Tuesday, October 20, 2009

INSIDE STORIES PODCAST 08: THEATRE OF THE SENSES

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE ONLINE HERE, OR BETTER YET, SUBSCRIBE TO THE FREE PODCAST SERIES ON iTUNES HERE

In this episode of the podcast, I chat with the artistic director and some of the company members of "Teatro de los Sentidos" (Theatre of the Senses), a multinational theatre troupe based in Barcelona that does these thoroughly unusual and sensuous sort of "performances." I put "performances" in quotes because it's hard to describe what they do in typical theatre talk. In the "show" I went to in Pittsburgh last year, "Echo of the Shadow," individual "audience" members would go one-by-one through a of labyrinth of environments -- a circus tent, a moat, a sort of fairy-tale house, and others -- where they would have mostly wordless encounters with individual "actors," or what the troupe calls "inhabitants." All five senses (and probably a few unnamed senses in addition) come into play. It's a horrid cliche to describe something like this as "magical," but it really was, and one of the most enlivening pieces of theatre I've ever seen. This show probably sounds less like a story and more like a series of impressions -- and it is, in a sense. The show is inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, but it does not tell that story, really. Instead, each of the environments evoke so many of the individual visitor's memories and feelings that the experience becomes, in fact, a very personal story for each person. And, no coincidence, the visitor is given a small booklet at the beginning that they carry with them throughout the labyrinth, and which is added to at several of the stations along the way. Great stuff. 

I thought I'd post this episode in advance of Halloween, because artistic director Enrique Vargas said specifically that, while "Echo" plays with darkness and different rooms or environments, the show was not a haunted house. Shortly after going through "Echo of the Shadow," for the sake of comparison I went to the most dreadful haunted house -- and I don't mean "dreadful" in a good way. It was hugely popular, and cost something like $30. Fortunately, I got in for free, because otherwise I would have felt positively robbed. Groups of 5-8 people were herded through at a time, the occasional zombie would reach out and grab your shoulder, "creepy" lights cast shadows on the wall, and you had to crawl through one or two passageways. These little "frights" (more like annoyances, the whole thing was idiotic) were not unlike some of the conceits of "Echo of the Shadow," only there were many factors that took you out of the experience -- the other people with you saying how dumb it was, or them talking about the club they were going to later that night, or the emergency exit signs and other indicators of the outside, or the fact that midway through you had to pass through the crowded lobby again. Well, the whole thing was cheeseball and lame. In contrast, however, at every turn "Echo of the Shadow" immersed you in experience. It was brilliant. It made me want to run off with the troupe! This production of "Echo of the Shadow" took place October in 2008 at the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, and was Theatre of the Sense's U.S. premiere. I hope they come back. For the Pittsburgh production, they worked with Clear Story Creative, a production company that works in various media. 

Again, be sure to check out the Theatre's website, see a performance if you can, and if you happen to be in Barcelona, go to one of their theatre workshops. I dare you not to fall in love with them! 

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