La Jolla Playhouse 'WOWs' audiences at Rady Shell
S1: La Jolla , Playhouse's Without Walls or Wow Festival kicks off tonight at the Rady Shell. The four day event showcases immersive and site inspired dance music and theater by local , national and international artists. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the festival with two of the artists presenting work. She speaks first with Patrick Mueller , artistic director from the Denver based control group Productions , who promises to take participants on a cultural adventure on an apocalyptic school bus in the end.
S2: So , Patrick , tell me where you are actually doing this interview from.
S3: I am sitting in our apocalypse renovated school bus at one of our sites. I probably shouldn't name it because part of the fun of the show is showing up to places that you may know and you may not. And the route that you took there got you so lost that you're surprised that you showed up there , whether you recognize it or not. But yeah , we've got a lovely little 2005 Thomas HD 32 footer seats , 28 people.
S3: And we're so used to looking through screens and standard Theater is basically that it's a big rectangle frame that you look through to see the action that you are excluded from. There's a big just a fundamental value to being part of the experience you are having. It changes how you empathize with the situations and the people involved. It changes how you relate to that topic , like the topic that the show is handling. Once you step out of that experience and go back to your normal world. And then separately , additionally , there's a huge value to being in a place. You know , I think with this show we have because we are touring it , it has a little bit less depth of relationship with our sites , but we spent a long week searching for sites and then have done some moderate research into the neighborhoods that were in the specific sites that we're in so that the the work really feels like it is. It's not just happening on top of a piece of land , but is is really invested in that space. Just Yeah. About being out in your your familiar world or a really unfamiliar corner of a world that you travel through all the time , that it keeps the experience coming back to you. You know , once you've gone on this bus tour with us the next week , the next month , years later , you'll drive past that same place and it'll retrigger that experience. And yeah , I think it just it hits us in a different way. It reaches a depth of , you know , the ability to sort of transform how we see the world around us that I find more fruitful and rich than , than just looking through the , the proscenium arch or the screen.
S2: So for people who have never experienced the Wow festival or your show , give a little sense of what it's going to be like. How are they kind of being invited into this experience and what are they going to be like doing in terms of actually enjoying this show ? I mean.
S3: The festival as a whole takes over the Rady Shell area. Our show is unique in that we are taking people away from that lively , exciting environment. Passengers aboard the bus right in front of the shell and we will then leave and head through the four different sites and see some things out of windows , do plenty of fun things on the bus. The audience will be recruited to take different sort of job assignments during the show with tasks that help us on our journey. And the basic conceit is that passengers have booked a one way ticket to the refuge because they realize that a climate cliff is imminent and it's time to run for cover. And so the bus is trying to get us all there gathering the things that we need to show up with in order for the refuge to be a sustainable community , making sure that we have the skill sets in the people and our library that is on the bus to be able to rebuild a sustainable community somewhere off grid top secret and nobody knows where it is. And part of the fun is doing a set of tasks like mapping and navigation that start to identify where this refuge might be. Unfortunately , the show takes twists and turns and and shenanigans ensue.
S2: So explain the process of kind of creating a post-apocalyptic or kind of a dystopian world.
S3: When Caroline Sharkey and I , Caroline is the assistant director on the show and an associate director with control group , when the two of us showed up to San Diego , we got in a rental car and immediately went to the ugliest parts of San Diego , as we had identified on Google Maps and through conversations with the producers and other folks we were connecting with in the environmental justice world in San Diego. And so we've seen the yeah , I think more chain link and several brownfields and the like , the naval belt , the industrial belt. And so we looked for places in the real current world that feel like dystopian. Future that , look , we aren't going full cyberpunk or like Mad Max , but certainly places that look like they no longer are very amenable to human existence. We're really trying to sort of incorporate the world that we're seeing around us , but then also recruit the audience into a co imagined experience where there is a bit of pretend at work that , you know , obviously we're , you know , we'll be driving through like the industrial and the harbor area of San Diego right at rush hour. There will be plenty of cars. And so we've incorporated the fact that gasoline and automobiles are still a thing. We've incorporated that into the world of the show and have situated ourselves right at the precipice of the cliff where things have been getting a little bit worse and a little bit worse and a little bit worse. And now we're about to go into freefall. But most people don't know that yet. Yeah , we're sort of looking at a world that is quite familiar near-future and recognizing how rapidly things can change is is part of , I think , the message that we're driving home so that you can look out the window and say , Oh , I recognize everything around me , but I realize how precarious it is in a different way than I did As I was driving to the radio show an hour ago.
