LEDE: La Jolla Playhouse returns to a live, in-person Without Walls or WOW Festival starting Thursday. WOW offers interactive and site-inspired theatre from local, national and international performers. The Playhouse describes the festival as: “an invitation to reimagine what theatre can be through intriguing and playful experiences.” KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with some of the artists for a preview of the event.
TAG: La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls or WOW Festival runs Thursday through Sunday at Arts District Liberty Station.
Sometimes the most liberating thing for artists is to put constraints on them.
[00:05:25.650] - DOMINIQUE SALERNO So this is a two by three by three little box, and this is where I do the entire 90 minute show.
Dominique Salerno put constraints on herself in order to create a tiny, site specific stage that she could take anywhere.
[00:08:14.230] - DOMINIQUE SALERNO I wanted to defy limitations by throwing them right into my creative space. [00:05:25.650] So for me, playing around in this little space has been just a godsend for my creativity and my imagination.
Salerno will be presenting the aptly titled The Box Show at this year’s Without Walls or WOW Festival.
[00:06:44.830] - DOMINIQUE SALERNO It’s hard to pin down exactly what the show is about. I would say the show is about imagination, exploration, and joy and really pushing yourself to see the dark and the light that can come out of real creativity.
[00:10:41.350] - BRIDGET ROUNTREE Creativity loves constraints.
That’s Bridget Rountree of Animal Cracker Conspiracy.
[00:10:41.350] - BRIDGET ROUNTREE When you don't have everything at your fingertips, there becomes a certain necessity to use what's readily available or in the case of site responsive work, to have the ability to respond and think on your feet and creatively solve problems, which I feel like is absolutely part of any artistic process.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy had to respond to the daunting demands of a wide open outdoor space says Rountree’s co-conspirator Iain Gunn.
[00:09:36.370] - IAIN GUNN We love site specific theater… Just having that attitude of, like, the show must fit in the space somehow is great.
For its TransMythical show, Animal Cracker Conspiracy needed something big to standout at Liberty Station.
[00:15:12.130] - IAIN GUNN We're going to have stilt puppeteers on four legs. So they're going to be four legged animals winged with hybrid animal heads and horns, hooves, tails, and they'll be in the mix.
There will also be a couple of giant undersea creatures, 12 feet tall and carried by a single performer on a backpack.
[00:10:41.350] - BRIDGET ROUNTREE Which I think has the ultimate wow factor just because you can see it from so far away and you don't see it every day.
The show will be a procession says Gunn.
[00:12:01.230] - IAIN GUNN We're going to invite the audience to join us for a short walk and a celebratory moment. [00:12:01.230] By calling it TransMythical, the idea is that we're going to draw a bridge across as many mythologies as possible and try to create something new.
Creating something new is also at the heart of The Frontera Project, an interactive, bilingual experience performed by a company from Mexican and the US. Jesus Quintero says WOW offers a new and different way of presenting theater. Traditional rules of conduct no longer apply for the performer.
[00:02:17.370] - JESUS QUINTERO There's no chance for sit down and relax and hoping that there will be like a curtain or a light that will protect you or direct the sight of the viewer of the audience.
Ramon Verduga adds that The Fronteras Project also asks the audience to engage with the play in new ways.
[00:05:01.070] - RAMON VERDUGA When the audience come to the stage, the audience participate, writing in the floor of the stage, and they complete the experience.
And the audience can also complete the experience by coming with both an open mind and the imagination to fill in the blanks says Salerno.
[00:06:44.830] - DOMINIQUE SALERNO I think festivals like these are really freeing because it reminds us theater can be anywhere, anything with any people gathering in a room or in a space or in a field.
On in a box in which you bring your own walls to wow an audience at La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.
WOW is a festival of interactive and site-inspired theatre that explodes conventional notions of theater in much the same way as Fringe festivals do. The Playhouse describes its WOW festival as: “an invitation to reimagine what theatre can be through intriguing and playful experiences.”
Past performances have taken place in the backseat of a car, on a basketball court and in high school classrooms. Its very design made it highly adaptable to the pandemic, which prompted artists to think even more inventively about working outside of conventional theater spaces and within the virtual realm. This year WOW is back in-person with a breathtaking array of work from local, national and international artists.
Bridget Rountree and Iain Gunn of Animal Cracker Conspiracy are veterans of site specific events like Fringe and WOW. They are puppeteers extraordinaire and this year they will present "TransMythical." Rountree explained the appeal of site specific work.
"Creativity loves constraints," Rountree said. "And so when you don't have everything at your fingertips, there becomes a certain necessity to use what's readily available or in the case of responsive work, to have the ability to respond and think on your feet and creatively solve problems, which I feel like is absolutely part of any artistic process. So we love a good challenge."
Dominique Salerno is an artist who put restraints on herself in order to carry her site-specific stage wherever she goes. A native San Diegan and a graduate of La Jolla Playhouse’s Young Conservatory Program, Salerno will present "The Box Show" at this year’s WOW. It is a one-woman show where Salerno performs 30 characters from inside a small box. She’s apparently grown quite comfortable in that confined space because she stepped into it for the Zoom interview with KPBS.
"I am inside of the box, which is my set for the show that I'm bringing to WOW Fest at La Jolla Playhouse," Salerno said. "So this is a two by three by three little box, and this is where I do the entire 90 minute show."
Artists seem to excel and thrive when given restraints, and this small box spurred Salerno's creativity.
"That limitation is actually a gift, and it helps you to create inside of the confines of an outline," Salerno said. "So for me playing around in this little space has been just a godsend for my creativity and my imagination, because you think to yourself, 'What could possibly be in there?' But then it sort of spirals into what couldn't be in there. It could be anything. Like, you can completely shift what the space means, your perspective within the space, things can be larger or smaller. So it's just so much fun to really push yourself to think, 'What's next? What else can I make? What else could the small space sort of create?' So it's really fun."
And that's the appeal of WOW, to see how inventive artists can be when forced to work within certain limitations.
That's why Salerno's show is less about telling a narrative story and more about "imagination, exploration, and joy and really pushing yourself to see the dark and the light that can come out of, like, real creativity. There are some through lines, some themes. But if you come into the show with an open mind, I think that's the best way to sort of absorb this experience."
And that's the best way to come and enjoy WOW — leave all expectations behind and be open to anything.
The 2022 Without Walls or WOW Festival will feature four days of theatre, dance and music, with multiple performances occurring simultaneously April 21 through 24 at Arts District Liberty Station.