At the bar, a bright yellow skirt, pink sash and wide eyes greet us. Next to them is a man giving off distinctly pirate vibes, with a scarf wrapped around his head, a gray vest and… black-and-white Vans. Nearby, a woman with a partly shaved head grips a plastic knife. These are off-duty artists participating in Performeteria, the Theatre Development Fund’s first-ever immersive festival — featuring Off-Off-Broadway theatre and dance companies and presented at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.
The evening kicks off with an immersive piece by Kinesis Project Dance Theatre, figures in orange moving in unison — creeping, flowing, shaking. A smiling guide beckons his group forward — everyone will be led through the building to see three different 10-minute pieces, and afterwards, they can depart, join another group or simply wander about.
Through a pair of double doors and down the stairs into a cavernous space, Rady & Bloom Collective Playmaking is performing in front of an audience that is seated on the stage. An actress approaches the piano, begins to play and sinks down in confusion and pain. Her company lines up to lean upon her, creating together an animal that sighs as one. Different parts of the beast call out about struggles their ancestors went through, like a grandfather who fought in World War II, and as they do, the piano continues to sing, and large paintings are unrolled and flashed to the audience. But these things don’t all go together — they’re a little unsettling, much like the stories they’re meant to illustrate. The piano’s music grows steadily louder, like a carnival ride you can’t retire from, before it fades away. One actor asks, “What do you wish for?”
Back by the bar, a man dressed in a Santa suit — complete with attached reindeer — and a brunette with a reluctant face are staring at their pizza in the midst of a millennial breakup that only gets realer as the minutes wear on. This is Lesser America, a pop theatre ensemble. The two ruminate over meeting at another, happier SantaCon — and the complications of breaking up, like the fact that they own things together and their parents are friends on Facebook. “I’m your person. You text me that all the time; how can it not be true?” he asks. She tells him that when she wakes up in the middle of the night and he’s not holding her, she can’t breathe, and “when you’re still holding me just as tight, it’s somehow even worse.”
Through two more sets of double doors and on the right — you could almost miss it — experimental physical theatre ensemble Blessed Unrest is moving through a dark, energetically charged space. Through their bodies, manmade sounds and select words, they seem to tell the story of a woman moving through the forest, looking for her friend, the one she loves. She’s sidetracked by a group of wild wanderers, one of whom saves her life by designating her her playmate. After a mad dance of abandon with their hands at each other’s throats in only the most intimate way, the two lie down to the sound of pigeons cooing. A revelation sparks the woman to leave her newfound friend in search of her old one — and to give the audience a childlike view of love in its simplicity but also its complications. Her friend tells her, “If you leave now, I can keep you just as you are.”
Performeteria runs through Friday, March 24 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center and features site-specific pieces from 15 Off-Off-Broadway companies.
Click HERE for tickets.