Explore ‘The City Itself’ with Skewed Visions

If you’re interested in local theater, but sitting still for an hour at a time in a mid-row seat doesn’t sound like a fun night out, a new site-specific performance series could be right up your alley — literally.

Now through Sunday, Oct. 10, theatergoers can be spotted loading into three cars just outside Acadia Coffeehouse on Franklin & Nicollet avenues. From there, they take off on/into an interactive theater performance known as "The Car."

After a 25-minute drama unfolds in the front-seat of each vehicle — a Geo Prizm, taxi cab and Mercury Grand Marquis — the nine-member audience (three per backseat) switches to another car/stage to witness/be part of another story in another part of the city.

"We wanted to get where people are living their lives," said GŸlgŸn Kayim, director of the troupe behind the site-specific play, Skewed Visions Performance Company, which is based in Kingfield’s Center for Performing Arts, 3754 Pleasant Ave. S.

Kayim said she and co-artistic directors Sean Kelley-Pegg and Charles Campbell "were kind of bored by what we were seeing in theater. And if we were bored, we figured the [other audience members] were, too."

So Skewed Visions put together the three-part series "The City Itself." The triptych presents stories about Minneapolis life to small audiences in unconventional ways. In addition to the in-car performances, there are the site-specific "The Sidewalk" (which runs through Nov. 14, in the Lyn-Lake area) and "The House" (which runs Wednesday, Oct. 20-Nov. 14, in a rented Kingfield home).

On the road

Kayim, a recipient of the prestigious Bush

Fellowship, wrote two of the three playlets in "The Car," including "The Prostitute" and "The Wild Ride."

In "The Prostitute," the driver/actor picks up a prostitute/actress in front of Sex World in the Warehouse District. They drive to a parking lot where she can service him (no nudity is involved). The drama is highlighted by the sex worker’s monologue, an edited version of one of Ophelia’s monologues from Shakespeare’s "Hamlet."

In "The Wild Ride," three partiers/actors get all gussied up — in drag, as a cowboy and as a party girl — in the front seat for a wild Saturday night downtown. In the process, they share intimate parts of their lives leading to both escapist revelations and conflict; they have to stop and get out of the car to dance and fight.

The third mini-drama, "The Taxi Driver," was written by and features Campbell in the title role. After the driver/actor picks up an old girlfriend, the audience finds themselves privy to their conversation, and gets a taste of what it’s like to be lonely and cross paths with a former lover.

While the situations and quarters are intimate, the boundaries are clear. Audience members are not allowed to interact with the actors.

There is a strict schedule/program. The routes are timed out and Kayim follows the procession in a separate car. When the three cars converge at the end of each segment she escorts audience members to the next back seat.

While the police are familiar with the production and know not to pick up the prostitute, for example, pedestrians are not in on the show. Kayim said passersby often gather around during the dance or fight scenes on the street, but that the actors have always been able to work with it (and in the end everyone figures out that there’s no real threat). One doorman from a downtown club likes to join the act, she added, often cat-calling the prostitute.

On the pavement

The second part of "The City Itself" reflects a different urban tempo. In Kelley-Pegg’s "The Sidewalk," participants borrow a Walk-man from Intermedia Arts at 2882 Lyndale Ave. S. and follow specific recorded directions provided via the headphones through this guided walking tour of the Whittier neighborhood

Kelley-Pegg, a Kingfield resident, described it as a "very private" performance for one.

The sounds of footsteps demonstrate the speed at which listeners should walk as narrator Cherri Macht provides an animated 45-minute local history lesson. As the route winds through the organic garden at South 28th Street & Garfield Avenue, down the Midtown Greenway and up to West Lake Street, the walker hears such true tales as how local residents rid their block of a crack house.

As participants visit Theatre Antiques at 2932 Lyndale Ave. S., an old Alfred Hitchcock movie soundtrack plays on the headphones, while directions are given to a handwritten postcard detailing the tale of someone’s death.

At home

Skewed Visions will premier "The House" in a rented home on Pleasant Avenue Wednesday, Oct. 20.

A maximum of 15 people will be able to enter/see "The House" at one time. Each performance will feature dance, film and a sound track as the home’s resident ghost narrates the home’s history through the generations.

"The house is where we spend the majority of our lives and where our most intimate dramas are played out," Kayim said. "Each house has a story, and I want to make it a very literal experience. We will install everyday sounds, like the sound of neighbors, a baby crying and traffic."

As with the other productions, "The House" will not be performed on a set-apart stage and there will not be a curtain to divide the audience and performers.

Bridges

"All three of us are married with children and live in Southwest," said Campbell of the trio behind Skewed Visions. "Not only do we get along artistically, but we do things socially as well."

The Tangletown resident thinks this could be part of why the group has stuck together as long as it has. "Most small theater companies don’t have a long shelf-life," he said.

The three — Kayim, who grew up in London, Kelley-Pegg, a Boston native, and Campbell, originally of Northfield, Minn. — met in a masters of fine arts program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. They found themselves wanting more from the local theater scene and formed Skewed Visions in 1996 to support each other’s pursuits.

Their first piece was a 12-hour performance rave with live bands, dance and theater. The event was held at the Southern Theater in the Seven Corners area and sponsored by the Walker Art Center’s "Out There Music Series." Even then, in 1997, it was difficult to tell where the performers left off and the audience began.

"We’ve always done projects that bridge the gap," Kelley-Pegg said.

Other local institutions support this mission; "The City Itself" was funded in part through Kayim’s Bush Fellowship along with grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Commission and the Jerome Foundation and co-sponsored by the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

At press time, tickets for the following "The Car" performances, $19 ($15 for students and seniors), were available for: Friday, Oct. 1; Sunday, Oct. 3; Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 6-7; and Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 9-10.

"The Sidewalk" is free. Headphones can be checked out at the front desk of Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. (Neither reservations nor tickets are needed.)

"The House" runs Wednesday, Oct. 20-Sunday, Nov. 14. For tickets to "The Car," or more information on "The House," contact Skewed Visions at skewedvisions.org, 823-4990, skewed@skewedvisions.org or tickets@skewedvisions.org.