Over the past nine years, La Jolla Playhouse has presented site-specific productions for its Without Walls Festival in cars and a botanical garden, on basketball and tennis courts, in warehouses, parks and a children’s museum — and even in the crashing surf at the beach.
All of those locations are now off limits, with San Diegans sheltering in place due to COVID-19. But if any theater series was ideally suited for the current quarantine, it’s Without Walls (WOW).
On April 17, La Jolla Playhouse announced the commissioning of three new interactive WOW productions that are being written by local artists specifically for audience members to watch online at home or listen to during a socially distant walk through their neighborhood. These world premiere pieces will be available later this spring on the Playhouse’s online programming portal and will range in ticket price from free to $25.
The Playhouse also announced it will present a WOW production of by London-based theater artist Brian Lobel called “Binge,” which involves a one-on-one interaction with a solo audience member via Zoom. Lobel’s “Carpe Minuta Prima” was presented at the 2013 Without Walls Festival.
No dates have been set for the debut of the four WOW shows, but the first ones should be available in May.
“Our WOW series is extraordinarily well suited to this unprecedented moment when we’re all sheltering in place, offering groundbreaking theater that reimagines the relationship between artist, audience and story in a virtual space,” said Christopher Ashley, the Playhouse’s artistic director, in a statement.
“Each of these innovative works is essentially about human connection. At a time when we’re physically unable to be together, they address how art can help people feel bonded in moving, inventive and deeply humane ways.”
One of the new commissioned works is being developed by Blindspot Collective, a 2-year-old San Diego troupe that specializes in creating radically inclusive theater. On Friday, April 17, the Playhouse announced that Blindspot has been named its 2020-21 Resident Theatre Company. The one-year residency will allow the paripatetic company space to develop and present new work with the technical, marketing and development assistance of Playhouse staff.
Here’s a snapshot of the four upcoming WOW shows:
• “Walks of Life”: Blindspot Collective, led by co-directors Blake McCarty and Catherine Hanna Schrock, will create this auditory theater piece featuring short scenes by playwrights and composers from across the country. In the midst of a pandemic that fractures and isolates communities, this aural experience offers the opportunity to imaginatively reconnect with others by witnessing intimate moments captured entirely in sound. Participants will experience the piece while walking independently through their own neighborhoods, and over the course of three 30-minute parts, they are introduced to characters and stories that might be unfolding in the homes around them. Blindspot made its WOW Festival debut last year with the interactive high school-set piece “Hall Pass.”
• “Ancient”: San Diego actor/playwright Mike Sears and director Lisa Berger, who collaborated on “How High is the Moon” at the 2019 WOW Festival, are creating a video installation that explores the relationship between repetition and meditation, the routine and the ancient. The piece, set to text by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, features nine actors performing day-to-day tasks both ancient and contemporary, accompanied by an original score composed by Shawn Rohlf.
• “Proyecto: Portaleza”: Written by Playhouse 2020-21 artist in residence David Israel Reynoso for his bilingual theater company Optika Moderna, this interactive online theater piece will take audience on a multisensory virtual journey without leaving their living room. Audience members will follow clues to unlock a secret portal where mysterious opticians will take the viewer on an adventure. This will be Reynoso’s third WOW piece, including the immersive walk-through experiences “Las Quinceañeras” in 2019 and “Waking La Llorona” in 2017.
• “Binge”: Created in England in 2019 by Brian Lobel & Friends, this tailor-made, one-on-one Zoom performance piece involves the performer choosing an episode of a classic TV show for the audience member that they watch together as a means of opening up a conversation.
— ON THE WEB: To visit La Jolla Playhouse’s free online programming portal, visit lajollaplayhouse.org/the-staging-area/