The second day of the WoW Festival proved to a more settled one. The volunteers were dispersed, the box office less harried (though, they were still having problems finding reservations, and some patrons also wanted to do La Jolla Playhouse ticket business while at the front of the line – this happens at the Old Globe, too, on performance evenings, when there are lines for Will Call), and parking was still easy. I noticed some things I had not noticed the day before. For example, there are satellite box office booths in locations other than the Potiker Theatre to handle the ticket distribution, including one right at the main entrance to the festival site. There is also a shuttle bus that travels in a circle route and will bring patrons from outlying parking lots to the festival grounds (and, to “Hedda’ing,” which performs atop the Jacobs School of Engineering, a distant walk from the festival).
All of which indicates that seeing a festival is a lot like the old story of the blind people describing an elephant. Each person will get a certain impression depending on what part of the elephant is explored, and it is also dangerous to make sweeping statements before doing a complete exploration.
But, with that caveat, I will plunge ahead nevertheless.
While the festival center hosted people who were between performances or who wanted to sit or eat (a problem anyplace other than at the center), it seemed that most people there wanted to see performances. Many of these performances could only accommodate a few people at a time, and those were heavily sold. Among those were Counterweight, a co-production with Moxie Theatre that takes place in an elevator, and The Car Plays: San Diego, which takes place inside cars parked in the parking lot. It probably helped that Moxie Theatre is a known quantity to many San Diego theatre-goers, and The Car Plays performed previously, to critical and audience acclaim.
I was booked for two performances yesterday: A Willow Grows Aslant: An Ophelia Story, and Platonov. “Willow” takes off on the basic story of Hamlet and is set in the basement of Galbraith Hall, one of the buildings used by UCSD’s Theatre and Dance department. The idea may have sprung from an environmental theatre piece called Sleep No More, which has been all the rage in New York for the past couple of years. Sleep No More takes off on Macbeth, and audience members follow the cast in and out of rooms in an old Chelsea hotel. In a similar manner, in Willow, audience members follow the cast around the perimeter of the Galbraith basement, where much of the action takes place. There are also opportunities to go into a theatre and a dance rehearsal space, and dance is incorporated into the performance. There’s even a couple of scenes that take place in bathrooms. Willow was conceived and written by UCSD students, and much of the cast consists of students. [php snippet=1]Platonov, on the other hand, gives the Playhouse an opportunity to bring in Jay Scheib’s performance ensemble for its debut on the west coast. Mr. Scheib, who gave an artist lecture prior to the 8:30pm performance (outdoors, in the sculpture garden), deftly melds video with live performance to create “live cinema.” Audience members can see the stage where the performance is being produced, though it will not always see where the actors are located on stage. Instead, the audience can view the carefully-choreographed video that shows on a large screen above the stage. The text of the play is adapted from Anton Chekov’s first full-length play and takes place at an estate party that has gone horribly wrong. Clearly, Platonov is one of the marquee events at the festival; both Artistic Director Christopher Ashley and Managing Director Michael S. Rosenberg were on hand to greet patrons. Be forewarned, however: the performance runs a little under two hours, with the audience sitting outdoors on either hard chairs or bleachers. By 8:30pm it has cooled off considerably, even in mild Santa Ana conditions, so a coat or a sweater will help enormously.
None of that seemed to phase many of the patrons, who happily made their way to the beer garden for refreshments, music, and dancing after the performance ended.