Spike Friedman’s theatre is a 1999 forest-green Honda Civic. It’s the only performance space in town that is literally capable of crashing, one of several reasons I felt apprehensive about my first hour-long “live improvised theatrical rideformance.”
I ran across the project on Kickstarter under the name “Driving around with Spike Friedman,” and on a gray day in mid-October that’s exactly what I did. Cruising aimlessly around North Seattle, Friedman and I sped through get-to-know-you information before switching gears to talk about the Seattle theatre scene, run-ins with cops and the trials and tribulations of being in your mid-20s.
“I was kind of being snarky when I came up with the idea, but then it was like, I don’t know, this is genuine and fun,” Friedman said. “There are a lot of Kickstarters where the things that you have to do are kind of terrible. Like if you give me 50 bucks I’ll write you a handwritten card. But a ride, everybody needs a ride at some point or another.”
This combination of irreverence and authenticity is typical of Friedman, a 27-year-old writer, improv actor and theatre-maker who trained and performed with New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade for four years and is a founding member of Seattle’s Satori Group.
“Finding ways for new forms of interaction—that to me is where performance is right now,” he said. “Having someone show up in a place and being able to interact with them face-to-face is like an opportunity to reaffirm our humanity.”
Friedman is not a master of narrative but of moments. The way he sees it, the magic of improvisational theatre lies in its potential to create spontaneous sparks of complicity between audience and performer. Like that instant when two cars change lanes simultaneously.
Friedman and I found we were complicit in self-referential questioning. What are we doing and is it theatre? Do all conversations have a performer and an audience? Is there a point at which interpersonal interactions can be defined as art?
American Philosopher John Dewey believed so. In the 1930s he published “Art as Experience,” in which he wrote that the task of the artist is to transform experience into experiences by making them feel present, aesthetic and complete. This is what Friedman does with his rideformances: He takes an everyday experience—a car ride—and injects it with intention and meaning.
In a situation where audience doubles as co-director, the hardest part is training them to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride they are working to create. Then, Friedman said, the real adventure can begin. “Because once you’ve taught someone how to be an audience member in a specific experience, what do you do?”
It comes down to the distinction between a ride and a ride. Friedman’s right that everybody needs one at some point. It takes more than a good driver to know the difference.