Three plays for audiences

by Michael Blackburn

To be performed simultaneously on three separate stages with separate audiences but in the same unwalled space, which, admittedly, will have to be quite large. Stages should be arranged and screened so that each audience can see only its play, though hearing the others is fine and unavoidable.

Right Stage

A softly lit stage filled with an immensity of dead leaves, brown, yellow, red, orange. A woman crawls across/through them from upstage right to downstage left. She stands, enters the audience, brings two audience members by the hand on stage, forces them to their knees, instructs them to crawl until their knees ache; they may stop then but must remain on their knees. She repeats this, always starting again from backstage right, until the audience is all among the leaves like mushrooms, at which point, she sits alone in the seats, bored. Whatever the audience members do on stage is the action, whatever they say to one another is the dialogue. The play ends when they want it to. 

Middle Stage

Scuffling on a dark stage. Pleas, followed by venomous murmurs, both in strange and indecipherable tongues. Then stage suddenly and brightly, harshly lit. Man, previously well fed, standing alone downstage right. Man, average height, average weight, is naked, wearing a flat, smooth white mask, which is brilliantly colored on the inside in swirling reds and violets and greys, but the audience never sees the interior. Man doesn’t speak or move. Play lasts as long as the actor can stand completely still before defecating (urinating on stage is acceptable), at which point, upon the flick of his right index finger, blackout. If it’s found that the actor doesn’t actually need to defecate, but simply wants to retire for whatever reason, he will be beaten publicly while his mask remains in place; then he will be returned to his original position until he must and will defecate. If any in the audience object, beat them, too, before they exit.

Left Stage

Empty, lit stage for as long as it takes for the audience to become confused and begin grumbling, at which point a large confetti cannon with creaking, mismatched wheels is pulled out to downstage center by a black horse and a rider in a crimson robe and plague doctor mask. The rider dismounts, trips over his robe, struggles first with the horse and then with moving and aiming the cannon, and then fires the cannon at the audience, spitting out thousands of scraps of paper, each printed with a line of dialogue and the instruction that the audience member now holding the scrap should read the line aloud at precisely the same time as everyone else who picks up or catches a scrap. Whether they do it or not, whether they do it well or not, is up to them. The rider ignores them, tending only to the horse, which should stamp its front right hoof at some point. Once the audience dwindles, and the degree of dwindling necessary is at the rider’s discretion, the rider and horse exit, slowly, to the beat and sight of a human head against a gong. Ideally, this will occur after the other two plays have ended; if not, the gong should continue to crash at an increasingly annoying tempo until all audience members have departed.


Michael Blackburn (@MikeJBlackburn) is a PhD student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he studies drama, the absurd, and the uncanny. His work has appeared in jmww, Five on the Fifth, and elsewhere, and has been long-listed for the 2019 Wigleaf Top 50.

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