ABC Project: E(levator) – a different immersive experience
Branching out of your wheelhouse is always risky, but I think it’s important to keep trying new things and keep discovering. That’s the only way to find the next great thing! Plus, it keeps life fresh and interesting. Since I’d had so much fun discovering “immersive theater” recently, when I heard about the ABC Project, I knew I wanted to try it. It was different from the other experiences I’ve had, but the description hooked me. From the website: “The ABC Project is a series of 26 site specific pieces of interactive theater written and directed by Anne Katherine Lesser (…please, call me annie). After the premiere of ABC Project’s A(Partment 8) Stage Raw declared, ‘In the few years since she landed in Los Angeles, experimental playwright-director Annie Lesser has firmly established herself as one of the most fearless and adventurous forces in the city’s emerging immersive scene’.”
And although I hate to quote from other sources so much, this next paragraph will inform you why I was so excited: “LA Weekly named The ABC Project the city’s Most Extreme Audience Immersion in their Best of LA issue in October 2016, and in December 2016 included The ABC Project in their list of LA’s top theater of the year. “Courageous actors and Lesser’s fertile invention and exacting eye made each show an exhilarating and profoundly unsettling journey into the poetics of extreme intimacy.”-LA Weekly”
With that background, and knowing I had already missed the performances for A, B, C, and D, I was thrilled to get a last-minute invitation to E, also known as E(levator). I got the sense that this piece was structured differently than the previous ones. There are 3 ways to view the performance. 2 guests can be in an actual elevator, 12 “Students” experience a performance in a large room, and 4 “Friends” apparently experience something different, but possibly overlapping, in the ground floor alley outside the “Student” room. I was in the Student group
Since the show is approximately 45 minutes, to describe anything would be to give too much away. I will say that while my group of Students waited at the designated spot, a couple of people in other groups approached us looking for where to start their own experience. Our leader, the “professor” to our group of students, didn’t help them at all but just explained that we were a class on an extra-credit field trip. Part of me appreciated the commitment to the story, but part of me was shocked that she wouldn’t help the other people find where to go. I assume/hope they all found their place eventually.
As for my experience, before it began, we were given a sort of assignment. I kept this in mind the entire time, assuming it would pay off at the end. The performance was definitely immersive, and how much is entirely up to the viewer. I tried to do my best to engage the various performers, with varying degrees of success. Eventually I started wondering when and how my student assignment would become relevant. Before I could make any progress, the show took a hard turn into something else. After a brief flurry of excitement, we were ushered out, leaving with more questions than answers.
Unfortunately for me, it all felt very abrupt and incomplete. While I don’t doubt the show went exactly as intended, it was not satisfying for me, and I can’t imagine many of the other students getting much more out of it either. There was no payoff to our assignment, no purpose that revealed itself. For us students, it felt like busy work, a way to invest us more in the show, but without meaning. Unless of course, being more invested in the show WAS the whole point. As for the “Friends” group, I have no idea what they did or saw, so I feel like maybe a big chunk of the experience was missing for me. And the titular Elevator? I never saw one the entire time. I have no idea why the whole show is called E(levator), when it didn’t even seem present and only 2 out of 18 audience members even get to experience that portion.
So not only did my own piece feel incomplete, but I was left wondering if the best parts were limited to the other groups, and only someone who did all 3 segments would get the whole picture. For a show with such a limited run, I sincerely hope that is not the case. And when I say limited, I mean it. E(levator) will only run 2 more nights, September 4th and 5th.
Even though this particular experience was immersive as billed, I have to say, it was not something I particularly enjoyed. I am not commenting on the ABC project as a whole, because I haven’t seen any others, and I still love the concept. And there’s a high likelihood I would have loved one of the other letters (or will love one of the future letters). It’s also possible that there are people for whom this would be a satisfying experience. The acting was certainly wonderful and the set was intriguing. From a theater standpoint, I can see this being of great interest to the many actors and live performance fans in Los Angeles. Since I am not one of those, I will just chalk it up to a bad match of art and viewer.
But if you are a member of one of those groups I mentioned, there is still time to catch this performance! As I said, it’s only two more nights (Monday 9/4 and Tuesday 9/5), but there are 3 showtimes per night and tickets can be purchased here. As of right now, all the spots to be in the Elevator itself are sold out, but there are Student and Friend tickets available. More information about the ABC project can be found here. If you do go, PLEASE contact me! I’d love to hear about what you see if you are a “Friend” or hear your thoughts if you are a “Student” like me. Good luck!