Entertainment » Theatre

Genesis 22

by Daniel Neiden
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Aug 4, 2017
Scout Backus
Scout Backus   

Riding the latest wave of a burgeoning immersive theatre movement in New York, The Woolgatherers Theater Group is certainly rising to the top of this high concept genre with their recent production of Grace Herman-Holland's performance theatre piece entitled, "Genesis 22."

Herman-Holland has expertly filled an old, empty house on Governor's Island, with a truly moving 360-degree experience. As art residencies go, this interactive experiment was an absolute success, and though "Genesis 22" has ended its run, you'll want to make note of The Woolgatherers and make sure to catch their next sensory seeking projects.

"Genesis 22" is billed as, "an immersive piece consisting of several individual, simultaneous tellings of the Abraham and Isaac story. Helmed by six different directors with their own team of actors, each interpretation presents a unique outlook told through a likewise unique performance technique. They all circle an exploration of faith, family, and sacrifice. We seek to unlock the complexities of this ancient story through the intersection of perspective and form, under one roof."

To find the show's location, and after a refreshing and highly recommendable Saturday afternoon ferry ride to Governors Island, I strolled through a sprawl of a "poets and poetry" collective. Note: Guvs Island is our own backyard arts commune, folks, and is definitely there for the discovering, so get up early this Saturday and go. You're welcome.

So, finally, I reached the porch of a ramshackle house, was greeted, instructed, and encouraged to "...explore the two floors and many rooms. Since 'Genesis 22' consists of shorter pieces running on a loop, one may step in and out at will, and no two audience experiences will be the same." If you love this sort of setup, where you feel the performers' heat right next to you, immersive theatre is definitely your bag.

I entered the house, and was heading to the parlor searching for the source of delicately mournful music, and had only just spied dance movements in the empty space, when I heard someone upstairs yell "Isaac! Where are you?" So, up the steep and very narrow stairway I rushed and found each room occupied with in-progress scenes of altar bondage, betrayal, lost innocence; the torture of waiting for death; translating divine messages; children coloring while trying to deduce "strange things." All under one time-worn roof.

The performances, some violent, some comic, some suspended in a painful protracted moment, flowed from everyone's core, especially the delightfully punchy Scout Backus as an angel.

I met with The Woolgatherers artistic directors, the aforementioned Grace Herman-Holland and Sarah Corbyn Woolf to find out how they see their successful upward motion, and what defines their particular True North as a partnership. Our conversation rolled around to their identification with old school Kabuki audiences that "stood up and danced, yelled, sang along, climbed onto the stage, fucked with the actors... We want to make plays where our audiences feel like they can do those things." The line forms to the left, folks.

Woolf continued, "Lots of companies are linked by their training, their methodology, or the kind of content they produce. The work we produce is linked by a specific level of heightened emotion, of transcendent empathy. We strive to make shows where audiences feel like they are having the perfect and unattainable night out, where they feel like they could die right after and feel complete. It's a thrill that comes from human relationships instead of substances, a level of intensity that isn't often reached in theaters today."

Herman-Holland added, "People at concerts and clubs feel like they can scream and dance and sob. We want to make shows where actors AND audiences can get up and say 'Stop! I don't like that!' or 'Yes! Keep going!' or cry, or sing, or walk out of the theater. If we made a show where people threw rotten tomatoes, we'd die happy."

"So much dying," you say? Maybe, but I don't think The Woolgatherers will cease to exist anytime soon. What's great is that Herman-Holland and Woolf are fixing to "immerse" a screen-centric generation into 360-degree realities and revel in whatever happens. What a gift real contact is. Watch for The Woolgatherers next offerings and give yourself to them. Your senses will re-live it long afterwards.

"Genesis 22" ran through July 30 on Governors Island at 408A Colonels Row in New York City. For information on upcoming immersive experiences, visit www.thewoolgatherers.com

Daniel Neiden is a writer and composer who develops socially conscious theater projects.


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