(Z’s Review of the experience is below, scroll down for I’s take on the same show!)
Well, I’ve made it back to the thin place. Episode 5. I think I should get a medal for attending all of them. Well, I missed Episode 6. But they are remounting it so I may be able to cash in on my prize after all. If you have attended an Episode before, you know the deal. For newbies (there are seriously people out there who still haven’t attended an Episode??), the Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now is a sort of secret society that Submersive Productions unearthed and tried to recreate. It involves a sort of “thin place” where time and space is fluid. As stated, I’ve attended more than a few of these performances. But this time things are a little different. The experiment was older, the mid 1800s I believe, and the format slightly changed. We still have the usual initiation with that soothing recorded voice and a dutiful attendant displaying photos and objects associated with the experiment, but this time the Archives of the Deep Now did not have the archives for this experiment. They were found in the basement of a house of a Chinese American family. Linda Wong (Elizabeth Ung) is the descendant of one of the first scientists of the institute and is the only founding member whose names we actually know. Her family has generously agreed to hand over the artifacts.
Before I go any further let me tell you about Linda Wong. Linda is somehow detached from her heritage. She’s Chinese-American but does not feel Chinese or American. Her family has been cursed according to her ancestor member of the Institute and she doesn’t know why. Linda’s presence is a change from the format of the episodes. Way to keep me on my toes Submersive! Linda is a presence during the initiation process and was our guide in the thin place. She was there to lead us through the experiment using her family’s stuff. I agreed with her that it’s a little odd to be the handler of your family’s shit that’s gathered dust for hundreds of years and have it in a museum. Elizabeth Ung played her as aloof, flippant and bored to be a part of this. I liked Linda immediately. The character Linda felt real and organic in this made up world. I could relate. Her tongue in cheek presence put me at ease and I didn’t feel crazy for thinking this whole Institute was a little odd. With our cynical tour guide in tow we had out to the thin place. Linda already has the box with the artifacts ready to go and we jump right in. Our time in the thin place becomes a catalyst for Linda to reconcile her heritage and the family curse. The question asked during the experiment was: How can one escape a curse?
Linda begins taking artifacts from the box and talking about not connecting with being Chinese when she is suddenly changed. Her voice, mannerisms and persona have been altered and the lights flash during this transformation. Has she embodied her ancestor? Not sure, but the performance was transformative. This “new Linda” led us through the experiment to transfer the curse. The indifferent Linda trying to understand herself is replaced by a headstrong knower of all things. Elizabeth Ung’s change in character was flawless. I was mesmerized and captivated. She moved, we followed. A voice from everywhere and nowhere gave us commands and we follow. Elizabeth Ung had this way of looking into your eyes and that made you feel as though she was looking deep into your soul. Her voice was clear and unemotional yet deep and soulful. I won’t give too much away but the experiment was a cacophony of themes and objects. Mirrors and light. Ink and cloth. Water and healing. Curses and oaths. Identity and confusion. This episode used simple sound, light and movement to pull the researchers in. We were invested in the experiment. And isn’t that the point of an immersive experience?
Submersive Productions has continued their dominance in creating unique immersive experiences. And using women of color to tell these unique experiences was genius. Every Episode was its own individual, but they were all connected by central themes: What does it mean to be disconnected from your heritage? How well are you connected to yourself, your past and your family? How do your experience shape your past, present and future? Episode 5 captured the essence of the entire series and its location at the end was well placed.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? If you are reading this and haven’t atleast gone to one Episode then shame on you! Go now! You only have one weekend to see this fine example of the crossway between heritage and self-awareness. So take your ass to the Peale, part the thin veil and jump into this experiment before it’s too late. (Z)
(And now for I’s review!)
Episode Five of two BITR Sisters go to Ida B’s for dinner (for reals yall- did you see the chef won on Food Network- you gotta try this place!) and then to the Peal Museum to be entranced. The opening is prescribed and now that I’ve done all the episodes I am going to start repeating it in my sleep.
In this episode, the question is “how can one escape a curse?” It is the oldest experiment the Institute of Visionary History and Archives of Deep Now have tried to recreate. And, it is the only one I’ve attended where the initial experiment failed. In this episode, Elizabeth Ung has come to our rescue. The institute believes the experiment failed because some of the critical items were missing. They turned up in Linda’s (Elizabeth Ung) home, and she semi-graciously has loaned them to the Institute for the sake of this experiment.
Bigger than the initial experiment is the idea behind it, what happens when your cultural identity is lost. For an ABC (American Born Chinese) it doesn’t seem to bother her, she seems crass and ennui about her ancestors. But as continues with the experiment it appears she becomes almost possessed with the spirit of her long forgotten ancestors that thought they were cursed somehow. She leads us through her Grandmother’s instructions to “release a curse,” although Google translate is unreliable (that’s what my warning was in the pre-show anyway). After several tense moments and small rituals, you leave with a sense of peace. My only lingering question is- does Linda know this occurred? She seems to snap back into herself and call her mother about car insurance as we exit. Is she blissfully unaware of the occurrence we all just witnessed? Will she explore her ancestry more after this? Or will she just lead a normal life without the sagging nag of some enigma hanging over her? Hmmm.
Elizabeth Ung is captivating as Linda. She is our tour guide and muse for the evening. Watching her transform in and out of different spirits was mesmerizing. She is a skilled actress who embodies this from its heart. I think Submersive is on to something here too in having the actors help shape the performance. Since Submersive creates all their own shows- they can alter and edit accordingly. Tailoring it to each individual’s skill set is really what is taking them up and beyond the other theater companies that populate their surrounding areas.
My only other quandary as a part from the Peale that night- what is up with the fish? In the past, the Institute has done a great job of tying the elements in the room and experiment, in the materials for your debriefing. I was digging for anything about fish, but there was nothing. Just information about assimilation and Chinese culture. But all of our pre-show materials to prepare us revolved around fish. There is a moment with a fishbowl in the experiment but I’ve left with more questions than answers. The institute warns in the pre-show drone that the answer will not be given to you directly, and each might reach a conclusion in different ways. Is the fish a metaphor for assimilation? Is it to show the transfer from curse to clear? Is it just a prop? Is there some connection between goldfish and Chinese culture? (I’ll be googling that momentarily- no worries).
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? You have got to try one of these episodes before they are done. Right now, Episode Five is running, and Episode Six is making a return appearance on December 8th. Hustle down to the Peale and enter the thin place. Leave your mind open and enjoy an intimate theatrical experience like nothing you’ve done before. And tell what the damn fish means will you? (I)