Pick a Venue, Make a Statement

Site-specific performances aren’t common, but they happen. This is the first site-specific performance I’ve heard of where the site and the content have such a powerful connection.

The show itself, The Death of Bessie Smith, is about a segregation-era hospital and the death of the famous blues singer of the title, but the hospital where it’s happening is on the verge of closure. The content of the play takes on social issues that in some ways resemble the issues raised by the potential closing of the hospital in which this is happening. The purpose of staging this show at this location is to prevent the closure, presumably, by calling attention to it and leading people to think about the issues.

I remember years ago there was a show staged inside the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. (where RFK was shot) called Sleeping With the Ambassador. During the performance, people got to wander all around the grand old hotel, which was about to be demolished. It was nostalgic and bittersweet, but it’s not the same as this. Despite the emotional power of that setting and the draw that it represented to audiences, it didn’t challenge the audience or community to do anything specific or different, where this one does.

This could be a repeatable formula for both driving sales of tickets and getting community involvement. If anyone knows of other examples of this, send them my way!


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