The seventh annual Capital Fringe Festival began its first day with a Fringe-worthy experience by banished? productions, complete with iPod shuffles and a tea party. The Circle, billed as an “immersive art audio walk,” takes participants on a 25-minute journey from the Fringe Gypsy Tent to the grounds of the City Museum of Washington DC while playing a “private game within a public space.” We came, we played, we left confused.
The physical and visual journey was narrated not by our guide, but by the recorded recollections of playwright, Juanita Rockwell in mp3 form. Each participant used headphones to listen and experience the fragmented history of Dupont Circle. Narrated by an old woman from an imagined future, she transports via a time machine to listen in on the restless conversations of youth in Dupont, circa 1973. An exploration of nostalgia and memory unfolded across the museum grounds in the forms of black and white photos, origami cranes, wind chimes, old books, and a brief stop for iced tea as the audio stories evolved.
Our guide was playful, leading the group near individuals who corresponded to the audio track, a biology student, a group of friends eating on a bench and a picnic spot for sketching. Additionally, there were photos of long forgotten Dupont Circle restaurants, shops, festivals and concerts to punctuate the anecdotes. Interesting visuals hung from tree branches and railings, painted white shoes filled a stairwell, and quotes fell out of books as participants thumbed through the pages.
Although the piece seemed intended to evoke memories as hazy fragments, it was difficult to focus on the audio narration while hopping over curbs and stairs, drinking tea or reading the pages of a book. Some of the confusion arose from the fact that group was not able to simultaneously hit play on our mp3 players, causing a delay between the narration and what we were experiencing.
Unable to follow the stories, I soon abandoned listening to the audio file, and instead used it as background noise for my own exploration of the buildings, sky and grounds of the Museum and surrounding area. Several participants had similar frustrations with the narration but still found the experience a “refreshing opportunity to look around,” and discover the unexpected.
If the goal of The Circle was to use memory and stories to build connections to the visuals and characters on our journey, they failed. It was too difficult and confusing to engage each element of the experience and still absorb the narration. However, if their aim is to give participants an opportunity to explore, discover and examine a small portion of DC in a new way, than it was a wonderful walk.
When summer grants a perfect evening, this may very well be the loveliest way to spend your time away from the noise and clamor of the Festival and simply enjoy our beautiful city. There are ample opportunities to encounter this production between now and July 28th.
Unfortunately, this production may not be suited to those with physical disabilities or ailments that would prevent them from easily traversing stairs, grass and inaccessible curbs at a very brisk pace.
The Circle takes place several times each Fringe day. The group departs from The Fringe Baldacchino Gypsy Tent area, 607 New York Ave NW DC.
Details and tickets
Presented by Angela PieroJuanita Rockwell – Playwright
Carmen C. Wong – Concept, Director & Producer
Linsay Deming – Audio Engineer: Sound Design
Travis Flower – Audio Engineer: Recording & Music Design
Logan Hartsell – Audio Engineer: Sound Design & Mastering
Niell DuVal – Producer & Cartography
Fugi & O. Jenkins
Reviewed by Rebekah Nettekoven Tello
Rebekah rates this a 3, out of a possible top rating of 5.
See all 2012 Fringe reviews here.