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The Journalism of Hanging Out: Spring 2017 Play Lab Artist, Dan Hoyle

June 7, 2017—“Theater is such a powerful social tool,” writer-performer Dan Hoyle said in a talkback during the Baltimore Center Stage Spring Play Lab. “Sharing with people intimately across the borders that can divide us is really important. It’s a very uncertain time and so people are trying to draw hard lines around culture, and I just meet all these people who cross those lines.”

The weekend of May 12–14, Baltimore Center Stage welcomed Dan Hoyle, a solo performance artist, and his long-time collaborator and director, Charlie Varon. Hoyle brought with him two pieces—Each and Every Thing, a play about finding human connection in an increasingly digital age; and the fledging piece Borders/No Borders, which currently consists of a series of character sketches that challenge us with questions about how we negotiate borders every day, from the international to the deeply personal. Both shows were workshopped over a number of days with Varon and Baltimore Center Stage dramaturgs, and performed for audiences—EAET on Friday and Saturday, and Borders on Sunday.

The weekend’s workshops were spent reshaping Each and Every Thing, a piece that originally set out to explore the transition from newspapers to digital media, and ended up being a thoughtful consideration on how human beings share stories and make connections. The developmental process of Play Lab prompted Hoyle to change the opening monologue and add a coda, which took place 14 years after the events that sparked the original version of the script. Baltimore Center Stage staff and audiences were also the first ears to hear the very raw, recently gathered monologues that may become the basis for a full-length piece, Borders/No Borders.

Though often compared to other solo performance artists, such as Anna Deveare Smith and Danny Hoch, Hoyle sees his work as less journalistic and more “the journalism of hanging out.” This classification for his work links to a concept called OpenTime that he developed with his friend, Pratim (who’s a delightful recurring character in EAET). Hoyle says of OpenTime:

“It’s being in a place with a person where you aren’t worried about what else is happening; you’re just tuning in on them. Everything goes away in your mind except being with that person, connecting with that person or that environment. Your sense of time goes away; you’re in OpenTime.”

Hoyle’s exploration of OpenTime and the journalism of hanging out has been a 15-year endeavor spanning multiple continents, resulting in a number of solo shows, including The Real Americans (playing at Mosaic Theater in DC, fall 2017) and the Nigeria-based Tings Dey Happen. Since Hoyle’s solo shows consist of him embodying and performing multiple characters—all based on real-life people he’s met—he is often gets asked how he first approaches strangers to get to know their stories.

“I think it can be hard at first; it’s sometimes hard for me, but I find I’m generally always welcome in the communities I visit. I think if you portray yourself as genuinely curious and interested, and you conduct yourself with respect, and show a real desire to hear other people’s stories, people want to be understood. A lot of it is going out there and being honest and transparent.”

This approach first helped Hoyle befriend the local hustlers who lived on his street in the South Side of Chicago in 2003, an early encounter chronicled in EAET. It was a relationship that eventually spanned over a decade. Recently Hoyle reconnected with them and his visit appears as a coda to the revised play, a beautiful bookend and testament to OpenTime.

The time lapse that EAET witnesses speaks to Hoyle’s style of performance, and reflects what Varon called Hoyle’s “slow, artisanal theater.” The power of Hoyle as a performer, he said in the talkback, is “seeing what happens when Dan embodies the characters and puts them in front of an audience. And seeing the flow of the evening, what happens as Dan takes these characters, a whole cast, and carries them inside of him, sees what they’re starting to say to each other and to him, and what that thought journey is for Dan.”

Hoyle himself said it takes about two years to put together a solo show; time is needed to develop and embody the characters as much as it is needed to build relationships with their real-life counterparts. “[The Sunday performance of Borders/NoBorders]—you’re seeing the initial versions of these characters. If you saw Each and Every Thing on Friday night, you saw where my plays go to, the physical vocabulary introduced, how I’m really creating characters that are fully fleshed out, how there’s a narrative voice. That’s the work that takes a long time.”

When asked what he hopes audiences get from his work, Hoyle said, “My goal is never to make people think a certain thing, but to inspire them to think critically and then to have courage. It can be hard…to share these different stories, to show that deep listening. Listening is an act of love, and I definitely believe that.”

“Theater at its best is OpenTime. I think we have an evolutionary thing in our brain where, if we actually do OpenTime, we can encode somebody’s essence in us, if we really give ourselves over.” Hoyle laughed, then added, “No proof for that, though.”

Perhaps witnessing his plays and the conversations they sparked is proof enough.