08 December 2015
Immersive theatrical experiences rely heavily on setting to properly integrate theatregoers into the action of the show. It is a bit like rounding up sheep for the actors and designers who need to direct the attention of patrons to specific areas of a room without confining people to chairs.* AccousticaElectronica, a theatrical experience originally developed in Boston that has monthly performances at DROM, takes place in a small nightclub while patrons drink and dance the night away. While elements of AccousticaElectronica, including aspects of the choreography and conceptual design, are attention-grabbing, the actors must wrestle with distractions inherent in a nightclub setting to retain audience attention and the show too often seems more like an exercise for the senses than a coherent production with a discernible plot.
AccousticaElectronica blends numerous artistic styles, including ballet, opera, classical music, and aerial acrobatics to manipulate a club atmosphere, encouraging patrons to imbibe and enjoy the spectacle. The performance is highly conceptualized with some discernible themes and recognizable characters extracted from classic literature and theatre. The party begins as several muses and a clown (plucked straight from commedia dell’arte tradition) engage the audience, luring them onto the dance floor. The evening’s host, Dorian Grey, who hides behind a glittering mask and revels in his own youthful exuberance, welcomes the crowd and introduces partiers to several objects of his fetish-like desire: a mesmerizing opera singer named Carmen, a pure white ballerina straight out of Swan Lake, and gravity-defying aerialists twirling high above the crowd. As the show progresses a forbidden love story emerges between Carmen and her admirer, the shows tuxedo-clad conductor. Despite Mr. Grey’s own wandering eye and lustful behavior, he does not take kindly to Carmen pursuing another love interest. Eventually, his jealousy leads to a violent outburst that turns the lighthearted party into a murderous affair.
While elements of the show have great promise, including the use of familiar literary and theatrical characters to give the audience a frame of reference during many of the abstract scenes and embracing varying methods of artistic expression in the production, AccousticaElectronica often feels like a modified club experience rather than a theatrical production. Patrons visit the bar throughout the performance and many dance and talk throughout the show, as if the performers were simply a band on stage or part of the ambiance rather than the main event. Moreover, as the night progresses, more than one intoxicated reveler is forced to stumble out of the way of the actors as they dance around the room. While some visitors may find it easy to ignore or even enjoy these human distractions, anyone who is more interested in seeing the performance than joining in the spectacle may find himself or herself out of place. Moreover, the plot is thin and frequently difficult to follow (even more so for patrons who are unfamiliar with the themes and literary/theatre alliterations referenced in the production). Despite these pitfalls, Elizabeth McGuire’s vibrant choreography, coupled with the creative lighting and immersive staging, creates an auditory and visual feast for the senses.
AccousticaElectronica takes full advantage of its multi-talented cast, showcasing the strong dance skills of the performers. Highlights of the ensemble include Brittany Testone as a pirouette-savvy ballerina whose pure image tarnishes as the show progresses, Brian Castillo as the equally enchanting and repulsive Dorian Grey, and Travis Artz as the lovesick orchestra conductor. Of special note is Sarah Naughton’s performance as Carmen – Sarah has a majestic voice that managed to fill the whole of the DROM club space and the sultry character that she crafted is memorable in a cast of eye-catching individuals.**
Despite not being able to find the designer’s name, the costume artist for this production did an excellent job of outfitting the cast in dynamic outfits with visual appeal – adorning their outfits with sparkles, bright colors, and even some illumination that fit the club environment perfectly. One particularly striking costume involved dressing cast members in outfits that were decorated with neon lighting during a pitch black dance sequence, transforming the club into a quasi-rave.
AccousticaElectronica sets itself apart among the numerous immersive theatre offerings in its embrace of the nightclub atmosphere for its staging; however, it is that embrace that also hinders AccousticaElectronica from becoming a thoroughly enjoyable production. Young crowds unaccustomed to or disinterested in the structure of theatre may find the chaotic show an engaging sensory experience, but people who prefer a plot-driven production may be better served looking elsewhere for their entertainment.
*I have had the pleasure of rounding up sheep. Despite evidence presented to the contrary in the movie Babe, it is surprisingly difficult.
**On an unrelated note – Sarah also lists a production of Mame at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio as one of her favorite recent credits, which makes this writer smile. As a child growing up in Dayton, Human Race sponsored numerous theatre workshops in my elementary school.