Last Friday, in the black box theatre of the Fine Arts Building, a sell out crowd was fortunate enough to witness the Senior Play Series production of “Progress”. Billed as an “environmental theatre” piece, written by Kalamazoo College's Imani Sims and Marissa Rossman, the play was more experimental than your typical college production.
Rather than force the audience to be passive observers, environmental theatre encourages audience participation, to the point where the crowd becomes an important element of the production. Instead of sitting and watching, one must move about the set, broken in to three rooms, up close and personal with the actors and props. This intimate point of view creates a powerful connection between performer and audience.
“Progress” is set in 1930's Germany, and chronicles the stories of a doctor, his patients, and the consequences of the forced sterilization programs that were in effect. In order to immerse attendees into the world of the play, Swastika's and propaganda posters adorned the walls. While performing all of the dialogue in German might have been a bit of a stretch, the close perspective made language almost irrelevant. From such a close perspective the plot becomes clear through body language and action alone.
The biggest difference between a piece like “Progress” and a more traditional production is the decisions the audience must make to appreciate the play. In order to follow the story, one must change his perspective, but also account for the other patrons who are trying to do the same thing. The result is everyone seeing a different play, a woman might walk through the middle of a scene to pass through to the next room. Or a man might step on your toes as you jockey for a better viewing angle.
“Progress” is an emotional and dramatic piece, brought to life in a youthful and exciting style. It is more the form than the script that makes this show such a refreshing theatre going experience. Hopefully this type of theatre gains traction and will be more commonplace in the future.