Rarely does a theater company hope that its audience will die during a performance, but that’s exactly what dog & pony dc aspires to as it prepares its latest production, A Killing Game, which opens at the Capital Hill Arts Workshop on November 28th.
Don’t fret, the notion that the audience will die is hardly a spoiler in a play about a fatal health crisis, produced by a company that prides itself on audience integration.
It’s how everyone dies, when, why, and their reaction to death around them that shall remain unveiled – in many instances, even to the cast.
We dropped in on the workshops at Arena Stage, part of the Kogod Cradle Series to see the show in its final stage of development. The play opens on a picture-perfect town underscored by a not-to-be-missed musical mash-up. Suddenly, the idyllic burg is hit with an unknown illness that kills indiscriminately, and quickly. What follows is an attempt by the citizenry (the cast and audience) to make sense of the inexplicable. Will they rely on news reports? Twitter? Government officials? The community? Or is it all just one big game of chance?
It’s quite a challenge that dog & pony dc has taken on: Finding ways to engage the audience comedically while borrowing from Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco’s satire, Killing Game, which explores humanity’s response to a plague with fear, panic, helplessness and total absurdity. The card game Fluxx, where players can continuously change the rules, and Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio drama, which seemed so real some listeners believed the Earth was actually being taken over by Martians, also served as inspirations.
“I’ve been yearning for the opportunity to work on a piece of absurdist theater for a long time now, and Ionesco’s play has always been lodged in my head because of the frenzy and the comedy,” said Director Colin K. Bills, a lighting designer at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
The cast was further reminded of the prevalence of chaos and hysteria during it’s last major dissection of the play during the week that Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last month, Bills said.
“We had this news cycle in our head covering all the things that people do to prepare in times like this, and how people can prepare in sane ways and in totally irrational ways,” Bills said. “The way we communicate doesn’t help either. With television, and Internet rumors, and Twitter, it all just moves so fast. We get worked up about things we don’t know are actually worth getting worked up about yet.”
In planning the play, the company looked for ways to perpetuate a sense of hype in the audience. In one high-tech attempt, cast member J. Argyl Plath created a Twitter application that will synchronize pre-written tweets to the play’s soundtrack. As the play progresses, a series of tweets will go live that will allow the audience to respond.
The movement of the play to Twitter means that anyone can play along by following the hashtag #killinggame, even if they’re not in the theater. Bills also hopes to have someone respond to audience and public tweets in real time.
Nov 28 – Dec 22, 2012
Capital Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE
Tickets: $17 or take a chance and
Play-for-Your-Price at the door ($5 – $40)
Wednesdays thru Saturdays
Another way the play will whip up the frenzy will involve the citizens playing an actual game, reminiscent of a T.V. game show that forces people to consider what they will need in a time of emergency.
“We’re trying to get to a situation where people don’t actually know what to do, and they just have to make choices,” Bills said. “It may not necessarily be a rational or helpful choice. In the end we are often more comforted by the fact that we think things are going to help us.”
Much of the darker parts of Ionesco’s dark comedy – the existential angst, conspiracy theories, antiestablishmentarianism, and fear of death – is omitted from A Killing Game. The company doesn’t want to impose any particular narrative on the audience, Bills said.
“In the shows that we do, the audience comes up with their own decisions about what the play is about,” Bills said. “We don’t want to tell anybody what to think.”
dog & pony specializes in audience participation so come prepared to play their game. For shy types, rest assured that, as in life, your level of participation is entirely up to you. Smart devices (iPhone, Android, iPad, etc) are encouraged.