Thomas Thorspecken Sketches the Audience

This staged performance, where I sketched an audience at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, would never have happened if friends I had met over the last year and a half of sketching had not stepped in to help. Aradhana Tiwari invited me to take over the theater for one night and Brian Feldman had the vision for this show close to a year ago. The staging consisted of me sitting in a lone spotlight facing the audience and doing what I do every day – sketch. One video camera shot the sketch I was working on and projected the image on the theater wall behind me, while another camera, operated by Brian, shot footage of the audience just as in a baseball or football game. This would be the first time my work process was ever projected bigger than life for an audience to scrutinize. At leastthree video cameras were recording the proceedings the whole time. This has to be the most documented event I have ever been a part of. The program gave the audience plenty to read and a blank page to sketch if they so liked.
73 of my sketches were hung around the theater clothesline style using fishing line, electrical tape and alligator clips. Ron and Maisy Marrs arrived early and worked tirelessly for over an hour and a half before curtain call. Tommy Wingo handled all the technical aspects of the two video cameras and all the wiring. Evan Miga lent us his digital projector and operated the video camera pointed at my sketch during the whole performance.
At first I envisioned music from “The Illusionist” soundtrack playing the whole time I sketched, but Aradhana and Brian both felt it had too dark and brooding a mood. We agreed to play some Bach performed by Yo-Yo Ma when people entered the theater and looked around at the art. The music was silenced and Brian Feldman walked out into the spotlight to offer an introduction. He mentioned how he and I met over a year ago at the Kerouac House for a performance of his called “txt.” Since that night I have documented over 25 of his performances. When the audience applauded, I walked on stage and took my seat. I couldn’t see a thing with the spotlight in my face, so I grabbed a baseball cap out of my backpack. I was a bit nervous to start and dropped a pen. I had difficulty seeing since the house lights were at half. I called out to the lighting booth, asking if she could raise the lights a bit. When I could see, the sketch started to progreso. At first the room was silent, but soon people forgot about the cameras and artist recording the proceedings and the mood lightened. Ashley Gonzalez, Tommy Wingo’s fiance, walked right up on the stage and stood looking over my left shoulder. She whispered the one question I cannot stand into my ear, “Are you an artist?” I laughed and asked, “Did Terry put you up top this?” Clearly she had.
About one hour into the performance, just as I was about to finish up the pen line work, a large group of audience members decided to get up and move to the opposite side of the space so they could be in the sketch a second time. I shouted out “Anarchists!” I placed them the best I could in the new location. Then the watercolors came out and I started to work faster.
People talked and mingled. At times people joked with me and the artist and model exchange became playful. An artist in a kilt sat in the front row with his girlfriend who held an umbrella. He drew a robotic version of me sketching. Maisy drew all over her questionnaire. What was amazing about this audience as a whole was how much talent was gathered in one room. There were visual artists, authors, poets, dancers, comedians, directors and photographers all mingling in a shared creative experience. It turned out to be a fun way to meet new people while sharing my art. Life as theater, theater as life.


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