Have you ever watched an Apple, IBM, or Google commercial and wondered ”Why couldn’t I do that?” dog & pony DC asks would-be innovators to flex their mental muscles in Toast, an interactive, empowering production wherein quirky inventors guide the audience toward game-changing technological advances.
Interactive theater, like improv comedy, offers high-risk, high-reward entertainment. Companies from Chicago to Broadway to Disney World leave some key details up to the audience in the hope of reaping the rewards of spontaneous creation. Toast expertly walks this tricky tightrope with an intriguing futurist premise, an engaging cast, and a flexible narrative that guides the audience without restricting the creativity that make each performance unique.
The basic premise is as follows: First, invite attendees into the fictional Order of Wind and Lightning, a secret society of inventors and thinkers secretly working to improve the world. Then, immerse patrons in mind-expanding exercises designed to unlock their imaginations. Finally, transform strangers into teammates that present outside-the-box ideas to the whole audience.
On the day of the show, I entered the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Library at UMD and was swiftly ushered into a bespoke innovation exhibit, lovingly crafted by dog & pony’s expansive design team and devising ensemble. It felt like a giant science fair with eager children replaced by earnest actors. There were murals on the evolution of technology, a visual brainstorming board, an exhibit on the history of the toaster, and even a special coin-operated booth inhabited by Ben Franklin – the order’s founder and patron saint. Cast members milled about the performance space, interacting in character with each passing audience member. I chatted for several minutes with whiz kid Sam Jordan, played with by Melanie Harker, and her infectious energy won me over – I wanted into their secret society.
Once the show proper began, the cast invited the audience into an intimate meeting space for proper introductions and an audiovisual history of the Order. The tale of the Order’s rise and eventual decline emerged through monologues, crosstalk, and even a short film edited to a grainy, 1950s black and white. The dialogue often felt forced, but the cast’s earnest delivery and dedication to character preserved the immersive atmosphere sparked by the science fair. As Zen-like Order president Alex Billings, deaf DC theater veteran Tyrone Giordano led the meeting with an easy charisma conveyed entirely through facial expressions and lively sign language.
Closes October 18, 2014
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Performed at various locations
with various casts
Details and Tickets
After the initial meeting, the cast split the audience into five focus groups, each led by a character holding a distinct futurist statement like “I side with the robots.” Each group worked together to brainstorm a technology that would solve a current problem. Out session resembled the type of team building exercise I imagine Google runs for new employees, where the best ideas are the most audacious and visionary. Under the guidance of natural scientist Morgan Pitt, played by the affable Jared Mezzocchi, my group created a “mindfulness button” for all internet-enabled devices. I’m currently working round the clock to get the patent filed.
To end the show, we reunited and shared our findings with the group. Some in the audience really hammed it up, reveling in their time in the spotlight. Everyone got into the act, even WaPo’s Peter Marks, who earnestly read off a laundry list of features for his group’s next-gen “solar oven”. That’s the strength of the show: Pulling strangers out of their shells and banding them together to think big.
Toast may be light on story, but it’s heavy on fun and inspiration. When it returns to the stage, bring a friend or two and see what you can dream up. The Order of Wind and Lightning is waiting…
Toast . Directed by Rachel Grossman & Ivania Stack, with Wyckham Avery . Produced by dog & pony DC . Reviewed by Ben Demers.
Closes October 18
John Stoltenberg . MagicTime By some uncanny ice-breaking alchemy, the cast gets audience members who were complete strangers moments ago to share notions in small buzz groups
Pamela Roberts . BroadwayWorld You don’t ‘see’ a show at dog & pony dc, you become part of it.
Emily Menase . MDTheatreGuide All the actors were every bit convincing, but the story line could have been more engaging …
Chris Klimek . City Paper looks like a corporate retreat. It feels like on, too.
Peter Marks . Washington Post not fully cooked.
Jessica Vaughan . DCMetroTheaterArts very much a work in progress.