Immersive Theatre Pop-Up is performance event that took place this afternoon at the downtown branch of Denver Public Library. The event featured six pieces and was overseen by the creative teams at Off-Center, a division of Denver Performing Arts Center. The event was experimental and each small team behind one of the six pieces faced the same goal: to collaborate on creating a repeatable performance piece that lasted 6-8 minutes, addressed a relevant library topic, and offered active participation opportunity for every individual who attended the piece. The time span between conceiving the piece and striking the set after the final performance was just under 24 hours.
I volunteered to be an actor in the event and was assigned to a team that would create a piece on the topic of banned books. Our team of five actors and director Leigh Miller met at the downtown library on Saturday afternoon to tour the performance space and then relocated to a DCPA rehearsal room to hash out a concept. We noted that books are rarely banned in the U.S. but many are challenged, and we used the DPL’s book challenge form as the inspiration for the piece. We would prompt attendees to choose a word they dislike, ask them what they disliked about it, and then submit this information to an unseen judge who would ban it based on the attendees comments. We felt a printed except from a familiar literary work would be useful as a source for attendees to pick words, and one of my castmates came up with the inspired idea to use an excerpt from The New Colossus. After a word was banned, attendees would be led to a “redaction room” to mark out the chosen word as well as adjacent, corrupted text. The attendee would be invited to keep the redacted copy of the poem, “as a record of what would now appear at the base of the Statue of Liberty.” We drafted a basic script, ran some table reads, came up with a prop list, and called it a night at 10 p.m.
On Sunday morning we met at the library to set up our space. The main set piece was a mountain of books piled on a round table in a conference room where we would read the Judge’s ruling. The five of us rehearsed, taking turns as the “advocate.” We also went to the spaces of the other five performance pieces to experience their works. At 1:30 we opened to the general public. Our piece, titled “Banned Together,” attracted about 100 audience members, and I led about dozen groups made up of 1-4 individuals. The concept was admittedly blunt and manipulative, but many attendees seemed quite affected by the gut-punch line of the redaction scene. Our piece was often the last of the pieces experience by attendees because we performed on the seventh (highest) floor of the library. I regretted this and wished more people has finished on lovely “Soñadores/Dreamers” which explored the library as a refuge for persons of different cultural backgrounds. The last “Banned Together” groups finished at 3 p.m. and the teams met for a debrief before going our separate ways.
I enjoyed being in an acting role again, though a lot of the advocate’s dialogue was giving instructions, something I do a lot in the puzzle community. The abbreviated creation process was more remarkable than the actual performance, and I hope Off-Center will try this experiment again in the future.