from nothing together. That's what happens in the room night to night."

BLANK opens with a preview on Thu., May 2 with Demetria Marsh in the lead (only) role. Other performers during the run include Brittany Tague, Missy Moreno, and Randy Kovitz.

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