A Thousand Ways (Part Three): An Assembly

This is one in The Look Club’s series of write ups covering the 2022 Without Walls Festival at Liberty Station in San Diego. The full list of write-ups can be found here.

“A Thousand Ways: An Assembly” at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. (Liza Voll)

The Show & How it Works:

Once everyone is seated and all the chairs are full, someone — self selected — walks to the front of the room, picks up a stack of note cards and begins reading them. These note cards are the script, and the stack will be passed from one participant to another as the reader seeks a volunteer replacement as, and when, instructed on the cards.

Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:

The collaborative element is intriguing. The show is described as bringing together “an audience of twelve strangers to construct a unique and intimate theatrical event.” Construct could mean so many things; to see just how theatergoers do it in this case is of interest.

Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:

As the reading of the cards gets underway, it becomes apparent that the task of this show is not so much to “construct” an event as to carry one out. The cards carry the action and make it a remarkably structured show. Each performance is unique because of who’s reading when and how they might respond, but it is also apparent that most shows likely have a similar shape.

Interestingly, there are moments that require the audience to both judge each other (“who seems like they’d be most fun at a party?”) and come to a consensus (“who has the longest hair?”). It doesn’t prescribe how. My cohort’s behavior spoke to an implicit feeling that all dialog was scripted and none was to be improvised; this, however, was not stated. I’d be curious if other cohorts engaged in side conversations.

While certain moments required a smidge of trust — as when participants were asked to empty, and pass to their neighbor, the contents of their pockets — overall, the show didn’t seem to have interest in forging connections. It tiptoes up to the line of intimacy — at one point, for example, asking someone if they’ve experienced loss recently — and then it backs away; no follow up questions are asked. With the program description calling this show “a timely and intimate return to togetherness,” one might think it might be intended as a bonding experience or a way to connect with others. It is not, and the ending cements that, asking each person to leave one at a time and not allowing for any discussion of the experience with the other participants. The description of the participants as “twelve strangers” is apt; the show takes care not to make the participants more than that.

Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):

Embodied, 1st person visual, 1st person narrative, participant, mortal.

Who Should See This?

People who are game to get out of their seats — and perhaps their comfort zones — and participate in an active way for the duration of the experience.

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The Look Club

The Look Club

Eve Weston and Jessica Kantor created The Look Club to discusses immersive media through their site www.thelook.club and reviews of immersive stories.