BWW Review: Candle House Collective's Remote Immersive Experiences Bring Participatory Theatre To Your Phone
For over two years, the Chicago-based Candle House Collective has been creating non-tradition, immersive theatre for both site-specific locations and virtual enjoyment. But with the current health crisis putting live theatre on hold, their virtual plays can be especially inviting for audience members seeking an artistic connection.
The company currently offers a series of scripted interactive pieces, ranging from 40-80 minutes long, created by Evan Neiden and directed by John Ertman which are site specific to an audience members' cell phone. Just like traditional theatre, tickets are purchased on the company's website for a scheduled date and time. Your phone rings and the play begins.
Minutes before BLACK BOX commences, you'll receive an email informing you that you're about to listen to the black box cockpit recorder recovered after a commercial 747's final excursion. From the conversation it's quite apparent that the hard-nosed and gruff Captain Jackson (Mat Benson), a former fighter pilot, isn't very happy to have 22-year-old, relatively inexperienced Jeremy Parker (Vincent D'Avanzo) as his co-pilot. In between hearing evidence of mechanical issues, Jackson starts addressing you as Ground Control, and suddenly you're a part of the recording. Meanwhile, Parker has disappeared to make a personal, very revealing, phone call and you're on the other end.
When you answer the call for GOOD MORNING, you're on the air live with Charles Alwick (Neiden), the folksy-voiced the host of the town of Jubilee, Ohio's most popular radio program. In Jubilee, lifelong locals cling to beloved traditions like the annual Cardinal Festival and Alwick himself expresses a nostalgic affection for winter's snowy days. While you might think of Jubilee as a town where nothing much happens, Alwick has a tale to tell that brings issues of gentrification to a violent climax.
Before answering the phone for NEXT TIME, audience members are instructed to sit in a dark, enclosed space, like a small bathroom or closet. The reason becomes apparent when your bubbly caseworker (Katy Murphy) performs a kind of exit interview, asking personal questions about your experiences while preparing you for a new position.
In COLLECT CALL, a frightened fellow named Andy (Jonathan Connolly) knows that he doesn't have long to live and tries accessing his life decisions while confiding in you with the circumstances of what brought on his tragic situation. This is a two-part drama, with the first hour followed by a quick follow-up the next evening.
Within each scenario are moments where characters ask pointed questions of their audience member that may require reminiscences of their own experiences. It might come off a bit like a therapy session and, admittedly, this introvert was a bit startled by the amount of participation involved, but the excellent actors not only play their characters convincingly but are quite adept at handling any hesitation without pressuring you to answer. The company offers a safe phrase to utter if you wish to end the play, but there are no rules about being truthful. You can make up your own life stories if you wish. In fact, improv actors may find this a fun way to exercise their skills.