There is nothing wrong with your theatrical experience.
Do not attempt to adjust the scenery. Four veteran Live Arts and Fringe companies are taking control of your live entertainment.
Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental controls the horizontal, roaming the world as far as Antarctica and as near as Red Lobster. As is typical with Thaddeus Phillips' inventive productions, he reaches those locales — and others, including a fiber-optic station in New Jersey and the set of Carl Sagan's Cosmos — with a bare minimum of resources. WHaLE OPTICS, his world première conceived with a quintet of local performers, is especially resourceful, allowing the cast to record whale songs or dine on chain seafood with little more than a rolling scaffold, a ship's sail and a table.
The idea, Phillips says, is "to create an epic spectacle in an intimate setting. We set up two elements that, with the audience's imagination, will complete the picture. It's very open to the imagination."
Bare bones though it may be, the show is bound to be filled with the flights of whimsy that always mark Phillips' pieces. "The idea is to trip the audience out and create an experience," he says. "If you're going to the theater, let's create an experience, not just a thing you sit back and watch."
Headlong Dance Theater and Brian Sanders' JUNK control the vertical, climbing up toward the surface of Mars, or down into a zombie-infested subbasement of an apartment building.
Headlong audiences rarely get a chance to "sit back and watch," and Red Rovers starts by reassigning each attendee a new identity, complete with name tag, for a Jet Propulsion Laboratories conference of Mars rover drivers. They'll be expected to participate in a yoga session, get involved in a David Bowie dance number, or cobble together a landing apparatus for a model rover.
"I love the unpredictability of it," says co-director Amy Smith. "You can try to choreograph the audience but you can't entirely succeed, and that's exciting."
The show was inspired by an episode of NPR's Science Friday featuring the head of the Mars exploration mission. "I loved the anthropomorphization of the rovers when he told their crazy stories," Smith recalls. "He talked about them having bouts of amnesia and degrading and falling apart in an almost human way. The humanizing of these robots really intrigued me. The impossibility of our amazing ability to communicate with and get information back from the rovers over millions of miles mirrors how challenging it can be for us as humans to communicate with each other."
The relationships between the gravity-defying corpses in Brian Sanders' Dancing Dead may have been cut short by some long-forgotten 1970s apocalypse, but that won't stop them from partying together to a Captain & Tennille hit.
Alternately beautiful, tragic and playful, Dancing Dead was inspired by the deaths of a 19-year-old JUNK dancer and Sanders' own father, both of whom took their own lives. "I hate it when I as an audience member am used as someone's therapy couch," Sanders insists. "So I try to abstract what I'm working on ... so that it's just the essence of my personal experience that other people can identify with."
As with 2009's swimming-pool-set Urban Scuba, JUNK's acrobatic grace is contrasted with a decaying space, in this case the cavernous "industrial church" underneath the 444 Lofts. "Part of the idea behind JUNK," Sanders says, "is turning junk into an art form. It's making discarded and unwanted and abandoned ideas into something beautiful."
New Paradise Laboratories can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity, shifting perspective via the strange new world of the social network.
The Internet may be replete with the human element, posting and tweeting and liking at the speed of data, but it all still feels extremely dehumanizing. NPL has been exploring that paradox: "We're interested in this intersection of the virtual and the real," explains Whit MacLaughlin, director of Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, a new show that unfolds in three acts: the first online, the second via a downloadable walking tour, and the third live on an unconventional (and secret) stage.
"Your head is basically a virtual realm," MacLaughlin continues, "so we're thinking of theater as not just happening in the darkened box. Web expression gives you the chance to invade the whole world with your thinking and think of the whole world as your stage."
The show follows the slightly less sprawling experimentation of 2009's Fatebook, which gave each of its characters virtual lives in addition to the show itself. " Extremely Public Displays is Fatebook 2.0," MacLaughlin says, "and it's all beta."
MacLaughlin promises "three unprecedented theatrical experiences," striving to preserve some corner of the net to house art for art's sake. "If we don't want it to be just a shopping mall, we have to work hard to keep importing soul into the Internet."
You are about to participate in a great adventure.
For tickets and information, call 215-413-1318 or visit livearts-fringe.org.