A play in the dark, where your seat is a hammock? PETE's All Well is offering a twist on theater that may prompt a few questions from the uninitiated. We caught up with director Jacob Coleman to get a few answers in advance.
Who: Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble (PETE) is a cooperative of artists working to engage audiences with original, unconventional performances since 2011. We talked to All Well director Jacob Coleman to get the scoop on PETE’s new, nautical season—a collection of works they’re calling The Journey Play—and what to expect from a “sightless” play.
What: All Well is a sound installation—a play experienced through the sense of sound, “and to some extent, the sense of smell and taste as well,” says director Jacob Coleman. It’s the second performance as part of The Journey Play, inspired by Moby Dick and referred to by the company as a “constellation” in the hopes that theater–goers create connections between shows. Following Drowned Horse Tavern, a cabaret–style show that ran in July based on old sea shanties, All Well tackles different themes with a different tone: based on the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition in 1848, All Well takes place in the hull of a ship trapped in the midwinter arctic. “Drowned Horse Tavern had a very raucous, fun, ‘life of the sailor’ feeling to it,” describes Coleman, “All Well is a much darker and much more meditative piece that focuses more on a human relationship with the deep.”
Where: Beginning in the lobby of Imago Theatre (and with a drink), then to the main stage: find your seat, being one of 25 hammocks hanging in the dark. The show progresses to a different part of the building for the mysterious final scene. “Without giving too much away, the piece will actually begin as soon as you walk in the door. Built in is the journey from walking in the door of the theatre to being led into the hammocks,” says Coleman.
When: Taking on 16 shows in under a week, All Well is an ambitious project, running the 40-minute show in tight, overlapping cycles beginning late in the evening—opening Tuesday October 27th at 10 pm—and playing again at 10:30.
How? Says Coleman, “Part of the appeal of the Franklin Expedition is that we don’t know very much because they never came back. And the little bits and pieces that we’re able to surmise—so, a few bodies and some relics have been found—we do build into the show. We give people the barest sketch, but in a lot of ways we give a little bit of information, so that then their minds can project their experience and ideas onto, in the dark.”
Why: The group thinks of The Journey Play—of which All Well is a part—as the main production, with each of the pieces as scenes in a larger play. Constructed over the summer, nine creators met to workshop PETE’s Journey Play over a month–long period. “We generated responses to Moby Dick, read our favorite parts, made work at various times,“ Coleman explains of the process: “This theme came up of the very human kind of madness that pushes people to go off into extreme environments, and this idea that sound designer Mark Valdez and I had of a play in the dark.”
All Well is showing at the Imago Theater from October 27 to November 1, with tickets available on their website, petensemble.org