A Living Room Drama Comes to Guild Hall’s Back Yard

Setting up the "Zoetrope" theater in Guild Hall's backyard. Courtesy Guild Hall.

Picture this: Two people, a fish, a New York City apartment on top of a trailer bed, and you. Exquisite Corpse Company (ECC) will soon return to Guild Hall with “Zoetrope,” an interactive, immersive and portable living diorama of 2020.

Written by ECC writers-in-residence Leah Barker, Emily Krause and Elinor T. Vanderburg, produced by Liz Frost, and co-directed by Porcia Lewis and 2019 Guild Hall artist-in-residence and ECC Artistic Director Tess Howsam, “Zoetrope” will be taking to the streets of Brooklyn and beyond in the summer of 2021, but first ECC will build, rehearse and perform the new production at Guild Hall’s John Drew Backyard Theater with socially distanced seating for a limited and lucky audience on Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24.

ECC’s mission for this project is to use shared experiences as a nation and as individuals, to create an interactive performance that offers reflective healing and generative dialogue as Americans continue to process 2020 in 2021. Linking moments of connection and loneliness, with a surrealist twist, this mobile piece presents an accessible, COVID-19 conscious platform for people across the New York City boroughs and state lines.

With “Zoetrope,” over the course of 35 minutes, the audience experiences an intimate, interactive live performance and will play a significant role in dictating the way the story plays out. The project aims to explore interactivity and intimacy in a time of isolation, functioning like a traveling peep-show. Audience members peer inside a living room that is equal parts familiar and absurd as they experience a living room drama unlike any they’ve seen before.

In a time of uncertainty, Howsam began to dream up different ways to find a solution to the questions, “How could ECC generate its own space?” And “How can ECC create a live interactive immersive experience that keeps audience members and artists safe during a pandemic?”

In talking about the creative process of the writing of the script, Frost said: “As a byproduct of trying to figure a way to produce safe live theater that is also interactive for the audience, Tess designed an outline for the way that the scripts could be built with the audience choosing which scenes are played out. This is important both to the audience interaction of the show as well as to ECC’s mission of exquisite corpse and collective assembly. In taking the structure of the script that Tess created — and also recognizing that 2020 was a traumatic year in many ways —Tess wanted to give people a small amount of agency.”

Howsam added, “In the spring of 2020, we produced two online festivals, ‘Site-Specific 2020’ and ‘Site-Specific Rebirth.’ These events were interactive, with a drinking game attached to the show themes, but we also relied on technology to connect with our community. ‘Zoetrope’ is the solution to putting our audience and actors back in the same space while keeping both safe.”

“Zoetrope” will take place outside on Friday, April 23, with shows at 5, 5:45, 6:30, 8, 8:45 and 9:30 p.m. The show will be offered at the same times on Saturday, April 24, and also at 3:30 and 4:15 p.m. Tickets are $50 per two-person box and $30 per one-person box and space is limited to no more than five audience members per performance, lasting approximately 35 minutes. For more information, visit guildhall.org. Guild Hall is at 158 Main Street, East Hampton.