nytheatre.com review by Mel House
July 20, 2012
Confession: I love theatre that actively engages audience members. And I don't mean just emotional involvement in a protagonist's story; but rather, productions that invite the audience to get involved. I like to see and hear other audience members. It reminds me that we are collectively participating in an event and in the best possible case, we connect. So I was intrigued by We-Buy-Gold's concept for their 45-minute show, Text-Based Adventure, which is running as part of The Brick's GAME PLAY series—a celebration of videogame performance art.
Three actors—Kate Attwell, Ryan Davis and Nina Segal—wearing bright felt letters (K,R,N) pinned to their chests like improv super heroes, combine text messaging and live theatre. They invite the audience to get into the ring and play a game—use your phone to text questions or directions to the actors. Actually your texts go to a guy sitting in the corner at a Mac, wearing a rat mask. Then he sends the directions to the actors, who are wearing headsets. They follow your directions using a few dozen props, placed inside a rectangular playing space marked off with blue tape.
We-Buy-Gold gives the audience the power and responsibility for writing and directing the show. It's a great seed idea. Feels like you're out for a night of improv. However, it doesn't have the same payoff. The actors sang, flopped around on the stage like dying fish and did all sorts of things with powder at the audience's direction. Who knew powder could be so fascinating and theatrically effective? The experience was like watching kids play in a sandbox. There were fascinating and delightful moments, but they were mostly disjointed and didn't come together to tell a meaningful story.
While I applaud their experiment, their risk-taking and the vulnerability required to go on stage open to receiving whatever may come, I would like this team to dig a little deeper. I think part of what makes games fun is that the players have a sense of where they're going. Perhaps the audience could be more successful as writer/directors if we were given guidelines, vocabulary, choices—essentially rules and a goal. The actors are obviously comfortable with each other, brave and easy in their bodies, but their naturalistic playing style didn't feel like the best match for the form. I really wanted them to use their full voices and bodies to build a world for me, especially in the second act when the introduction of sound sometimes drowned out the performer's voices.
This is an experiment worth checking out. And I look forward to seeing how this team continues to grow their work. Each performance is original and shaped by you, the audience. Challenge: take a group of friends to Text-Based Adventure and use text messages, the actors and their props to see if you can build a compelling story.