S2: Obviously , you feel strongly about climate change.
S3: I was very aware in Denver that most people don't go to the places that already look like environmental apocalypse and it don't look like that are experiencing environmental apocalypse. The oil refinery in Denver was central to the show that we offered there. And just driving through there at night , it feels like Skynet in a Terminator movie. It looks mean , it smells horrible. And the olfactory experience was a very important part of that show here. We're going through some areas that that have heavy industries still at work. But again , look , you know , look like it is a machine world , not a human world. And I find that very important. You know , climate change , we're we're all at this point , the vast majority are aware of it , acknowledge that humans are creating it , are tuned into the statistics and the global impact , but experiencing it with our fingertips , with our eyeballs and with our noses has a really I think it impacts us emotionally and I mean hesitate to say , but spiritually or mean like somewhere deeper in our guts than our brain and gets us galvanized , hopefully to shift how we live , to take simple actions that , you know , none of us are going to go out and individually or even as , you know , everybody on the bus together who's ever seen this show in Denver and now in San Diego , all of us together aren't going to change the world and stop climate change. But we do have an opportunity to make changes in our lives that will bend the curve to be emissaries and seeds of change that spread out from us. And I think I think for that to work , it needs to be more than just convincing people in our heads that we need to change. We need to smell it. We need to feel it with our senses and with our emotions.
S2: Well , I want to thank you very much for talking about the end. Absolutely.
S3: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time and for taking interest.
S4: The refuge.
S5: A thriving community where you'll be safe no matter what happens in the world outside. It's a place where we take care of each other , support each other , A place where we can raise our children , grow old together , and invest in a better future. The refuge is a self-sustaining community where everyone has a job based on their unique capacities. We're not just surviving. We're thriving. You'll never have to worry about anything ever again.
S6: The refuge is a secure location that doesn't appear on any map satellite image or government database.
S7: I am Maria Patrice Arman , one of the co-artistic directors for Theater and Peace in the festival. This year is Last. Guatemala's Eschaton is a love letter to the oldest Mexican restaurant in San Diego , Las Cuatro. It was found in Barrio Logan.
S7: We created it for the festival this year , knowing that we wanted to celebrate the local community and have some yummy things to eat.
S7: We wanted them to feel like they were fully immersed inside an ancient codex. When we look at the history of our indigenous folks coming into Latinx heritage , we don't have many documents to go off of. And those documents are these old ancient codices. And we wanted the audience to feel like they were able to walk through and traverse history to see that legacy from our ancient past and to our contemporary folks today.
S2: And how does working in these kind of site specific and immersive projects kind of engage you with the audience in a different way and allow you to do something different.
S7: In , say , specific or immersive theater ? The audience is a part of the storytelling. They are a character in your show. They are collaborative with you in generating the script. Our actors have their script and they have their dialogue , but there is a responsiveness. So when the audience says something to the actors , the actors have to improv and they have to think on their feet and respond in real time to the audiences.
S2: And you said there's going to be food involved. So this is a wonderful addition to a generally theatrical experience does not provide you with sustenance during the show. So explain what that's going to be about.
S7: Yeah , it's we we wanted to fully engage all of your senses , all of the audiences ways of engaging with the world and where in past years we had a scent escape. So we had specific scents in different rooms that we were staging to help bring the audience into those spaces. We also wanted to feed our audiences , and this year our COVID restrictions and regulations have allowed us to be able to provide small tastes of food , especially since our pieces centering on a restaurant. Food is so central to the food that they create as their patrons , their restaurant customers standing in lines for up to an hour. And we wanted to bring a little bit of that food into the storytelling and give me a.
S2: Little background on the restaurant itself.
S7: I was founded in 1933 by Natividad and Petra Estudio. They immigrated to California from New Mexico and before then from Mexico. And the family founded the restaurant in the 30s. In a period when the US economy was contracting. They had a dream and they had a vision and they made it happen. They started with a small store called La Victoria and then grew into the restaurant and have been feeding the community ever since.
S2: And talk a little bit about your theater company and kind of how they function in the San Diego Theater Community.
