Warning: Two BITR Sisters went together to this show. So, you get two reviews for the price of one! Check them out below, the first is (Z), and the second (I). ENJOY!
What happens when two BITR Sisters see the same show together? They write dueling reviews! This little experiment is the perfect example of how two people can see the same show and have different opinions and different experiences. Which is why you should never trust reviewers. They don’t know shit.
I was already a member of the secret society known as the Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now from my participation in Episode 1 (it was good sorry you missed it), so I was pumped to experience Episode 2. For those unfamiliar with Submersive Productions, the Episodes within the Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now are 35-45 minute immersive experiences with a solo actor and a small group of fellow “researchers” aka audience members aka strangers aka other people who like me and my BITR Sister date had no idea what to expect. A slow walk up to the fourth floor of the Peale Museum and the experience starts off with a small presentation featuring a white gloved attendant and a soothing female voiceover. Together they provide an overview of the Institute, display photos about the Institute as well as display artifacts about the specific Episode me and my fellow audience members were about to witness. What is this secret society? Who were the members? Why am I asking so many questions? “Breathe in, breathe out and clear your mind,” said the voice. I had a stressful day doing non-theater things and I needed this time to chill. So I listened to the voice and prepared my mind for the experience. Each box from the Archives contains an experiment designed to conjure visions of the past in order to ask a specific question. The question we are all meant to ponder during the experience is “How does one obtain enlightenment?”
The Peale Museum is the location of the Institute because it is believed to be a sort of “thin place” where time, space and matter fold into each other and overlap allowing participants to experience other dimensions. Are we in the past, present or the future? No one knows. Each researcher is handed an object that has something to do with the Episode but may or may not be needed later. Don’t try to memorize it, just let your subconscious absorb it. Right… After the orientation/induction/cleansing ritual, we were instructed to enter a small room, look around, to only engage with those we meet in the thin place when instructed and to search for a particular box in the room with the artifacts for Episode 2. Oh shit! I was ready to enter the thin place again. But before we do that, let me tell you how woke Submersive Production is. Episode 1 featured two African-American actresses portraying Harriet Tubman. Episode 2-5 features Asian-American artists with their unique cultural stories interwoven into the Institute. In an environment where we sometimes see #TheaterSoWhite, it was refreshing to see diversity as an integral part of the show and not as a buzz word or side piece. It was front and center and I was there for it. My little “Person of Color” heart swelled! Oh, did I forget to tell you that each actor in an episode helped to write and devise their own piece? Impressive.
Episode 2 dealt with the year 1945 and the bombing in Hiroshima. A Japanese scientist (Mika Nakano) is obsessed with shadows and the interplay between light and darkness. The scientist, who appears in the space out of nowhere, also attempts to unearth the meaning of shadow memories based on the experience of another scientist when she was a girl and the moment right before the blinding light of the nuclear bomb explosion. Are you still with me? Nakano, clad in a lab coat and glasses, moved around the room like a dancer, grabbing items gracefully from within the room, asking the group members questions (I was the only one who volunteered an answer), positioning group members around the room to view different “perspectives” and engaging the group to participate in “experiments”. Nakano was soft spoken and intense throughout the sometimes charming, sometimes uneven performance. She was best when staring group members directly in the eyes and attempting to pull them into the Episode with active questions. Nakano was mesmerizing when describing shadows, perspective and our inner darkness and her clear voice echoed in the small room.
The words were simple, yet full of energy and the visuals accompanying the action were beautiful. However, Nakano had a tendency to speak too fast during the emotional moments and some of the dialogue was lost. Episode 2 was dizzying and disorienting in a good way. I didn’t know where to look or where Nakano would take me. Sometimes I enjoyed the uncertainty and the waiting to find out what new things I would explore. Other times I was confused and disengaged. I got the feeling that my fellow researchers were just as confused as I was. I can’t tell you what I saw because I am a secret society member now and I’m not a snitch, but trust that the experience was both visually and emotionally vivid. All of the researchers participated in the Episode, whether to view certain articles and/or conduct cool experiments. I enjoyed moving around and being a part of the action, but I became a little disillusioned with what was coming next. I was so involved that I felt uninvolved. That doesn’t make any sense, but just go with it. The piece seemed a bit unfocused. Although this loose connection of ideas is a half of Submersive Productions, there were so many ideas inserted into the brief Episode 2. The piece could have been fined tuned in order to curate it down to the essentials. I wanted to feel a little more connected to this piece than I did. That’s not to say that the storyline and visuals were not engaging and lovely. They were, but I would have liked it smoothed out a touch. With a few flashes of light, Nakano disappeared and the Episode was over as quickly as it had begun. We were ushered by that same female voice from before down the stairs to the debriefing room where we were served delicious tea, filled out a form of our observations and invited to review additional artifacts. The experiment was over and we were back to the here and now. Overall, Episode 2 was a feast for the eyes and an introspective, disorienting journey. It was never stagnant, always interesting and a little bewildering. Submersive has created a world unlike any other.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Submersive Productions is not for everyone. Which is exactly why you should go! Step outside of your comfort zone and be a little adventurous. Episode 2 runs 1 weekend only so you have to hurray. If you miss it, or if you are a Submersive fan girl like myself, catch the remaining Episodes 3-5 coming up on weekends in October through November. See something different, clear your mind, interact with the artist, answer her questions (don’t be scared!) and pick up a damn artifact in the room and inspect it. Submersive Productions has once again developed a theater experience that is meant to be interactive and uncomfortable.
