Backseat theater

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September 27, 2004 // UPDATED 4:09 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Anna Pratt and Bob Gilbert
Anna Pratt and Bob Gilbert

'The Car' -- a one-of-a kind ride through Downtown

If you're interested in local theater, but sitting still for an hour at a time in a mid-row seat doesn't sound like a fun night out, a new site-specific, backseat performance could be right up your alley -- literally.

Through Sunday, Oct. 10, theatergoers can be spotted loading into three cars just south of Downtown at Franklin & Nicollet avenues. From there, they take off on/into an interactive theater performance known as "The Car."

After a 25-minute drama unfolds in the front-seat of each vehicle -- a Geo Prizm, taxicab and Mercury Grand Marquis -- the nine-member audience (three per backseat) switches to another car/stage to witness/be part of another story in another part of the Warehouse District, Elliot Park and the streets and stops in-between.

Exposing nightlife, club culture, infidelity and places' ability to intertwine with and jog memory, "Car" attendees are immersed in the urban environment philosophically and physically -- encountering three city-life situations to which many people aren't normally privy in three different cars in one night.

Viewers witness select social encounters/performances throughout Downtown -- behind Theatre de la Jeune Lune (104 N. 1st St.), outside Sex World (241 2nd Ave. N.), alleys near the Ford Center (420 N. 5th St.) and in Elliot Park (the park itself).

"We wanted to get where people are living their lives," said Glgn Kayim, director of the troupe behind the site-specific play, Skewed Visions Performance Company, which is based in Southwest Minneapolis.

Kayim said she and co-artistic directors Sean Kelley-Pegg and Charles Campbell "were kind of bored by what we were seeing in theater. And if we were bored, we figured the [other audience members] were, too."

Step inside

Kayim, a recipient of the prestigious Bush Fellowship, wrote two of the three playlets in "The Car," including "The Wild Ride" and "The Prostitute."

"The Wild Ride," takes place in a Grand Marquis. In the front seat, a drag queen, urban cowboy and partier are en route to gay clubs/bars. While applying make-up or even changing clothes, the bar-goers disclose secrets, desires and personal histories that hint at their true selves as they seek to escape the monotony of their lives, at least for a moment.

Kayim also wrote "The Prostitute," which is performed in a Geo Prizm. This "Car" performance features a prostitute who "provides" for her customer in a parking lot while expressing her wounded and heartfelt sentiments to the backseat listeners via an edited version of one of Ophelia's monologues from Shakespeare's "Hamlet." (While the quarters are certainly intimate, Kayim says there is no nudity in the performance -- it's more about the prostitute's mind than her body.)

The third play-in-motion is Campbell's "The Taxi," in which Campbell portrays a lonely cab driver who rediscovers events and places tied to love affairs and luminous moments.

While the situations and quarters are intimate, the boundaries are clear. Audience members are not allowed to interact with the actors.

There is a strict schedule/program. The routes are timed out and Kayim follows the procession in a separate car. Each car/stage holds up to three viewers; the nine-member audience rotates among the three. When the three cars converge at the end of each segment, she escorts audience members to the next back seat.

While the police are familiar with the production and know not to pick up the prostitute, for example, pedestrians are not in on the show.

Kayim said passersby often gather around during the dance or fight scenes on the street but that the actors have always been able to work with it (and in the end everyone figures out that there's no real threat). One doorman from a Warehouse District club likes to join the act, she added, often cat-calling the prostitute.

'The City Itself'

"The Car" is part of a site-specific, three-part series called "The City Itself" that uses the city as both a real and an imaginary backdrop for art shows and performances. The triptych presents stories about Minneapolis life to small audience in unconventional ways.

In addition to the in-car performances, there are the site-specific "The Sidewalk" (which runs through Nov. 14) and "The House" (which runs Wednesday, Oct. 20-Nov. 14) both in Southwest Minneapolis.

"We've always done projects that bridge the gap," said Kelley-Pegg.

Other local institutions support this mission; "The City Itself" is funded in part through Kayim's Bush Fellowship, along with grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Commission and the Jerome Foundation, and is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

At press time, tickets ($19, $15 for students and seniors) were available for performances of "The Car," Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 6-7; and Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 9-10. Cars depart Acadia Caf/ just south of Downtown at 1931 Nicollet Ave. S. at 7 p.m. For tickets or more information on "The City Itself," contact Skewed Visions at skewedvisions.org, 823-4990, skewed@skewedvisions.org or tickets@skewedvisions.org.