An asteroid collides with Earth in just over an hour. You are at an apartment party in New York City with eight people whom you know from various stages of your life. What do you discuss with them? What is going through your mind? Do you have any regrets? These are the large, existential questions brought forth by Part Two of Live In Theatre’s This Is When We Rest, an apocalyptic theater experience designed by Leland Masek that combines Live Action Role Play (LARP) gaming and participatory theater.
In order to arrive at this “end of the world” party, however, you must become someone else entirely; indeed, Part One of This Is When We Rest is a series of character development exercises led by the experience facilitator and director of Live In Theatre, Carlo D’Amore. The process begins somewhat awkwardly as participants fumble with learning the rules of the experience, which can feel confusing at times. Once accustomed to the procedures of character workshopping, however, the process of creating an avatar can be fun. As a generous and amiable host, D’Amore leads the audience through roleplay, journaling, and physical movement exercises to create one’s end-of-the-world avatar.
Live In Theatre was established in 2009 and is known for unique participatory theater experiences. Its productions are often based on historical events, such as The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915 or unsolved murder mysteries buried in New York City’s past (The Ryan Case 1873; Lombardi Case 1975). This Is When We Rest takes Live In’s participatory aesthetic one step further by putting almost all of the creative license in the hands of the audience. Of course, this freedom can compromise the overall group experience when audience members become noncompliant or simply do not understand the rules of play. However, Live In does its best to manage the user experience by laying out fairly clear guidelines that still allow for a sense of creative freedom.
The real rewards of This Is When We Rest come when all characters are established, and participants can properly “arrive” at the end-of-the-world party. In order to make this transition, the audience is blindfolded and led through some visualizations by D’Amore. Some elements of this transition need polishing, such as the timing of when to remove the blindfolds, the technical aspects of the voice-over instructions, and the noise of re-setting the kitchen and living area space for a party. Overall, D’Amore excels at establishing boundaries for roleplay at the party, except for the instruction that “fortune favors the bold”—a line also used in the pre-show speech for Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. As in Sleep No More, the directive to “be bold” feels a bit too vague in a situation where personal space and comfort could quickly become discomforted by the already vague border between reality and fiction. In this case, clarity and precision are key.
Rules and implementation aside, the experience of the party that ensues can best be described using psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of “flow,” wherein participants become so creatively involved in a task or activity that the mundane aspects of everyday life seem to melt away. The party is fueled by a BYOB party spread and command cards that escalate interactions between characters. Indeed, the crowning jewel of This Is When We Rest is the party, wherein participants might access the rare, freeing feeling of “playing pretend” as grown adults. The hard work developing characters in Part One pays off splendidly in this roleplay scenario.
Live In Theater’s This Is When We Rest plays at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 and 29 and Oct. 4 and 5. This Is When We Rest is suitable for ages 21 and older. Individual tickets to public performances start at $89. For tickets and more information, including private bookings, visit liveintheater.com.