Go with it. Lean into it. You might not know what the hell is happening or where the experience will lead you, but keep going. The Thin Place is pretty cool. Don’t you want to be in a secret society? Of course you do!
Go buy a ticket and dive into the world imagined by Submersive Productions. (Z)
AND NOW FOR ANOTHER OPINION:
The question posed this evening is: How does one obtain enlightenment? If you are unaware, the Institute of Visionary History is open again in the old Peale Museum and operating to make the people more aware. Each episode is meant to delve through history to find answers to pervasive questions and offer answers. The Peale Museum has been identified as a “thin place” where the spirits, archaic artifacts, and other macabre items can be found useful to answer modern world problems. Okay, you have my attention.
First, I took my fellow reviewer, and we had an amazing dinner at Ida B’s table. I will plug them, so thanks. Their food is AMAZING- this is the second time we’ve dined there pre-show and I always over eat because I can’t stop myself. I thought about licking the bowl but showed restraint. High recommendation to head over there pre or post show and get some custom cocktails, small plates, or their phenomenal fried chicken.
As we enter, we are escorted to the fourth floor, this is not wheelchair accessible by any stretch. I am the old BITR, so my knees snapped a few times on the way up. We were also told to watch our heads- ouch. We are some tall sisters, but there was enough for us to clear safely.
We enter and a pleasant female voice comes over the loud speaker to inform us of our mission, if we choose to accept it. The institute is explained along with enlightenment. We were each given an artifact to study. They said, “don’t memorize it, your subconscious will extract the memory of it.” But they lied. I got a dictionary with a tab and a note. I read the definition twice before my tour guide yelled times up and I dutifully returned my artifact. We were then taken down a flight of stairs and into the room. Same room as 1st Episode with minor changes and nuances. Again, part escape room, part museum, part interactive archive, a person enters and tries to tell her story.
Mika Nakano plays a doctor, in a lab coat, who tries to help us understand enlightenment. She studied a former doctor named Dr. Aki, who, when she was 5, was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Through an interactive story and projection sequence the story is relayed to the captive audience. No, really, we can’t leave. Her focus though is mostly on shadows. At first this appeared counter-intuitive, how can one obtain enlightenment? By studying and capturing shadows, I was not fully open-minded at this juncture.
At one point also she did ask the four of us “researchers” if any of us knew the definition of shadow. I am an English teacher, and fifteen minutes ago I had this book and answer in front of me, but no one warned me there was a quiz! So all I mustered in answer was, “ummmm….” Man, I failed as a researcher. I am sorry fellow patrons that I suck so bad. And apparently that whole clear your mind thing worked because I could not, for the life of me, conjure any intelligent rational thought in response to this query.
Nakano’s enthusiasm is palpable. She jumps, vents, and waves her arms frantically to get us to understand. But mostly the layout of the room doesn’t fully facilitate taking in everything. I missed an awesome light show because I told to sit in the chair and be hypnotized. Sometimes a little more direction would be helpful, or I guess a redo. The other BITR above got to see it, so ask her what she thought:)
But as the evening progressed and included paper lilies, shadow drawings, optical illusions, and a look at your darkest secrets; insight may have found me, a little. What I took away from this (but what do I know), is that to truly ascend and find the spiritual high, you must accept and release all the darkness holding you back. Only facing, confronting, and speaking your negatives into the universe can relinquish their unrelenting hold on reality and allow your inner being to find a higher plane of operation. Damn I sounded smart just there! But don’t worry, it too will subside.
As we were ushered down to the debriefing chamber, we were asked about our own journey and given a few more artifacts to examine. Some were intricate (long articles with highlighted sections), some simple and beautiful (artistic drawing and flower depictions), and my favorite was “The principles of Kaizen.” They include such fun things as “improve everything continuously” and “if something goes wrong, correct it.” Enlightenment indeed.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go see some of these, they are new, fresh, and enticing. They only run one weekend each though, so try to hustle! Episode 2 runs through Sun, Oct 14th. Episode 3 will be available for a limited time: Oct 18 – 21. Episode 4 from Nov 1-4. Episode 5: Nov 29 – Dec 2. If you attend one, you get a discount code to return and see another- check this out before it is gone and lost to history forever.
Runs about 40-45 minutes with no intermission. At the Peale Museum on Holliday Street through Oct 14th.