Imagine having an actor perform for you one-on-one. Now imagine that this actor is halfway across the world and, via a skype video chat, you are magicaly together, just the two of you. And for 10 to 15 minutes, nothing and no one else exists – just you and this performer. He or she will ask you questions, will try to facilitate dialogue, try to make you laugh, look for your approval and maybe unsettle you. Each performance is carefully scripted, but designed as a conversation.
Long Distance Affair is a carefully crafted piece of experiential theatre. The audience is limited to six people at a time. Each person is seated at a laptop and given a headset. You have a series of three phone calls, each with a different performer. I spoke first with Oksana in Moscow, Russia. An exceedingly nice middle-aged woman, she is currently under house arrest for performing in a punk rock group (she even performed one of her songs for me). She had managed to get her son out of Russia and to Brighton Beach – was that near Times Square? Could I contact him for her? Next up, I met Toma, in Bucharest, Romania. Young and energetic, Toma is trying to get his cooking show on television – will I be his test audience? He promises to cook whatever dish I like! Finally I met Miguel, in Querétaro, Mexico, a troubled young man who spoke in disjointed, poetical phrases, walking the line between clarity and insanity as he rolled naked on the floor. I found his call to be the most profound – I genuinely wanted to help him and found myself consoling this lost soul.
I had anticipated that the three calls would in some way interrelate, but that was not the case. Long Distance Affair, it turns out, is not about plot but about experience. I must say that I have never paid as much whole-hearted attention before in the theatre. Oksana had me memorizing a phone number while Toma had me visualizing moments from my childhood. It is a fascinating experiment in awareness and presence and I know that I do not give as much undivided attention to my friends or loved ones when I am on the phone with them. The performers, or at least the three (of eleven total) that I met, instantly created a safe and trusting environment. As the audience member, I decide how far I want to push the experience, how much information I want to offer up and if/how I will follow up afterwards. Pop Up Theatrics has created a fascinating socio-theatrical experiment and vividly shown that the key to understanding anyone different from oneself is by listening.