RecommendedA performance based on social activism isn’t in and of itself very fringy. Lots of artists till that field in their works. But when a performance ambitiously asks audiences to participate in social experiments and does so in a strangely uplifting way, well, that’s utterly Fringe. Props to local multi-disciplinary arts group Pones Inc. for thinking highly enough of Cincy Fringe audiences to try something so defiant of description. Bigger props still for making Project Activate work.
As the audience gathers, the artists welcome each attendee individually. As a large group, we’re introduced to the concept. The artists/activists at Pones Inc. have collaborated with four community organizations to give voice to those whose stories are often untold. “We all need community,” one artist says in the opening segment. “But sometimes it feels like the community doesn’t need us.”
And so we’re invited to explore, enjoy and experience the community. How best? By breaking the audience into smaller, more manageable communities and having us rotate around four performance vignettes.
There’s a puppet show about two girls, a bike, a roller-skate, a ball of yarn and coveted Dum-Dum sucker.
There’s a photo vignette. But the audience doesn’t watch; it participates. Put your arm around someone who is about your age. Make a pose with a stranger. Raise your hand if you volunteer. If you consider yourself an artist, say “Cheese.”
Then, relax. Find a comfy pillow. Sprawl out on the floor or find a chair in the back of the group. Watch the beautiful movement piece as it is performed practically in your new comfortable world, or zone out and meditate.
Next, enter a world of sound. Use the provided headphones to experience simple moments in a day. How do your neighbors react to the same sounds? Are they in the same space? Even though we’re together, are we hearing the same things? Lastly, come back together as the big group. Make a circle. Recognize how smaller groups make a whole community.
Fringe shows are often placed in nondescript spaces, decided more by necessity than purpose. Project Activate at the still-being-restored Emery Theater represents, for my money, the greatest marriage of show content and physical space in the nine years of Cincy Fringe. With its vast empty spaces, some gorgeously restored and others still crumbling, the Emery is the perfect physical manifestation of Project Activate’s underlying theme.
Through the show and its social exercises, it is apparent that Pones Inc. wants to help break down physical, mental and emotional barriers that might be holding some of us back from fully participating in our communities. That it does so in such an unassuming, innocent, sweet and beautiful way is the charm of Project Activate. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, which is ironic. Those who don’t open their minds and jump into an experience like this are exactly the ones who need it most.