Another dual review coming at you!! This time it’s for Submersive Productions current show MASS/RABBLE. Like every Submersive show, this one is unique, engaging and fully immersive.
This is a movement piece. No talking. Thirty or so actors move around, sometimes performing, sometimes including the audience in the mass movement. When you enter the War Memorial you check in with the front of house and are then ushered by members of the ensemble to different areas of the lobby for basic instructions on how to maneuver in the space. Here, Submersive uses the War Memorial displays as apart of the orientation. I felt like it was kind of a stretch and didn’t feel organic to Submersive’s brand. Like they were using something that was already there cause it was already there. The question that the audience was asked to ponder (if you were an eagle eye and saw it in the display): “What does utopia mean?” After the orientation, the patrons were ushered to the space via elevator or stairs. Let me tell you, the War Memorial space is massive with extremely high ceilings and a cavernous space. I felt so small. The actors were dressed in street clothing and their eyes fixed on me as I was directed to sit. At several points it was hard to know where the actors stopped and the audience ended. I looked to my right and left and wondered, “are you an actor or a patron?” I found out soon enough.
The ensemble explores themes of mass migration, war, connection, happiness and everything that makes us apart of humanity all with their bodies and faces. Bottom line: the show is what you make of it based on your participation. If you want to walk through the ensemble and engage with the performance, do it. If you’d rather sit on the side and be an observer, do it. Throughout the 60 min show, each audience member may choose their level of involvement. I like to get all up inside, walk around and participate and that’s exactly what I did. I waited for the ensemble to tell me not to do something. It’s better than being bored. I urge you to move, watch, listen, engage, but don’t talk. If you participate in the show you will likely not know what the fuck is going on. And that’s okay, just go with it!
The live music was engaging. It pulsated and captured the unique emotion or action on stage. I really liked the lighting as well. It was soft and colorful when it needed to be and harsh and exposed in a particular scene of disrobing that I won’t spoil. The costuming was minimal. Dance shoes and soft gray attire under street clothes. It was reminiscent of not being an individual or being in a military state. The masks were also expertly designed. The faces were emotionless and striking compared with the faces of the actors.
My favorite part of this production was the ensemble. They did a Herculean job of not only emoting without speaking, but also acting as crowd control. The ensemble had a mission to show the audience certain things, but they never forgot to take care of us. They were sweating. Hats off to all of them for moving and dancing at full tilt in a warm space. Every actor was committed to their character and their performance to the audience. Classic Submersive Productions. I also love when actors look me in the eyes. That intimate action that shows that they see you and you see them. Eye contact was paramount to the experience and I dug it. During the experience I caught myself engaging when I wasn’t expecting to. Sure, I was actively participating, but I wasn’t expecting to laugh. And I wasn’t expecting to feel a sense of calm, curiousity, or euphoria. The ensemble beckoned me to join the group. I felt something in this play and it was pretty fucking cool. Submersive states on their website about MASS/RABBLE: “As our bodies move, we tell a story. Where we have been, where we are going, what we hold on to, what we let go of. When bodies move in masses, they tell a larger story. Hope, fear, war, famine, the search for a better life. What does it mean to be just one body moving in humanity’s great crowd? ” I can’t make this stuff that up ya’ll! There were many sections of the performance that struck me and I picked up on the themes if not slightly. Sometimes I find myself disconnected from people even though social media has broadened the range of interaction. We aren’t connecting in a meaningful way. So much is happening in the world that we somehow have lost the sense of individual in our humanity. I don’t know. This show made me think a little bit and isn’t that the point of theater? To make us think and wonder in addition to entertain. Submersive takes this seriously and you should to. I wrote a little poem to describe my experience in the MASS/RABBLE. I couldn’t find the right words otherwise. Here goes:
Dark and cavernous.
Light punctuates the space delicately.
30 sets of eyes.
We are humanity.
We are everything and nothing.
Not knowing where I fit in.
Laughter. Community. Energy.
Masked emotions. Faces obscured.
Voices harmonize, groups form, bodies change.
They are me. I am them. We are us.
Do I engage?
Discarded selves exposed on the floor.
My soul and eyes swallow the light.
Cold floor against my skin. Warm hands holding mine.
I am stillness. They are energy. I am surrounded.
Darkness. Light. Movement.
Minds are still. Hearts beating.
Humanity exists in this place.
I am calm.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go and participate in another unique Submersive Production. Once again Submersive has created an experience that fully immerses and engages the audience. Will everyone understand it? No. Should everyone participate to their greatest capability? Yes. Otherwise you will miss all the fun. Observing MASS/RABBLE as apart of the mass is essential. Don’t be a wallflower. Be an active participant. Get in the game damn it! The show is also fully ADA accessible and people of all levels of physical ability can participate. Children will especially enjoy the sights, sounds and the ability to move around during the performance. This is theater that moves you. So move damn it! MASS/RABBLE is a show unlike any other. Give it a try. Every person will get something different out of the experience. Wear comfortable shoes, leave your bag/jacket with the front of house, and let the MASS/RABBLE take you away. You’ll thank me later. (Z)
When Submersive Productions says a show is “ambitious” you know you are in for a treat. I mean, did you see H.T. Darling where they took over three floors with otherworldly artifacts and live exhibits? Or The Institute of Visionary History that was a six-part series all taking place in the same room but flashing back to other eras?
This is a mass encounter, taking place in the Baltimore War Memorial. Which I, a long time resident, had never stepped foot inside of sadly. Upon entering, you may check your coat and bag at a thoroughly organized station. Then you are asked if you are ready for your debriefing. Indoctrination? I cannot remember the word they used. But it includes several stations where different people explain not only the way this evening will go, but some basic rules for guidance. There are people in blue arm bands to help you. The four stations downstairs all focus on some aspect of information- war photos, guns, questions, directions, it is a lot to take in, especially in 5-10 quick minutes. As you are escorted upstairs to benches you are also told that there is no talking beyond this point. Okay, then.
The entire experience is just that. An experience. Glenn Ricci is revising his role as DJ Extraordinaire working the lights and sound for the evening. But the unsettling way it unveils, the way the actors surround you in a moment of sheer wonder- not knowing who is cast and who is patron, and confined without the ability to ask, it is disquieting. Once the production begins, there are different “vignettes” that take place. Some are group, some split and you must decide who to follow. The entire experience is about an hour long, consists of several different encounters, and does have an out for those who need it, but expect to be on your feet for the full duration. As soon as I sat down, a cast member came and drug me back into the action.
The questions asked at the end are hints at the information being relayed. There is a questionnaire that is optional for Submersive feedback. There are also sticky notes and several large boards with questions where audience members can answer (assuming they learned something or were moved during the performance). The questions included things like “what does utopia mean?” and “what does your country mean to you?” Others include “What do you need to be safe?” and what would cause you to flee?
My overall impression was one of impact. What things war does to average civilians and families. There is definitely a motif of migration due to war like circumstances. But the most prominent to me was a question of what unites us and what divides us. Is humanity more common than different? Should there even be categories and delineations for race, religion, creed, nationality, etc.? Or should people be people, and all unite under the same basic ideals- those of acceptance, community, and most of all, love.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? I am all in. I love Submersive, and they are constantly challenging the rules of the game- what is theater? Art is anything that evokes a visceral response, and no one gets under your skin and into your mind like Submersive Productions. This is crazy big, and crazy good, and at times just crazy. But worth the experience! And not one you will soon forget. I have been to two other shows since and can’t stop thinking about the images in this one. Damn.(I)
Running at the War Memorial through April 14th. Running time about one hour with no intermission.