One thing is sure, if you are lucky enough to attend the latest play at the Lyceum Theatre put on by San Diego Repertory Theatre, you will be immersed in every aspect of the play and have a chance to actually become part of the play. San Diego Rep’s latest experiment in the theatrical world, is a play, “Beachtown”, which has gone through a series of revisions, based on a play called “Beertown”. The play is part of a concept referred to as “immersive theatre” or “audience integration theatre”. Attendees will find themselves entering a town hall meeting, as citizens of Beachtown, California, to hear a presentation by the Beachtown Time Capsule Civic Committee for the 100th Anniversary Time Capsule Celebration and a chance to voice your opinions about the opening of the town’s time capsule and the
The play is the brain child of Rep Playwright-in-Residence, Herbert Siguenza, working with Associate Director and writer Rachel Grossman. Siguenza is the founding member of Culture Clash, the most popular and produced Latino ensemble in the United States. He is an award winning playwright having co-written or adapted and performed over fifteen original plays. Grossman is the Ensemble Director and co-founder of dog & pony dc and has co-created 20 new plays and interactive experiences. Working with Siguenza, her play “Beertown” was used to develop “Beachtown” for presentation at San Diego Rep. “Beertown” was the first ensemble-devised show to receive a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding New Play in 2011.
Photos supplied by San Diego Rep
Upon descending the stairs into the Lyceum lobby, you begin the immersion into the world of Beachtown. Large posters on the wall give you descriptions of the history of the city, descriptions of the problems and economy of the city and pictures from the past. The town slogan, “Where Democracy Shines as Bright as the Sun”, will soon become even more obvious once you enter the meeting hall. Beachtown was established in 1888 and functioned as a large tuna industry and fishing town for years. According to one poster, the town invented the California Burrito and was the center of a large surfing community. A local surfer, named Christopher “Topper” French, played a major role in designing unique surfboards. The town scored a 10 out of 10 on a kindness scale and is known for a strong community spirit. Since 1918, when the time capsule was established, the capsule is opened in a formal ceremony every ten years, and the contents evaluated, new additions proposed and items voted on for dismissal or inclusion. This is why we are gathered at this time as it is time to open the capsule again and vote on dismissal or addition of new items.
As the “town’s people” entered the meeting, we filled out name tags and those of us who had brought a dessert item to share, placed it on tables in the middle of the “hall”. Everyone, every time, who attends is encouraged to bring a dessert item to share. Mingling in the hall, the principal members of the Time Capsule Committee greeted us and the “immersion” experience fully began. We had been given a Ceremony Agenda upon entering, which also had a description of the Seven Ephemeral Artifacts, those artifacts of the Time Capsule which were subject to removal, a History of the Time Capsule Day, the three sacred symbols – artifacts which were not subject to removal and the three new proposed artifacts – items which could be voted on for inclusion. These included for this night a Purple Heart Medal, a Tiki Mug and a photo of “feminist” Herberto Ramirez.
Mayor Steve Novak, a former surfer dude, opened the proceedings and everyone in the audience, now Beachtownians”, would take part in the ceremony including taking an Oath of Civic Responsibility, Singing the “Beachtown Hymn”, and participation in a variety of reenactments describing why the Seven Ephemeral Artifacts were chosen. These items included such artifacts as a cotton apron as a response to early poverty and immigration and a surfboard fin symbolizing the place surfing and early pioneers played in the sport for the town. Along the way you will meet Susan Suhiro, the town archivist who knows everything there is to know about the time capsule; Benny Ramos-Leibowitz, Beachtown councilman who aspires to be Mayor one day; Damon Haynes, veteran, journalist, writer for a somewhat liberal newspaper, The Patriot, very vocal resident and a presenter of an artifact he wants in the capsule; Bob Ruby, high school music teacher, the music director for the Time Capsule presentations and a presenter for an artifact he wants in the time capsule; Gloria Ramirez, resident, member of the Kumeyaay Indian tribe and a presenter for an artifact she wants in the time capsule; and the final committee member we meet is Donna French, resident, concerned mom and a bit of a matchmaker.
After the presentations of the Seven Ephemeral Artifacts, very funny presentations, we, the Beachtonians for the evening, are allowed a chance to voice our opinions on what should stay and what should go. A raised arm vote is taken and results announced, and shown on a screen. The chance to voice your opinion is what makes this play so interesting. Every evening the play runs, this part of the play will change, what is said will change, the vote may change, all cleverly guided by the members of the committee and most specifically by Mayor Steve. In speaking with members of San Diego Rep, the specific artifacts used changed during rehearsals and previews as they discovered the degree of responses that arose over some of the artifacts, some to the point of getting “towns people” a little too riled up. The presentation of the three proposed artifacts also generated discussion and leads to a hand vote. I won’t tell you what we voted out and voted in so you can make-up your own minds when you attend the play.
Another interesting aspect of the ceremony, which also changes for each presentation of the play, is a Spotlight on a Community Artist. This starts the beginning of the second half of the meeting, after a short intermission. For the night we attended, an abstract dance, by PGK Project, was performed. This is an ever changing production for each night.
All of the actors and actresses for the production are veteran actors and actresses, two new to the San Diego Rep stage, who have gone through training and intensive rehearsal in the immersive theatre concept. They each had the ability to handle the impromptu discussions, deftly moving the comments along and handled what could become very emotional discussions, such as several comments about gun violence the night we attended.
The San Diego Rep veterans for “Beachtown” include Jason Heil as Mayor Steve, Lee Ann Kim as Town Archivist Susan Suhiro, Salomon Maya as Councilperson Benny Ramos-Leibowitz, Antonio T.J. Johnson as Journalist Damon Haynes and Sandra Ruiz as concerned resident Gloria Ramirez. New faces to the San Diego Rep stage were William BJ Robinson as Music Supervisor and teacher Bob Ruby and Marci Anne Wuebben as concerned resident Donna French.
Your chance to take part in this unique play, “Beachtown”, will last until April 15th at Lyceum Theatre, located next to Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. Tickets can be purchased at www.sdrep.org or call 619-235-0939.