The D&Q productions run one weekend a month from July through October (I saw August). Each month features a unique conglomeration of 35 two-minute plays, performed in an order picked by the audience...well, I'm getting ahead of myself. The night plays out more like a cult movie showing than an evening of theater. One play dedicated to “Midnight Movie Training Camp” is no surprise. That said, here is your ITP training camp.
First off, where to go: this year's offerings of D&Q are offered at Soulard's Mad Art Gallery, which sets the tone straight away. Any production you go to in a jail-turned-art space is bound to be interesting. Upon entering, we are not presented with much: A collection of wooden folding chairs, a bar, a few tables of junk, and the current gallery exhibit. August's offering, the aptly titled "Six" featured work by six artists of various media. The result commingled into a quirky, insightful, and often haunting ambience. Tip: get there early and admire the art exhibits as complimentary pre-show.
You may, as I did, find the pre show music a bit distracting. It hopped from hip-hop to country, club to kitsch…like a college student's iPod on shuffle. Perhaps it is the product of the (as credited) "techno-sonic workings" of Kyle Kratky. Accept it for what it is: a tiding of what is yet to come.
You will take a seat and gaze at a clothesline strung haphazardly across the gallery space. On the line are pinned the numbers one through thirty-five. Take note!
Soon enough, in comes the host for the evening. The night I attended, one Matt Heckman served as our guide, and provided us a set of rules:
These 35 plays contain no characters. The members of the ensemble play themselves.
There is no fourth wall here. Each play can (and will) happen anywhere – on the makeshift stage, in the back of the house, within the audience, down the street…They plan on offering this, their fifth season of D&Q in "3-D and HD."
There is no break between shows. Each piece is designated by the disembodied call of “Go,” and ended with “Curtain.” Don't look for time to digest, comment to your friend, or applaud the actors. Before the “-tain” in "curtain," your fellow voyeurs will be shouting out their pick for the next scene. My advice: start your nomination during the “cur-.”
Thirty-four of the plays are credited to an ensemble of writers: Heckman and Kratky, as well as Danielle Borsch, Ryan Cook, and Chloe Payne. The additional 35th play was penned that afternoon and credited to Tamika Diggs. Allegedly the shows intend to cover an array of genres. Most plays lumped into one of two categories, with a latent third.
The first category: absurd jabs at pop culture. These ranged from a plea to M. Night Shyamalan; a would be writer coming to terms with the harsh reality that he writes like Dan Brown (a painful revelation indeed); a play within a play (within a play); a cursed button (take a guess at the recent blockbuster hits the last two conjure); and beyond that, scenes that mock things political, literary, and mod, from fashionistas to a summary of Obama's presidency to date through paint swatches.
The second category: pushing the boundary of the theater status quo. In these pieces expect no fourth wall, and be prepared to commit as an audience, as wholly as the actors commit to the plays. You might expect to read out loud a note preserved from the high school days of the ensemble members; a phone call to a person of your choosing, with a message of your choosing; the gift of a cherished book; a rummage sale where you actually go on stage and buy things; a play titled “This Play Won't End Until You Take A Pleasant Walk With Me” (no surprises there), and then some.
The third category was the least dabbled in: poetical metaphors. These were my least favorite – not because they were bad plays or ill conceived. They may have stood well on their own, or in a show more balanced with like-minded bits. But as it was, they halted the energy of the show, and the actors seemed less at home in these more self-aware avante garde worlds.
No matter your taste, out of the 35 offerings there will be something in your particular preference pool, from the intellectual to the downright random. Word to the wise: this is more an evening of experiences than passive theater, and it's best to go in ready to bring your all as an audience member. The only plays that didn't work were ones where no audience members stepped forward to play along. This was no fault of the actors, nor the concept of the playwright - if no one piped up when prompted, they swiftly moved along.
I should note that audience participation with the ITP crew is not intimidating in the slightest. The goal is very clearly not public humiliation. What you have here is simply a crew of theater-passionate folks with a contagious excitement and energy for their craft, who are in it to share, push, and challenge. Maybe they're a little too nice. The ultimatum in "This Play Won't End Until You Take A Pleasant Walk With Me" proved effective.
This may sound like a hefty and exhausting night of theater – and no doubt, it is. But as director, Danielle Borsch (also credited as a writer and performer) clearly knows what she's doing. Her ensemble, made up of fellow writers Cook and Diggs, with Carl Overly and Elizabeth Scaperoth, was tight as a pair of fishnets and never missed a beat. The show plowed through its daunting 35 plays and ran for about 100 minutes without intermission. I would have welcomed 50 plays, and would have sat in delight well into the evening.
No, you don't come to these shows to be blown asunder by brilliant acting, nor cutting edge technical effects, nor philosophical cognitive reconditioning. You don't even come here for bawdy SNL-style sketch comedy. This ensemble brings something completely foreign to what I've seen as the St. Louis Status Quo, and what they bring is fresh and intoxicating. You can tell that they are working hard at what they do. If we as an audience don't have down time to digest each play, the actors certainly don't. In addition to jumping from play to play at the audience's whim, they run the gamut as run crew, light op, stage dressers, and costumers. I don't think there was a transition that lasted longer than 30 seconds.
It's as much a spectacle to watch this well-oiled machine call directions to one another as they rapidly prep for each new piece, as it is to see them hop, skip and jump from role to role. They are sweaty, winded, and wired – and the energy they are pumping into the show seems to be as much fuel for them as a Red Bull. It's contagious, too. I was as giddy by the end of the show as I would have been after a skinny dip.
Immediacy Theater Project offers two more weekends of Drawn & Quartered. Their upcoming shows are September 23 and 24, and October 29 and 30 at the Mad Art Gallery in Soulard. They don't have a web site, but you can find them on Facebook. I await the next show with anticip..........................