“The city has just opened itself up to us,” Sandy Timmerman said, describing the unique theater experience—the “theatrical journey,”—that she, Q-Staff Theatre members and Stereo Akt of Budapest have been working on for the past several years. “You try to get to different parts of the city, but sometimes, if you don’t have a reason to go there, you don’t wander around new neighborhoods and meet new people. … This has let us look inside different corners that even most residents don’t see.”
This is foundational for Promenade, a performance that creates passengers out of spectators. On a 35-seat bus, the troupe and audience alike travel across the city to 41 different sites, and stories play out amidst the cityscape and en route, cutting through byways both familiar and less trodden. The format was pioneered by Martin Boross and Julia Jakubowska of Stereo Akt, based in Budapest, Hungary, who have also had a powerful hand in created the uniquely Albuquerque version of the show. “They are innovators even in Hungary, where experimental theater is more common,” Timmerman explained.
Timmerman—who is stage director of this production—and a number of others involved with Q-Staff first saw an iteration of this show in Baltimore two years ago. The next day they were already on Skype with Boross and Jakubowska, and collaborated on developing Promenade for the years that followed. “Each performance is developed in the city where it is,” Timmerman explained. “There is no pre-formed script, it is very artist-driven.” This led to a series of workshops with a number of community members, artists and students from Working Classroom to generate material, and finalize scripts and determine locations. “We really didn’t want it to be dominated by a single voice,” Timmerman continued. “It’s a huge project, and it took a tremendous amount of time.”
The production premiered last Friday, and will continue on weekends through Sunday, Dec. 2. When Timmerman and I spoke, it was just a few days out from opening night. “I have no idea what people will take away from it—and I’m really excited about finding that out,” she said, but still, she has hopes of what the show might reveal to those who take a seat on the bus. “Everyone’s stressed and exhausted, everybody’s worried about what’s going on in the country—I hope this helps people. I hope it gives hem something that helps them feel a little happy, or calm, or a little better. I hope they might say, ‘Wow, I got to see my city in a way I’ve never seen it before.’ ”
That revelation of the city is multi-layered. The city has revealed itself to Timmerman in new ways, and it has also opened up in a different way to even greater collaboration across not just neighborhoods, but borders. Albuquerque is uniquely positioned in the world—there is a significant amount of international exchange amongst creatives in this field thanks to projects like this and Tricklock’s Global Corridor. Boross from Stereo Akt is the director of this production. Other elements of the production, like the sound design (which is quite intricate, given the staging) was designed by Márk Bartha, another member of the group, who gleaned a lot about the sounds of the city through spending time in it, and spending time with aural geniuses like multi-talented musician Marisa Demarco. The co-creator of the original version of the show, Jakubowska, has also been on-hand during the long development phases of Promenade.
Having the perspective of these international artists has been helpful, particular given that theater in its more experimental variety in the US has far been outpaced by the productions in the rest of the world. Timmerman attributes this to the rise of film stateside. “With a movie screen you can do anything,” she explained. “So the advent of realism hit United States theater about the same time we were starting to develop our movie industry. Our innovation started going toward movies, and theater kind of got stuck where it was 100 years ago and never really changed or developed that much.” The dominance of film, especially in Eastern Europe, came much later and set a precedence for a more thriving theater scene. “Theater is more a part of everyday culture there, as opposed to being such an event,” Timmerman said.
And the experience of theater is important. It provides an opportunity for everyone to quietly sit in a room together, experience something live, “right next to each other—nothing between you and the performers and the person next to you.” And then, have a space afterwards to talk about what you’ve seen. “I think this is enormously valuable in the modern world—having this 90 minutes of quiet space to listen, watch, experience and breathe together,” she said.
Promenade offers that and a lot more. By nature of putting theater in motion around the city, we are exposed to parts of our city that perhaps we’ve never seen before, yes, but it also offers the opportunity to look again. To experience Albuquerque in a different way, and by proxy, rethink life as it plays out around us. “We call it the Promenade effect,” Timmerman laughed, “once you’ve done this, you see performance everywhere in the city.” She went on to explain, how often, happening simultaneously with the scripted performance is just as much real action occurring alongside it. “We have this carefully constructed scene happening here, but sometimes there is something else really interesting and fascinating happening on the other side of the bus that we had no idea was going to happen!” That’s the serendipity of letting theater out into the world. As a result, “you see the everyday performance that happens constantly, you notice things more.” And that is often one of the highest aspirations of art in any genre.
Catch Promenade Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 2. Times vary, but all showings depart from Q-Staff Theatre (400 Broadway Blvd. SE). Tickets are available online now at q-staff.com.