Volitional experiences are popular with audiences today, particularly shows that maximize opportunities for you the theatergoer to decide what to watch, where to go, and who to listen to. Recent productions like Sleep No More by Punchdrunk and Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects have proven that this idea can be enormously successful, exciting, and transformative.
Double Freakquency, a performance by AVAdventure Productions, adds a twist to this genre: instead of making decisions about where to go and who to follow, audience members are handed headphones when they enter Studio Theatre’s 4th floor venue. There are two channels available and a third option is to turn off the sound completely. Although the audience remained seated throughout the show, we had a choice of what was heard and at times the channels differed immensely.
Initially, both featured the same voice. It sounded like a realtor describing a two-bedroom apartment. A key part of the domestic space was the thin walls: this was the element that separated two simultaneous conversations and drove much of the plot and characters’ interactions.
Throughout Double Freakquency, though, the stage was empty except for three stools. When actors depicted scenes of cooking, eating, washing dishes, or bowling, they mimed the actions and mouthed the words. The cast of four was skillful at making the story relateable in spite of this bare setting.
Two women, former roommates, appeared first: Summer McCarley as Alex and Caitlin Carbone as Renee. When the men entered, they seemed disconnected from the women’s relationship, but eventually they — Josh Blubaugh as Doug and Mauricio Marces as TJ — became ensnared in their story.
As an audience member I found the tricky part to be deciding what channel to listen to. As the plot became more convoluted I grew increasingly confused about what had transpired. Obviously I was missing some key information, but switching back and forth between the channels left me with nothing but bits and fragments. At times it felt like flipping channels while watching television. When I kept with one channel for an extended period of time, I had to let go of knowing what was being heard on the other. Ultimately a “bizarre domestic incident” brought the four characters together.
by Adam Stackhouse and Liz Sykes
at Studio Theatre – Stage 4
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20005
Details and tickets
Leaving the theater I asked another audience member about one of the scenes: I was curious to learn what other people had heard and what I had missed. He, like me, wasn’t sure where the scene in question had taken place, but we had a great conversation about the show’s creative concept. Although the idea of allowing audiences to choose what they hear affords all sorts of possibilities, the production still has some kinks to work out.
Double Freakquency offers several wonderfully successful scenes as well as snags, like conversations that didn’t need headphones at all since the actors’ dialogue could be heard on both channels.
Later that night as I was walking home I wondered if this spontaneous, post-show discussion wasn’t one of the most brilliant aspects of Double Freakquency: it’s a show that encourages theatergoers to have a conversation with one another. Rather than a performance that leaves you just as separate and isolated from one another as when you entered the theater, this event encourages dialogue.
Perhaps the best way to see Double Freakquency is with someone who can select one channel while you listen to the other and then share notes afterwards (the show’s description in the Fringe program encourages audiences to “debrief with a friend”). Or be ready to instigate a post-show dialogue with someone who could broaden your experience of the performance.