03/09/2012 09:59 am ET

'Car Plays' Put The Actors In The Front Seat, Audience In The Back (VIDEO)

All the world may be a stage, but a group of actors in San Diego prefers a much smaller venue -- the insides of cars.

It's part of a presentation called "The Car Plays: San Diego," a series of intimate 10-minute plays, each taking place in a vehicle.

Much like a play in a normal theater, the audience members are ushered to their seats, but these seats are the backseat of a car and only two people see a performance at a time, just inches away from the actors sitting up front.

Ten minutes later, the doors open and the audience slips into the back seat of a different car to see a different play -- five in all -- though there are 15 plays being presented at any one time during this production, according to creator Paul Stein.

"We present 15 plays in 15 cars which are parked in three rows," Stein told HuffPost Weird News. "We use the cars of the actors and directors, so there are a lot of Hondas and Toyotas. Of course, 4-doors are easiest for the audience."

Stein created the concept back in 2006 when his group, Moving Art Theatre Company, was driven from their regular space.

"Back in 2006, we actually lost our theater space, so I wanted to keep the company going," Stein told KPBS. "So I needed to think of ways to produce and self-generate work regardless of theater space."

Stein said he was inspired when he saw a couple communicating in sign language in a car.

"I started thinking about all of the moments I’ve had in parked cars," he said. "I had my first kiss with my wife in a parked car on our first date. I’ve been broken up with many times in my car. But then also Los Angeles, you know, with the driving, sometimes you use the car almost as an escape."

The catalog of car plays now totals nearly 50 and some of the plotlines includes a play where a college student tries to skip out on a cab fare.

"For that one, we have to use a real cab," Stein told The Huffington Post.

Another, written by Stone, is about a dad who drives his kids to Disneyland and pulls over to the side of the road because he doesn't like their behavior.

"The kids are acting up so the dad turns to berate them," he said. "The kids are actually the audience members. Some people actually act like they are 6 or 7 and will stick their tongue out at the actor playing the dad. Other times, they sit back and just get berated."

Director Lisa Berger says car acting is closer to film acting than being onstage in a theater.

"We’ve been discovering that when you’re in the car, you actually have to do more cinematic acting, which in the beginning was really hard," she told KPBS. "We had to keep adjusting back and adjusting back and adjusting back because the stage voices in a car are not good. Too big, too bright."

That was especially challenging in one play about two dogs waiting in a car for their owners to return.

"We decided that we weren't gonna go like full-blown dog. So they sit like humans but they have dog behaviors," she said. "One of them is a little terrier dog and one of them is a lab dog. So I sent [the actors] videos of doggie behavior and we actually picked things that we saw in those videos and brought them into their characters."

There are also challenges for the audience, according to Jim Hebert, the theatre critic for the San Diego Union Tribune.

"I don't know that I've ever felt quite so awkward at a theater performance as I did [at 'The Car Plays: San Diego']," he wrote in his review. "I do know, though, that I loved just about every mortifying minute of it."

Stein does admit that watching a play in a car requires adjustments for audience members -- some of which he didn't expect when he conceived the idea.

"One playgoer told me, 'I wish I had more legroom,' while others automatically buckle their seatbelts even though we're not going anywhere. I guess it's subconscious," he said.

So far, there have been nearly 10 productions of "The Car Plays," including two this year, all in southern California. Naturally, Stein would like to take it on the road.

"I'm not sure how this would do in, say, New York, but I think it can go any place there is a car-driving culture," he said.