If I'm going to leave day-work early to make to a 4PM immersive theatre experience...it better be good.
Remote L.A. a pedestrian live art theatrical experience, is Center Theatre Group's first step into a genre steadily rising in popularity, immersive theatre. My partner, an associate producer at the Skylight Theatre Company in Los Feliz, and I arrived at the back of the Mark Taper Forum, where we were guided in a procession of other participants to the public garden at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, right around the corner from old Olivera Street. After collecting headsets or earbuds from the crew, we embarked on somewhat deviant audio walking tour of downtown LA a lead by robot/operating system named Heather, who was very aware of her own artificiality. You are encouraged to put your phone away, although it's tempting to not try and sneak some pictures, which yes, me, and many others within the group did sneak. This hundred minute show involves lots of walking (they say four miles, but it feels like less) and they encourage very comfortable footwear. After completing the LA marathon on Sunday, I didn't know if I would be able to take it, but it moved surprisingly quick and didn't feel as rigorous as it had been described. But maybe that's because I did the LA Marathon on Sunday.
It certainly was fun. ****This next part could be a bit of a spoiler, if you're still planning to go over the next two weeks**** You ride a train. You go down a seemingly scary alleyway. At times as a group you determine the route of the course. There are moments when you stand out from typical LA city-dwellers and there are moments when you will blend in. There's dancing. There's racing. There is potential for high-fifing and applause. Close to the end, the "hoard" is even broken up into smaller "herds" and separated off onto mini journeys. I'm not going to lie, I was having fun. Especially at the dancing part. I loved the opportunity to completely shamelessly break it down in a public place. Shake it till' you make it baby. ****Spoiler End****
But, as my partner and I concluded afterwards, the show is kind of like Dippin' Dots; it's a lot of fun, but is it really that good? We found that although we appreciated what was supposed to be happening, we felt that the dramatic action, the conflict, the actual "theatre" was the only thing missing from this theatre experience. More than one patron described the audio as "meditative" in quality, as opposed to a more story/plot driven experience. The experience relies more on one's own contemplation on their surroundings, choices and impact than an imagined story, mission or role. And, maybe because the artificiality was so emphasized, I was less invested in what "Heather" was trying to accomplish. I didn't have real live actors to attach myself to. But I had me. I could choose how invested my participation was. Both mentally and physically. If I took out my phone or started taking to another patron, the machine would not be affected. If I did that in a live theatre, there might be a consequence. Considering that Rimini Protocol originated this franchise of productions in Berlin, soon verging forth to other landmark European cities before making their way to America, it makes me wonder how willing to be a part of the experience those European audiences were, in comparison to Americans. Maybe because I'm an actor, and I've reached a certain stage in my life, I have no problem busting a move when instructed, on a train or in a hotel lobby, or participating in a race to the end of the block. I don't get embarrassed about stuff like that, especially in a space deemed a theatre space, by the given constructs. But I know others can be a little more timid, maybe even embarrassed to play in this way. For this show to really work, everyone has to give themselves over to the play, and that might be my takeaway for this one. For a play to really work, you have to totally give yourself over to it. You need to be safe, you need to be respectful of others, but you can't be embarrassed to try things. So what this show makes me want to change about myself, is having complete willingness and openness in the rehearsal process, to offer a little more trust up front. And I could see how this show may create a release in other areas of life for other patrons.
If you're able to catch a 4PM weekday show or one of the remaining weekend performances, Remote L.A. runs though April 2nd only in Downtown Los Angeles through Center Theatre Group. Don't be afraid to try.