by John Bavoso
This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene and can be read on their site here.
Few words strike fear into the hearts of wide swaths of the theatre-going population than ‘Audience Participation.’ But when said participation involves sipping champagne, swanning around a mansion in Dupont Circle, watching fire spinners perform in the snow, and solving puzzles with strangers, that pill becomes a lot easier to swallow. Thus is the experience created by TBD Immersive in their new interactive performance piece, Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, well, that’s just the beginning. As an audience member, it’s up to you to join a side and undertake quests at the request of your fellow guests. There are at least three or four paths you can take, which is exciting, but can also lead to wide variations in not just the content, but also the quality of the experience amongst audience members.
For instance, my guest and I started out on one track at the beginning of the evening, but then unintentionally switched halfway through, meaning we never really got the whole story for either path. As we watched a climactic fight play out in front of us, for example, we had no clue what was going on, because the inciting event occurred upstairs while we were down in the basement. While this is realistic in terms of how things actually work at real-life parties, it did create some moments of confusion that weren’t always of the fun and intriguing variety. Perhaps a slightly more streamlined narrative arc may have led to certain attendees not being left out in the proverbial cold.
This is not the say that I didn’t enjoy my time at the Wescotts’ abode; in fact, I had a marvelous evening. This is due in large part to the wildly talented cast, who almost universally nailed both their scripted scenes and 2+ hours’ worth of improvised interaction. Lange ate up the role of the despised stepmother with the suspiciously short courtship and abrupt elopement, and was liable to break into song at any moment (much to the chagrin of many of the other characters). Bradshaw’s Drew practically vibrated with nervous energy, while Hart’s Astrid hid her cunning and desperation to get to the bottom of what really happened to her mother behind a ditzy, party girl façade.
The Whittemore House proved to be the ideal venue for this performance, offering three levels of indoor and outdoor space for the cast and audience to play with. From the fortune teller in the parlor to the burlesque dancer in the ballroom to the fire performers working their magic in the garden, there was always something to engage with and admire. Despite the mansion’s sprawling nature, the cast managed to create small moments of genuine intimacy and delight. For example, my guest and I and about five other people were treated to a stunning command performance by Angelique (Chaseedaw Giles) in a linen closet in the basement barely big enough to fit us, in what turned out to be the most memorable moment of the evening.
Many theatre companies have mission statements that include nods to breaking down the fourth wall and inviting the audience to participate in the creation of the work, but few have made good on this promise to such a high degree. With Ouroboros, TBD Immersive has created an event that is impressive in both its scope and its nuance, and in doing so, has filled a vital niche in the DC area theatre landscape. I, for one, am excited to see where they lead audiences next.