S7: Theater is a professional Latinx theater company here in San Diego. We are dedicated to telling the stories of the Latinx community , for the Latinx community and with the Latinx community. We are really excited to be able to produce work. This specific piece that speaks to San Diego itself , that speaks to the restaurant , that has a special place in my heart , but also a special place in our community.
S7: So when they come and join us , we are a ticketed event. Audiences can come up to our tents. They're going to be large , nine foot tall walls of fabric , all painted in the style of A.R. Codex with murals. We've got about 200ft of murals inside the space. Audiences will come in and they'll be able to watch short videos with puppets , with some animation or some live action. And then in the very last space , they'll be able to engage with some live actors. The actors will guide the audience to a very special and delicious treat.
S2: All right. I want to thank you very much for talking about your Wow festival event.
S7: Thank you. It was nice speaking with you , Beth.
S1: That was Beth Accomando speaking with Maria Patricia Mone and Patrick Mueller , just two of the dozens of artists presenting immersive and site specific work tonight through Sunday at La Jolla Playhouse as well Festival. The festival takes place at the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park. All shows are free , but reservations are recommended.
La Jolla Playhouse 'WOWs' audiences at Rady Shell
Without Walls Festival serves up more than 20 immersive, site-specific works over the next four days.
The four-day event showcases immersive and site-inspired dance, music, and theatre by local, national and international artists. The event is based at the Rady Shell.
"The festival as a whole takes over the Rady Shell area," explained Patrick Mueller, artistic director of the Denver-based Control Group Productions. "But our show is unique in that we are taking people away from that lively, exciting environment. Passengers will board the bus right in front of the Shell, and we will then leave.
Mueller is directing "
The End," a bus tour of San Diego's climate future.
"I am sitting in our apocalypse renovated school bus at one of our sites," Mueller said, in a Zoom interview, with an emergency exit sign visible over his shoulder. "I probably shouldn't name the site because part of the fun of the show is showing up to places that you may know and you may not. And the route that you took there got you so lost that you're surprised that you showed up there, whether you recognize it or not."
And that’s what the WOW Festival is all about, taking you on an unexpected journey to experience theater in an exciting new way.
"Immersive interactive, site-based and audience mobile experiences all help us into a place of deeper empathy, [and] transformational impact. I find that very important," Mueller said.
Maria Patrice Amon agrees, "The WOW Festival allows us to break out of the traditional boundaries of the theater, so we get our audiences up and moving."
"When we look at the history of our indigenous folks coming into Latinx heritage, we don't have many documents to go off of, and those documents are these old ancient codices," Amon said. "And we wanted the audience to feel like they were able to walk through and traverse history, to see that legacy from our ancient past into our contemporary folks today. In site-specific or immersive theater, the audience is a part of the storytelling. They are a character in your show. They are collaborative with you in generating the script. Our actors have their script and they have their dialogue, but there is a responsiveness. So when the audience says something to the actors, the actors have to improv and they have to think on their feet and respond in real-time to the audiences."
And audiences should be prepared for their own kind of improv when preparing for "
"The audience will be recruited to take different sort of job assignments during the show with tasks that help us on our journey," Mueller explained. "The basic conceit is that passengers have booked a one-way ticket to 'The Refuge' because they realize that a climate cliff is imminent and it's time to run for cover. And so the bus is trying to get us all there, gathering the things that we need to show up with in order for the refuge to be a sustainable community."
There’s a tastier destination waiting for audiences at "Las Cuatro Milpas."
"Our WOW piece is very user-friendly," Amon said. "Audiences can come up to our tents. There can be large 9-foot-tall walls of fabric, all painted in the style of an Aztec codex with murals. We've got about 200 feet of murals inside the space. Audiences will come in and they'll be able to watch short videos with some puppets, with some animation, with some live-action. And then, in the very last space, they'll be able to engage with some live actors. The actors will guide the audience to a very special and delicious treat."
Whether it is through your taste buds or through seeing the familiar with fresh eyes, WOW is all about engaging the audience.
"I find that experiences that interact with me and that surround me, I can relate to in a different way," Mueller said. "We're so used to looking through screens and standard theater is basically that, it's a big rectangle frame that you look through to see the action that you are excluded from. And so I think there's a big, fundamental value to being part of the experience you are having.
These are just two of the many spectacular shows presented at La Jolla Playhouse’s WOW Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.
All shows are free of charge but attendees are encouraged to make reservations. This year’s event is presented in association with the San Diego Symphony.