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WOW: Without Walls Festival Goes Digital Starting Thursday

Artists discuss creating digital edition of La Jolla Playhouse’s WOW Festival

Photo credit: La Jolla Playhouse

"Ancient" by Mike Sears and Lisa Berger is a Playhouse-commissioned video installation that explores the relationship between repetition and meditation, the routine and the ancient. It kicks off the digital edition of the Without Walls Festival and becomes available May 14.

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Theaters are struggling to create content online but La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival actually lends itself well to producing art from quarantine during a pandemic.

Aired: May 5, 2020 |

Theaters are struggling to create content online but La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival actually lends itself well to producing art from quarantine during a pandemic and the first show, "Ancient," debuts online Thursday.

The goal of the Playhouse's Without Walls, or WOW Festival, is to force theater out of traditional spaces and into the community for site-specific work. The festival has been downtown, at the Lafayette Hotel, and at Liberty Station. Now it's asking artists to look to the restrictions of quarantine as the site inspiration for this year's event.

Reported by Beth Accomando

But for La Jolla Playhouse Artist in Residence David Israel Reynoso, those restrictions can be a good thing.

"I think in creating work like this now, within kind of the parameters that we have, it's tempting to sort of consider all the what we consider limitations within creating this work," Reynoso said. "What I love about being in the creative arts, in the creative field and sort of being someone who is having to think creatively in terms of problem-solving with work like this, it's important to focus more on the possibilities that are still available, despite the fact that we do have some things that are hedging us in. And I think when I consider the spirit of innovation that humanity has shown over our time here on this earth, I think that that's been something that keeps us moving forward. I mean, there's no denying we are certainly limited. And yet I think limitations encourage innovation."

Reynoso is innovating to create a new work for WOW and found inspiration in watching his kids creatively deal with being at home inspired him.

So Reynosos wondered: "Is there a way of inviting our audience members for this piece to tap into that sense of creativity, that sense of imagination that allows our sort of our minds to be what transports us elsewhere?"

Perhaps those screens we look at all day could be a portal to something else.

"I think a lot of the content that's digital, you can also be quite passive in your seats, in your bed. Where is it you're watching? And I think instead I'm hoping that this is something that encourages participation and encourages you to activate your mind in a way that you might not otherwise in your day to day within the sort of the idea of being quarantined," Reynoso said.

Reynoso’s “Proyecto: Portaleza” will take you through an online portal to experience an inventive, multi-sensory journey without ever leaving your living room.

But Blindspot Collective’s approach to WOW is to get you out of the house.

"'Walks of Life' is an auditory theater experience in much the same way that you listen to a podcast," said director of artistic development Blake McCarty. "Audience members will be asked to download an audio file and listen to an audio file, hopefully from something like a smartphone that will allow them to actually leave their home and take a 30- to 40-minute walk."

Then a narrator will take you through three plays.

"And each of those plays has been positioned as if it might be a slice of life that's happening behind the fences or front doors of the houses you're passing on that walk through your own neighborhood. We're really interested in forging imagined connections with our neighbors, which for us is one of the losses of this time that we don't have the opportunity to pass strangers in coffee shops in the same way," McCarty added.

Photo credit: La Jolla Playhouse

For last year's Without Walls Festival, Blindspot Collective created "Hall Pass," set in a real high school with attendees changing classrooms.

Catherine Hanna Schrock is co-founder of Blindspot Collective.

"It's an interesting time, a very curious time for Blindspot Collective because part of our our vision in general is to illuminate stories in the in the blind spot and to amplify marginalized voices. And we in this moment are all in the blind spot. We're all marginalized. We're all behind walls and doors and windows in our homes," she said.

But she loves the challenge of creating new works that reflect our current situation.

"So we're interested in continually seeking to problem solve and puzzle around how to be responsive in creating new pieces and tinkering and figuring it out,” Schrock said. “And so as we thought about it, we thought that we can provide the stories, we can provide actors and playwrights. We can bring these stories to people directly. Now we just need them to do the live part. We need them to do the kind of theatrical physical part, which is to join us on a walk, to engage their imagination, to take part in looking around at sidewalks and homes and getting curious about a light bulb inside someone's home and imagining what might be happening there in the spirit of connection and continued celebration of life. And so we're hoping this piece will provide some joy and some levity for people in the midst of a time of quarantine and that it will help people to feel connected to each other and that they will both feel connected to someone's unique experience, because we love the idea of bridging disparate communities, but also that they'll feel some resonance in some of the very common experiences that we're all having right now in this moment. And yeah, that somehow this art making can really contribute to the resilience of the human spirit."

And by going digital this year those common experiences can be shared by even more people than the live performances could ever reach.

This year's first-ever WOW Goes Digital will showcase four works.

"Ancient" by Mike Sears and Lisa Berger is a Playhouse-commissioned video installation that explores the relationship between repetition and meditation, the routine and the ancient. It kicks off the digital edition of the festival and becomes available May 14.

"Walks of Life" comes from the San Diego-based Blindspot Collective and offers something of a voyeuristic audio experience that imagines stories that might be unfolding in the homes around you as you walk through your neighborhood. It debuts on May 26.

No dates have yet been announced for the two other shows.

"Binge" is by Brian Lobel and Friends and serves up a one-on-one performance piece that transforms the solitary experience of binge-watching TV shows into an opportunity, a kind of therapy session, to find comfort in the lives of fictional characters; and then from Reynoso's Optika Moderna, there will be "Proyecto: Portaleza."

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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