Black Out Nights: The magic of live theatre

The magic of theatre is its nature as in live performance; both for audiences, and for performers. You spend weeks or months creating an alchemy in the rehearsal room. The confrontation between audience and performer brings that to life in the performance. This is what makes Black Out Nights so exciting.

There’s an element of risk in every performance, the uncertain. It’s this that builds the tension that a good play holds with the audience.

As a disabled performer, and audience member, I know intimately how the composition changes the work. When performing work about disability, to a disabled audience, moments where non-disabled people gasp, disabled people instead laugh with familiarity. Moments where non-disabled people perceive comedy, disabled audience-members join me in outrage.

As an audience-member also, work about disability lands differently with me. Watching It’s A Motherf*cking Pleasure by Flawbored, I found this very obvious. At one point there was a moment of shared wincing from many of the audience members. Many of the disabled people present laughed uproariously.

This change in reaction alters the chemistry of that live performance irrevocably.

Black Out Nights and Tambo & Bones

The poster for Tambo & Bones, with a red background, showing two black men leaning against each other, and the text "Tambo & Bones" in neon yellow

At Theatre Royal Stratford East, for a single performance of the upcoming Tambo and Bones, they’ve requested that it be reserved for Black audience-members only. Although they have been clear that they wouldn’t turn anyone away, as Nadia Fall (the Artistic Director at Theatre Royal Stratford East) said in the Guardian (link) the play “throws up challenging questions around what it means to be Black”. Having a single night for Black audience members allows “an opportunity for a Black audience to experience and reflect on the play from their own perspective”, to “centre and celebrate the Black experience”. As she points out, this is nothing new. Theatres have done Black Out Nights before, from Broadway to London.

I suspect that this night will create a different experience from the piece – and that fascinates and excites me. I also know that Stratford East are staging Tambo and Bones for a long run. There are lots of dates for all audiences to see it.

With understanding how to make theatre speak to everybody, we have to learn to do things differently. Not everything is going to be ideal for everyone, but I imagine that night will hold a special magic. I hope it brings to the performers, crew, and audience, everything they could hope for from it. I also hope it serves as a model for future plays in how they can engage with specific audiences, and with those audiences who have specific and personal connections to the work.

By Jamie Hale; Artistic Director of CRIPtic Arts