“That way madness lies” says King Lear, reflecting on what has befallen and how hopes for the future of the family have been swamped by misery, even while trying to weather a fierce storm. Shakespeare plunging into the tragic dimensions of old age.
Beware, you may be immersed in that torrent of passions and words, up close and personal as Blue Barn Theatre’s Walk The Night goes through its paces in altered spaces. Different realities await you twice nightly within a building long ago dedicated to withdrawal from the perilous vicissitudes of normal life. Last year, Blue Barn and director Spencer Williams started along this path.
Then Hamlet strode other corridors, halls, and rooms. Now the woman called Lear does so. This “possession/ghost story” unfolds in a second site-specific event, to”become part of an experience and join in the rituals” Williams states. “Inquisitiveness is encouraged.”
Given the where and how, he prefers not to call it “theatre” due to absences of a stage, rows of seats, spotlights and footlights. He seeks to maintain a feeling transcending tradition, of discovery. And you, as part of the audience, are elemental to the surroundings in which everything unfolds, bends and re-assembles. The Fool may dance at your feet. Cordelia or Edgar/Poor Tom may reach out to you for a sympathetic hand. Brutally-blinded Gloucester may stumble into you trying to find his way.
If you don’t understand those references, fear not. They will become clear, glowing in the shadows of dark doings within the spaces of a 100 year old former convent. There is no requirement that you know what Shakespeare wrote, or even know about it.
“I want people who don’t normally go to theatre to come and be surprised, drawn into the story, to be part of something which shifts expectations,” Williams continues. “And to find relevance within a language which is not today’s. Moreover, for people who think that they know Lear, to come away affected by it differently.”
It is the actual story in real time, not a personal extrapolation, despite some ad-libbed Shakespeare-like dialogue. Throughout the building, scenes emerge in many places simultaneously. The 15 performers, some representing more than one character, move above, about, around, below you in what, collectively, adds up to as many as 21 hours of material. You witness what you wish, where you wish, when you wish. Williams points out, however, that should you choose not to walk around, what happens on the main level of the building is “easy accessibility to the entire concept.” Nonetheless, he encourages all visitors to wear very comfortable shoes.
If you were among the multiplying number of attendees last year as Hamlet took over the premises, you may have a sense of what to expect. They multiplied because some people returned, encouraged to see what they had missed before. That option exists anew. Williams wants this year’s occurrence to dovetail with its predecessor in “an evolution which hints at deeper mystery.” Yet, even as you needn’t know anything about Lear beforehand, nor have been there for Hamlet, what happens this time stands in its own right, its own light.
The deliberate below-Mason-Dixon-Line verbal inflections, Williams feels, work well with the premise of by-gone nobility gone awry albeit speaking eloquently. Plus a sense of a time now gone by, For him, the structure is bound to house a past life of its own. Indeed, given that what happens there overlaps or merges with Halloween, you might feel it’s haunted. Certainly the characters of the tale are haunted.
There is dance. There is music. There are no electronics, despite our lives now permeated with technology. “People are becoming more and more cut off for direct human contact,” Williams notes. “This event is alive at the moment, not open to being recreated or reproduced. Anything may happen, including interactions with the humans there at the time.”
Williams is an L.A.-based director and producer who’s worked in feature films, TV, and music videos. And been the creator of another such immersive production before, staging Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus in a corn maze near Sacramento in 2013. He was prompted in that endeavor having been amid the walkers and watchers for Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s equally ground-breaking dance-telling of Macbeth in New York (2011 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience). “It changed theatre for me,” he enthuses.
Last year he came here at the invitation of Blue Barn Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer to create the Hamlet event at 3837 Cuming Street in the home built and once owned by Sophia Hoppin-Lowe, the widow of the first mayor of Omaha, Jesse Lowe. Now there's a new venue.
Should you choose to arrive before the actual starting time, you will get a few supplemental elements to enhance what’s to come. That’s optional. Still, you might have questions about the background of all of this including the people behind the scenes. They include co-producers/directors Sebastiani Romagnolo and Wai Yim plus (full disclosure) The Reader’s Bill Grennan. Know, then, that many things can be answered at the website (below)
Walk The Night runs Oct. 28-Nov.21 at Starlight Chateau 1310 North 29th Street. Weds-Sat. 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tickets $20; double admission $35. www.walkthenightwithme.com