by Beki Pineda
BETWEEN US – Written by Chris Gabriel Nunez; Directed by Jenny Koons. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Off-Center (various locations) through May 26. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or Denvercenter.org.
When is theatre not theatre? I consider myself fairly adventurous when exploring new places and types of theatre. I’ve attended shows in church basements, old garages, offices, tents, BnB’s, hotels, warehouses, parks, and more. I‘m up for environmental, immersive, guerilla, experimental – you name it. But in nearly all those cases, I was clearly an audience member or sometime participant while the actors set out to tell their story or reveal their emotional state or sing their song.
Leave it to the Denver Center to come up with a concept completely different. In the experience (as opposed to performance) of BETWEEN US, participants are the play rather than the other way around. To begin, you choose among three possible experiences: A whisky tasting (I don’t drink whisky), a blind date (too old to date) or a card reading. So I chose the cards. Once you have purchased your ticket (just one – it is a solitary adventure) and time, you begin receiving emails explaining how it will work, hints about who you will meet and where.
Comes the day, you have been instructed to go to the designated meeting place and meet the designated person. In my card reading adventure, I was greeted by one person for a short discussion and then sent to a second location (about a block away) for the actual reading. My ‘guide’ for the reading had a book that attached meanings to each of the four cards I picked out of the deck. Each of the cards led to a series of questions that when asked by the Guide recalled memories from my personal past. Questions like “What were your favorite childhood games? Have there been major crossroads in your life? What if you had taken another path?” In answering those questions and being listened to intently and without judgement, you find yourself examining your life – good and bad. It became a quiet peaceful respite from the daily hubbub with someone who was not waiting for you to finish so they could jump in with their own memories and stories.
We were asked to bring a small favor from your home to give as a gift to the next participant. There are a lot of things I’m going to be giving up this summer; so I brought the first of those things to give to someone else. The person before me left me a 20-sided dice and an explanation about what the experience of rolling the dice in life can mean. I have it on my desk now and roll it in my hand as I ponder decisions. It seems to enhance my decision-making speed and assurance. Thank you, unknown giver.
It is truly a unique experience in theatre and out. It is rare that you are so completely listened to and allowed to express yourself so honestly. The initiating questions are significant, but the follow up questions that come from the Guide’s own curiosity and interest are even more insightful. I can assume that the other two possible choices have their own special rewards, but I am so partial to the card reading that I’d like to do it again. It may have been a little easier for me because, as it turned out, I knew the two actors who “performed.” I do not mention names because part of the fun is the mystery of it. Who am I going to meet? What will this be like for me?
I can tell you first hand, it will be lovely. I can’t really designate a WOW factor for this one, because the experience will be unique for each person participating. And the bottom line for me became – who was the actor and who was the audience??