Bricolage Has Mastered Dive-In Theater

With Bricolage Production Co. at the helm, immersive theater has arrived in Pittsburgh. Get ready to leave your seat behind.




Photo courtesy Bricolage Production Co.
 

 

You are dancing with a young woman in a prom dress in an otherwise empty gymnasium. Dull lights flicker as a broken voice sings plaintively through far-off speakers. A moment ago, you were communicating wordlessly with a mute man in a beachside hut. He rubbed oil on your hands.

A year passes, and now you’re trapped in a sprawling concrete basement with a group of deranged, possibly possessed assailants. Two of them handcuffed you and made very specific threats that rattled you thoroughly; after a few tense minutes, they chucked you into a pitch-black closet and locked the door. You thought you were in there alone. You weren’t.

Another year passes. Now, you and a group of strangers are at an estate sale, rifling through the possessions of a woman who recently — and mysteriously — died. You came thinking of bureaus and sofas; now, you’re after secrets and scandals. Later, you’ll trade your personal information for a chance to learn more about this departed stranger.

All of this is theater, of course, but that can be very tough to remember.

The genre is so new that it doesn’t yet have an agreed-upon name; some prefer immersive theater, while others call it interactive theater. Defining this newborn style is nearly as hard as naming it, but in short, the productions are theatrical works in which audience members are participants. Sometimes this turns you into a fly on the wall; in other cases, you’re the main character. You’re never merely sitting and watching the show.

“We’ve always been interested in creating this heightened sense of involvement for the audience, and breaking down the sort of status quo of theater,” says Jeffrey Carpenter, artistic director and founder of Bricolage Production Co.

In August 2012, Bricolage mounted the massive production “STRATA” in which participants arrived at a classified downtown location and were ushered into a “refitnessing center,” as officious guides promised a self-help reawakening. As the experience progressed, each audience member was led, usually alone, through a series of odd and evocative encounters — including the meeting with the above-mentioned lone dancer.

This month, Bricolage will introduce another immersive experience as part of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. Carpenter is cagey about the details — the surprise in these productions often is half the fun — but he can reveal that the show, titled “OJO,” will begin with participants arriving at a mock travel agency to pick up an itinerary for an unorthodox global tour.

“We want to maintain that sort of mystery,” says Carpenter of the show, which the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust commissioned for the festival. “But it’s important to convey this idea that it is a journey into darkness. It is an expedition of sorts.” There’s a minor clue in the title: “ojo” is Spanish for “eye.”

A Spanish theater company, Teatro de los Sentidos — which brought its show “El Eco de la Sombra” to the 2008 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts — introduced Carpenter to the immersive form. The first U.S. immersive production to snag national headlines, though, was “Sleep No More,” a production now in the fourth year of a Manhattan run (and based on prior runs beginning with a 2003 debut in London). In that show, participants don white masks and are free to roam through the fictional, noir-esque McKittrick Hotel; the wordless action of the performers loosely is based on the plot of “Macbeth.”

In Pittsburgh, “STRATA” was a financial success, despite high costs related to set (a fully transformed building, the former downtown Bally’s Fitness location) and cast and crew (close to 50), Carpenter says. It also was the spark for a series of more-recent productions. Scott Simmons, creator of Etna’s haunted attraction The ScareHouse, was a fan of “Sleep No More” and “STRATA.” In 2013, ScareHouse introduced “The Basement,” an immersive theater experience, as a separate offering. In addition to a sold-out Halloween run — which featured the above imposing kidnapping scenario — there has been a pair of one-night revivals. A new “Basement” will premiere later this year.

Actress and improviser Ayne Terceira was in the cast for both “STRATA” and “The Basement,” and in March, she brought her own immersive production, “Her Things: An Interactive Estate Sale,” to Lawrenceville’s ModernFormations Gallery. “It’s the best of high theater, which I love, and great improv — which I also love,” she says of the form.

“Her Things” will be revived Aug. 8-10 at ModernFormations; another immersive experience, “The Saints Tour,” also is forthcoming — it’ll be produced by Bricolage and set in Braddock.

While the challenges and logistics of mounting a production such as “STRATA” are great, the audience for immersive theater is growing at a rate that outpaces demand. All of the aforementioned productions enjoyed nearly or fully sold-out runs, with many audience members coming back for multiple performances.

“The ability to really suspend the audience’s sense of disbelief is that much greater when you’re working with the real world,” Carpenter says. “I think that personal approach to storytelling is something that can get in the audience’s imagination . . . you could really get lost in it.”
 

Info:

“OJO”

  • June 7-8, 12-16; Times TBD
  • Begins at 820 Liberty Ave., downtown
  • Free; sign up for a timeslot at trustarts.org
  • No one under 12 years old admitted; guests 12-18 must have parent’s permission
  • Standby tickets available in the event of cancellation
  • Comfortable shoes recommended, as participants will be required to walk some distance
  • 412/471-0999, bricolagepgh.org
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kennywood’s Jack Rabbit

When you compare what it cost to build the coaster in 1920 to what it would cost today, it's obvious Kennywood's owners got their money's worth.
Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

Second New Restaurant Moving into Union Trust Building

The upscale seafood eatery is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.
Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Local Filmmaker Celebrates Pittsburgh Food

Artist David Bernabo creates a series of films that track various aspects of Pittsburgh's food culture.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Restaurants 2016

Best Restaurants 2016

Which 33 Pittsburgh-area establishments did our independent Restaurant Review Panel include among its top picks this year? Find them here.
Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

Six Pittsburgh Chefs Who Are Outstanding in Their Field

In addition to awarding Best Restaurant honors this year, our Independent Restaurant Review Panel also voted to recognize six chefs for their contributions to Pittsburgh’s culinary community in 2015.
Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

Citizen Artist: Vanessa German

German blends a collage of community activism and soul-searching artistry.
PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

PittGirl to Wooers: ‘Not Today Satan, Not Today’

It only takes one person, one jagoff, one childish, attention-seeking, discourteous jerk to send a woo through PNC Park.
Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Daytripping: Canonsburg is a City of Antiques

Nearby Canonsburg is a rare find for antiques collectors.
U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

U.S. Open at Oakmont: Will The Town Finally Be a Player?

The U.S. Open is returning to Oakmont — and unlike previous tournaments, this one could make the community a vital part of the action.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

5 Reasons PyroFest Will Light Up Your Memorial Day Weekend

PyroFest will also include live music, food, a Kids Zone and more.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

Richard DeShantz Plans Two New Restaurants at Salt of the Earth Building

DeShantz owns three other Pittsburgh restaurants and is about to open a fourth.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

Highmark Stadium Pub Wants Your Attention

The in-house tavern at the Riverhounds' home stadium is now welcoming guests during weekdays. But is it worth a dedicated stop?

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way

These Penguins have been downright unrecognizable, individually and collectively, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

Flip the Switch: Industrial-Style Lighting Made in Pittsburgh

An electrician by trade, designer Thomas Verscharen creates custom lighting out of repurposed pieces.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

The X-Men Would've Done Better in Wonderland

Reviews of "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "A Bigger Splash" and "Love and Friendship."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Get with the (Wedding) Program

Get with the (Wedding) Program

Have you ever considered making programs for your wedding guests? If not, think again and get creative.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

A Tiny House that's Big on Energy Savings

Spread out across the city for these upcoming events, including a “Tiny House” exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center displayed by the FIY Network.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

Duquesne University to Host Small Business Networking Event

The event will connect hundreds of small business managers and owners and provide useful information to help them take their enterprises to the next level.

Comments