The title of the new play “The Audience Disturbs Marcel’s Bath Time and He Is Very Upset With You All,” which will be performed at Riverviews Artspace this weekend, is rather self-explanatory.
It begins with a man — Marcel — preparing to take a bath when, suddenly, he notices a crowd gathered, watching him.
“At first, he is not sure whether it is real or not, but he cleverly gets the audience to admit their authenticity,” according to a review of the play on the website Philly Life and Culture, which called the production “not only engaging and entertaining but … also thought provoking.”
“At its core the play is an intimate investigation of ‘privacy.’ It is a timely subject, and it is impressive how broadly they examine it in this brief (40-minute running time) play.”
The man behind “Marcel” is Longwood University senior and Leesburg native Ryan Bultrowicz. He wrote the play last May and premiered it at Philadelphia’s Tiny Dynamite theater in December, with a local actor playing the titular character.
The production at Riverviews marks the play’s second performance. And this time around, Bultrowicz is starring as his lead character.
Here’s what he and the production’s director, fellow Longwood University student Madison Arlett, had to say about “Marcel” via email last week.
Ryan, tell me about “Marcel” and how the play works. Is it interactive? A monologue by the actor playing him? I assume it breaks the fourth wall but would love a synopsis from you.
“‘The Audience Disturbs Marcel’s Bath Time and He Is Very Upset With You All’ is at its essence a play about a man taking a bath. The conflict comes in to play when Marcel catches the audience watching him take the bath and there is a very specific reason there’s an audience in Marcel’s bathroom ... but you’ll have to come see the show to find that out.
“Indeed, it is an interactive show! There’s a lot of great opportunities for audience participation in this show and we’re excited to get the audience involved.”
I saw one description referring to it as “metatheatrical.” What do you mean by that?
“When I use the word ‘metatheatrical’ to describe this show, what I mean is that it’s sort of a play that recognizes the fact that it’s a play and takes it one step further by pulling the audience in and giving them a role, too.”
How did the idea for it come to you? When did you write it, and how long did it take you?
“Ideas come to me in so many different ways. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes a fragment of a sentence will spark an idea, and sometimes I just try to think of what would look interesting onstage. I think for this show specifically, it was written in May of 2018. I was, as I think new playwrights often do, experimenting with the medium and trying to think of non-traditional yet still theatrical ways to approach theater. I wrote three plays in about a week and ‘Marcel’ was one of those.
“The question of how long it took me to write is kind of difficult to quantify. The first draft? I probably wrote that in a day. But, I’ve been working on the script on and off since then, polishing it and exploring to see what moments work and what moments don’t.”
Does the show change in general, depending on where it’s being performed and how the audience is reacting to it?
“I wouldn’t say the show changes too much but specific moments in the show do. Which I think is nice. We could do the show three times and each audience would have a unique and personalized experience. It’ll be sort of similar to knowing an inside joke!”
Is experimental theater, if you’d lump “Marcel” in that category, something that interests you? If so, why?
“Experimental theater is definitely something that interests me. I love shows that inherently only work in the theater. Powerful, engaging, and magical moments that bend our ideas of what’s possible onstage mixed with eccentric and distinctive, fully-fleshed characters is something I cherish seeing in theater and I aspire to create shows that check all of those boxes.”
How did the performance at Riverviews come about?
Ryan: “We were looking for a venue in Lynchburg and came across Riverviews. We loved the personal nature of their theater and thought it would work extremely well with the show.”
Madison: “Yes, we were looking at multiple spaces in Lynchburg but the decision was made as soon as we walked into Riverviews. It’s such an intimate space and it only seats about 35 people, so everyone will have a chance to get involved.”
Madison, what did you think of the script when Ryan first showed it to you? Have you been involved in it since the beginning?
“Ryan shows me most of his first drafts, so I’ve known ‘The Audience Disturbs Marcel’s Bath Time and He Is Very Upset With You All’ since pretty much the beginning. I’ve never seen any experimental plays before, so I was really impressed with how well it came across on the page. Once Ryan proposed that we produce this show together, it was an easy yes.”
How did you come to direct it?
“I assistant directed Longwood’s production of ‘No Exit’ last fall and became addicted pretty quickly to the whole process. Ryan worked on that show and we enjoyed collaborating together, so we talked for a while about putting on a show together before deciding on ‘Marcel.’ Our other actor, the extremely talented Mary Jo Corley, was also part of ‘No Exit,’ and I consider myself very lucky to be working with two people I had such a positive experience with.”
How do you go about directing a show like this, which is largely dependent on one actor and could be influenced by how the audience reacts or participates?
“An issue we’ve tackled at rehearsals is keeping things interesting for the audience when there’s only one actor onstage for a long time. We’ve explored keeping the energy high and finding moments in the script to really focus on in order to keep the audience’s attention. Both actors have a lot of experience onstage, so I had to push them out of their comfort zones in terms of audience interaction.
“Most plays staged are not nearly as immersive as ‘Marcel,’ so it was a new theater experience for all of us. I want them to be prepared for anything that might be thrown at them, especially because there’s only one show so they really have to be on their A game. In rehearsals, we’ve practiced the moments of audience interaction a lot and both actors grew more comfortable thinking on their feet.”