What I never liked about transmogrification was the idea of waking up like a cockroach or having some creepy portrait growing old in the attic. What the performers of Sonder: Transformations liked about transmogrification was that change can be grotesque but need not be magical. Change, in all its comedy and tragedy can be raw, real, personal, and if conveyed in short bursts in a decked-out Nob Hill house, “lovingly dubbed the Seventies Smash house,” intimate.
Sonder: Transformations is the latest production by the still nebulously-defined organization Arts Hub. Project director Jeff Andersen says Arts Hub is in the middle of a discovery process right now, speaking with artists throughout Albuquerque about their needs. “Our whole goal is to support artists and remove barriers for them to create work here in Albuquerque. But we don’t know what all those barriers are yet.” Transformation is something of an uber-theme at Arts Hub, with an end goal of building community and a process for now of producing shows like Sonder: Transformations that are unlike those commonly found in New Mexico.
The show itself is actually five different shows, in five rooms, by six performers, throughout one house. Each performance is around 10 minutes long between which the audience moves from room to room in groups of 10. Eclectic and unrelated, audience participation is integral to each of the performances. One of the advantages of performing off stage in a house are the interactions that develop between performer and audience. Andersen says it is not an interaction meant to make the audience uncomfortable, but engaged.
While styles vary, each performer brings to the house their own strengths and background. Performers including the lead singer of Red Light Cameras (Amanda Machon), Albuquerque’s inaugural poet laureate (Hakim Bellamy), the executive director of Blackout Theatre (Ericka Olvera), aerialists with AirDance NM (Cortney Baca and Christina Cavaleri) and the owner of the film/media company Elixir Productions (Magdeline Gallegos).
One of the pieces is based around a performer’s excerpts from their teenage diary. The audience will choose excerpts that will serve as prompts to send the performer into a memory of the event. In improv, it’s called “Scenes from a Hat,” here it is transformational scenes from the actor’s teenage life.
Another piece stems from the performer’s outreach to the people they know, asking for their experiences. They sought stories of times that each person was made to change or made someone else change. Those memories were then transcribed, recorded by voice actors and transformed into a soundscape that serves as the foundation for a movement piece. The audience then interacts by selecting from a pile of clothing what clothing the performers will wear.
Poetry serves as the focus of another piece that aims to have you questioning the involvement of James Earl Ray in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (if you weren’t already doing that).
One drawback of the non-theater performance venue is accessibility. I spoke with Andersen about the limitations of using a space like this private home for public performances. He said that in this case it was a “super bummer” and was something that Arts Hub is actively taking into account when selecting sites.
Andersen says the best thing the audience can do is not expect the pieces to flow together, emphasizing that they are each very different. He suggests the audience approach the show with an open mind and be open to the experience of each performance. If they are open, he says, they will have a good time.