Upon entering the lobby of Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, you can tell you’re in for an interesting evening. After checking in with the box office, you are presented with a clipboard and a ticket. You have assignments to complete while you wait; rows of chairs face a giant projection wall, on which video splices of news segments and found footage scroll through static shifts. A young man begins to play music, layering sections of sound. Then they begin calling you up, two by two, to the intake desk, where a bespectacled young woman checks over your sheets, asks you some questions, lays down the ground rules, and sends you on your way … to a weigh-in?
I could spend the entire review here detailing, moment by moment, what happens in VECTOR’s installation piece Habitus, playing through Jan. 17th at Manbites Dog Theater. But I don’t really want to do that, because, as an immersive experience, your journey will be different than mine — and rightfully so. We’ll all have the same beginning; but once you step through the doors, and a very official Dana Marks grants you entry into the world of the space, the trip is all yours. Or is it?
Habitusis a precursor to a larger, evening-length production to be held in March at Durham’s Cordoba Center for the Arts. It bills itself as an interactive installation/performance that “explores the intersecting arenas of anger, education, and identity.” The walls of the space are covered in questions that provoke, and chalk is provided for you to respond. A grid of objects — a gun, money, hand cuffs, a textbook, a mirror, and more — are chained with a space for you to mark your tally as to the most violent object; and there’s room to explain your answer.
Not three minutes into the experience, I was punching a punching bag, led to a back area where I was asked to write what I cared about most in the world on a piece of board, and challenged to a pushup contest. A drunken cabaret singer laments on a microphone. A woman stands on a pedestal and slowly devolves into a screaming animal as she tries to free herself. (Eventually she does, and she races throughout the space, clawing once she’s apprehended — or perhaps she cools off in the all-white Quiet Room [yes, this exists]).
A very friendly man continually offers encouragement and a helping hand if you need it. A child plays in her room (you can join her), but she has a very scared demeanor about her when the authority figure shows up.
D is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before; and while I’m not entirely sure if the piece is a total success in its mission, I think it definitely opens many avenues of conversation and dialogue, and is a unique and exhilarating way to spend an hour. It does what theater is meant to: it challenges its audience by pushing the boundaries, it asks questions that matter, and it holds a mirror up to our own selves.
There was quite a bit of self-reflection that happened before, during, and after the performance. One of the first answers you give lingers long after you leave: Are you a violent person? Are you an angry person?
Check out Habitus and find out.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 9th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Susan Brioli: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1351408261/Different-Voices-HABITUS-to-create-memories; and Jan. 7th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Chris Vitiello: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/habitus/Event?oid=4314419.
VECTOR presents HABITUS, an interactive installation/performance created by choreographer Leah Wilks and visual artist Jon Haas, at 7, 8, and 9 p.m. Jan 10 and 15-17 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students 18+ and $13 seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel).
NOTE: On its website, Manbites Dog Theater writes: “Tickets have staggered admission times on the hour — 7, 8, and 9 [p.m.] — with 30 tickets per block. Pick up your tickets at the box office beginning 30 minutes prior to your block (6:30 for the 7, 7:30 for the 8, [and] 8:30 for the 9 [p.m. show].) Admission within each block is in order of arrival, with four ticket-holders admitted approximately every 2-3 minutes.”
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
SHOW: http://www.inthevector.com/#habitus, http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/habitus/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1532895656991794/.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): http://vimeo.com/113251182.
PRESENTER: http://www.inthevector.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/IntheVector.
VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
Leah Wilks (choreographer and VECTOR artistic director): http://leahwilksdance.wordpress.com/ (official website), http://www.inthevector.com/#section-1 (VECTOR bio), and https://www.facebook.com/leah.wilks.18 (Facebook page).
Jon Haas (visual artist and VECTOR technical director): http://vimeo.com/user3645102 (Vimeo bio), http://www.inthevector.com/#section-1 (VECTOR bio), and https://www.facebook.com/jonhaas11 (Facebook page).
Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.