Some closing thoughts on the La Jolla Playhouse WithOutWalls (WoW) Festival:
Sunday, the atmosphere of the festival seemed unchanged. The crowds were never overwhelming, parking continued to be easy, and people seemed to be having a good time.
The highlight of my Sunday visit was a performance of 100% San Diego at the Forum Theatre. The idea of Germany’s Rimini Protokoll theatre troupe is to recruit in each city where he makes the performance 100 people who represent a demographic sampling of the community along five factors: gender, age, ethnicity, area lived, and household (single, married, with or without children). The sampling technique used is called “snowball,” where one person starts (in this case, a tourist marketer), that person asks a second person to join the group, and so on and so on until the 100 number with representation from all of the proper demographic sub-groups is obtained. It’s not, statistically, a random sample, because you had to be known by someone in the cast in order to be in the group. This problem becomes important, because some characteristics that weren’t measured (such as political or religious affiliation) might have skewed the story being told. But, it’s a fascinating story, even if we can’t precisely trust it. [php snippet=1]The group of 100 each introduced themselves, often describing an item they’d brought with them to make them distinctive. They were then put through a series of questions that grew increasingly personal and difficult. Cast members were assigned to ask the questions , which were projected on large screens at the back of the theatre, and the rest of the group did something (move to a position, hold up a card, flash a light) to indicate agreement with a statement or whether something raised described them. Questions included opinions on political or social issues, personal qualities, or group affiliations (the stage lights were out when a few people indicated by flashing a light their membership in Alcoholics Anonymous, for example). There was even a separate section where the children and youth were asked questions. And, the audience got to join in.
To me, the sample looked somewhat skewed toward the center-left, politically. There were very few conservative hard-liners identifying themselves during the political questions. I suspect that’s a function of the social networks of those participating.
At the performance I attended many in the audience knew someone on stage (as did I). Knowing someone probably made the experience more fun, but watching how ordinary citizens of San Diego responded to a variety of questions was an eye-opening experience.
I left the festival happy, but after thinking about the experience for a couple of days, I wished that I had been happier. Undoubtedly, the groups that La Jolla Playhouse curated were exciting (some more so than others – Kamchatka, for example, was a huge hit) all presented site-specific work, as promised. Some of the UCSD groups did so, too, but some presented immersive work and others simply presented work in non-theatrical spaces. And, I didn’t get a sense of camaraderie developing (as, frankly, it seemed to during this summer’s Fringe Festival, downtown).
I was also hoping for San Diego to become better known as a theatre center from this event (as the Los Angeles theatre scene was helped enormously by the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival). And, while we did receive some attention from out of town newspapers, most notably a story in today’s New York Times I can’t be certain that the festival affected the city’s reputation that much.
I’d like to see some sort of event repeated, but perhaps the Playhouse could bring in a sampling of new theatrical developments from around the world, stage more of them in theatrical spaces, and work on developing San Diego audiences’ knowledge of and familiarity with what’s new and interesting around the world. And, with the Theatre Communications Group meeting here next June for the first time ever, it would be good to focus continuing attention on the quality of theatre that is produced here (which is high, indeed).