Theater Review - "Curious Encounters 2" challenges concept of performance

7 Stages production invites viewers to embrace theater space

Although most of the walls at 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points will be staying in place, this weekend, for a change, there won't be a fourth one. The theater will present Curious Encounters 2, its second annual program of short, immersive performance pieces set in every nook and cranny of the building, including but not limited to the stage. It's a concept designed to allow visitors to wander, interact, and explore in ways they typically don't with traditional theater.

7 Stages Associate Artistic Director Michael Haverty says the concept fits in with a recent trend in Atlanta theater toward immersive and interactive pieces. "That's the sort of stuff I love the most," says Haverty of the impetus to create the Curious Encounters 2 evening. "I looked around to find the edgiest, most contemporary artists and ensembles that are working in Atlanta, not necessarily just actors, but visual artists, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers, as well."

Last year was the first for the event, and the evening was so successful that Haverty decided to make it an annual show. This year, six groups will create short, looping interactive performances throughout the 7 Stages building, utilizing every available space from the dressing rooms to the lobby and corridors.

Viewers will receive a map when they arrive which will show them where to go, and there will also be volunteers around the building to guide them through the experience. This year, Haverty says artists are preparing an intriguingly eclectic variety of experiences: a dance party in the corridors, a set of keyholes for viewers to peer through and watch scenes of domestic drama, and an animation installation with motion sensors that changes the image according to how viewers move through the space.

"It's the first time I've worked in a theater," says visual artist Shana Robbins. Robbins' pieces typically combine elements of shamanic ceremony and performance art, but they're usually shown in galleries. "It's very different, but I love it," she says. "It's a challenge for me, but we have access to all these lights and special effects. It's interesting: You're using them to reveal something, but you're also disguising something."

Haverty says the Curious Encounters concept is more in line with what audiences are seeking nowadays. "Younger audiences don't want to go sit in a theater and watch a show," he says, adding that texting, tweeting, and taking pictures are all encouraged at the event. "People want to be able to come and go, to talk to their friends, to walk around ... We're trying to create an atmosphere that's very comfortable and very casual, so people will feel like they'll try something new. If you don't like something, you can leave and go on to the next one."

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