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The drone of the audience quiets as the house lights dim. The stage lights brighten, and the audience sits back to enjoy a seemingly typical two-man show.

The only catch? One of the actors has never seen the script.

Thus begins Tim Crouch's innovative play, "An Oak Tree," which appears one night only at Leeds Theatre Tuesday at 8 p.m. The performance will be the first in Crouch's monthlong U.S. tour.

The show dramatizes the meeting of two men — a father and a hypnotist responsible for the death of the former's child — after a terrible accident.

Crouch, a British actor turned playwright, will play the hypnotist, and a local actor will play the father. As always, the second actor's identity will not be revealed until the performance itself.

Crouch has performed the show more than 250 times around the world. Each time, he plays the hypnotist, and a different actor — male or female — plays the father.

"I use hypnosis as a metaphor for art," Crouch said. "In effect, I play the artist."

By collaborating with a different actor each night, Crouch said, he aims to challenge established theatrical traditions.

"In the last hundred years in performing we got horribly stuck in a certain way of acting — a certain style of preparation of acting," he said. "I think we are, sadly, completely ignoring the presence of our audience in that preparation, and my work brings the role of the audience into the forefront of the theater experience."

In "An Oak Tree," the actor playing opposite Crouch becomes representative of the audience, the playwright said, in that both the actor and the viewers are experiencing the performance for the first time.

"The actor is playing a character who is lost in their grief, who has lost the compass in their life. And that character is being performed by an actor who has also lost his compass," he said.

Though the play does have a script, Crouch said, having different actors every time creates a certain freedom within the text, "a kind of improvisation in the spirit."

"We go and see the play not just for the words. We go for all the other stuff," he said. "And it's all the other stuff that is being made up in the moment."

Lisa D'Amour, a visiting lecturer in playwriting and the person responsible for inviting Crouch to Brown, said she was excited about the playwright's coming. "He is an amazing writer and an amazing performer," she said.

In addition to the performance of "An Oak Tree," Crouch's visit to Brown this week will include lectures and workshops for playwrights and actors.

Crouch said he hopes students in the workshops will learn to leave behind the cultural stigmas that society has placed on theater.

"Theater is a cultural form that is available to anyone. And the transformation of theater is available to anyone, not just to specialist actors," he said.


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