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Learn and fall in love with 'The Lessons' at The Passage Theatre

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

Pictured above: David Lovejoy in The Passage Theatre's 'The Lessons'. Photo by Evelyn Landow.

Immersive experiences hold a select, but significant corner of the theatrical circuit. Most fall on the kitschy route to entertain the masses from escape rooms, to haunted houses, to southern Gothic settings. New possibilities are blossoming with a welcome response to onstage seating and significant moments of participation like a dance break or taking a communal shot. While all these methods consume a general palate, there's a buzz in the air of whether it's possible to craft interactive, emotional experiences with less glitz, and more grit.

The Passage Theatre brings a refreshing, welcome interpretation to the immersive experience. Immersion is meant to build intimacy as well as produce an experience you wouldn't be able to gain behind that pesky fourth wall. In The Lessons, you're guided to visit seven exhibitions of solo performance. There's always an inherent state of suspicion when entering a space that's set up to be interactive, and the guides are extra accommodating in making the setting and its participants feel as taken care of as possible.

This feat of fiery talent allows for an expansive exploration of many issues particularly around gender, insecurities, and mental illness. There's the overall sensation of feeling haunted that follows throughout this journey, which its setting in the basement of the Berry United Memorial Methodist Church amplifies. It feels less like traversing a theatrical stage, and more akin to a museum if it tipped itself over with its art instead of being sculptures and paintings, the artists themselves; the sweat and stories of who bring the work to life spilling over. All these original pieces are written and devised by the ensemble, under the wildly imaginative direction of Abigail Phelps.

Pictured above: Melanie Vitaterna in The Passage Theatre's 'The Lessons'. Photo by Evelyn Landow.

The Ritual: "This is not a sermon."

Dan Cobbler acts as both guide and participant setting a calm tide of precedence for the events of the evening to unfold. Cobbler emphatically opens up about being raised by Lutheran parents and his complicated relationship with religion. He's poised as he is prolific in a well composed monologue that circles back in the evening; leaving the audience with select mantras to walk away with.

Pardon the Dust: "Ever feel like everything you know is wrong?"

For something completely different, Em Haverty brings a startling, intriguing energy to their mesmerizing piece. Haverty's exhibition is in a place of process, rather than final product emulated by a disarray of VHS tapes, scattered projections, and of course, an empty Starbucks cup or two. Their work is memorable in how they manage to reveal gems of themselves and connect them, like a kaleidoscope frantically turning to make the pieces fit. All their confessions build to a magnificent capacity of memorable, tender musings.

The Sisyphean Task: "We all want to find the blame when it comes to death."

Repetition and routine are intrinsic to unlocking the story of David Lovejoy's piece. Able to view from a distance or closer into this claustrophobia, Lovejoy rhythmically delivers morsels of truths scrumptiously verbose, but painful sinking more in with each phrase. Its Rashomon effect allows for a brief, but deep dive into hir memory that's hard to muster and will leave you wanting to extend an invitation to listen more before being whisked off to the next event.

26.2: "When I cut someone off, I cut my hair off symbolically."

Melanie Vitaterna is doing fine. Really, she's doing just fine except we've caught her in the middle of running yet another marathon (26.2 miles to be exact). Vitaterna's emotional and physical endurance are equally matched as she jogs about as fast as she can unload her self-loathing and insecurities at your feet. As the miles accumulate, there's a sense of release to relish in being alone while also being unable to escape the baggage you thought you left at the starting line. You'll have to tune in to see if she makes it...

Pictured above: DeMarlo Sunya Coleman in The Passage Theatre's 'The Lessons'. Photo by Evelyn Landow.

When It Was All Just Fun: "With a bit of rock music, everything is fine."

Speaking of escape, Mateo Hernandez can't seem to get torn away from their humdrum routine. From groaning through Mom's wake up phone call, to their breakfast assembly of Froot Loops and cringe-worthy warm milk, to watching some Nickelodeon toons, there's a lot of warmth experienced in this throwback. Reminiscing comes easy and can remind us of the problems we would give to have now versus the monsters we're all too happy to have rid from under our beds.

The Caged Bird's Song: "I'm your diversity and inclusion exhibition."

Emo, soul, and rap influences make a poised opus ring brash and bold in DeMarlo Sunya Coleman's poem. Coleman's words are so clever it requires you to play catch up as you're listening. There's little room for pause to admire the cascading flow and languid language in which his tale is told with phrases like, "Found his paramour within Paramore," and "You snap and clap at my strange fruit." Coleman brings his life events and those happening outside this sanctuary to demonstrate that art cannot be separated from its humanity. The two are always linked and must feed each other or else we will continue to live malnourished, if at all.

The Illusion of Grounding: "You know the two things you don't want to smell like? Yeast and sweat."

Nick Barnes' presentation is last, but certainly not least. The exhibition that feels most like an instructional lesson is rooted in puppetry. Barnes patiently and kindly demonstrates the collaboration and precision required to operate a complex creation. In the process, he navigates his own journey one careful thought at a time of the training and skill set expected from working in scene and bagel shops. While never prescriptive, Barnes gathers his audience to learn more about a topic than they'd anticipate either hands on or through observation that's worth remembering.

School may be wrapping up, but The Lessons is still in session for this week only. Also, make sure to check out their lovely acquainted gift shop before you head out where there's a local visual artist featured every show (Anuja Patel, Kate Augustyn, Claire B., Kris Tomasic, and Gin To). Fingers crossed we'll see more events like this from The Passage Theatre in the future.



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