Saturday, August 27, 2016

"600 Years" by Sandbox Theatre at the Southern Theater

Confession: I, like millions of people, love The Walking Dead. I'm fascinated with the idea of people working together to build a new society out of nothing. But what I don't love, and what I'm becoming increasingly disheartened by, is how in their version of the post apocalyptic world (zombies, natural disaster, it doesn't really matter what caused the end of the world as we know it), people turn on each other instead of working together to combat the very real enemies and dangers in the new world. Sandbox Theatre has envisioned a different version of the post apocalyptic world using their unique ensemble created, devised theater method. This world, where women called Seekers run between villages to create connections (they're kind of like the new internet) and all humanity works towards a common goal, is a much more hopeful world than that of The Walking Dead, and one I would much prefer to live in.

the Seekers (photo courtesy of Sandbox)
Along with project lead Tim Donahue and director Amber Bjork, the six-actor, one-musician, all-woman ensemble created this 75-minute play, set 600 Years in the future. Megan Campbell Lagas creates a soundscape for the world using percussion, voice, and recorded sounds. The actors (Ashawnti Ford, Danielle Silver, Evelyn Digirolamo, Heather Stone, Kristina Fjellman, and Michelle de Joya) play the Seekers. The women come from different backgrounds and villages, and run between settlements bringing news, healing, maps, and stories. They decide to take on a new mission - travel across the great agua to connect with the people on the other side. But it's not all kumbaya, there are dangers in this world: boars, illnesses, storms, and something called "the rot" which is threatening to destroy villages. The Seekers navigate this world together, each using her own strength (tracking, reading the stars, sailing), sacrificing themselves to the earth and for the good of humanity.

The world of 600 Years feels real, primitive, and very different from this one. The cast has developed a new culture, complete with words, greetings, songs, and rituals that feel authentic. The Southern Theater is the perfect space in which to create this world. Neutral fabric like sails hangs from the arch, upon which shadow puppets of trees, landscapes, animals, and buildings are displayed. Rustic props made from tree branches hint at objects and structures. The seekers are dressed in primitive earth-toned multi-layered clothing, carrying primitive weapons, with unique face paint for each character. It's a beautiful, striking, and cohesive design (puppetry and scenic design by Derek Lee Miller, costume design by Mandi Johnson).

the cast of 600 Years (photos courtesy of Sandbox)
OK sure, maybe this all sounds a little too idealistic. But that's not a bad thing in this world. We could use a little more hope and idealism. And when this civilization that we've built inevitably collapses in on itself, I'd like to think that the women left in the world would rise up and create a better one. It's a nice thought anyway, and one to cling to when all looks bleak. 600 Years continues at the Southern Theater through September 18 as part of their ARTshare program.