If you’re attending today’s Fort Wayne Dance Collective performance, expect it to be standing-room-only – that’s because there won’t be any seats.
For the organization’s inaugural annual fundraiser, Star Crossed at Embassy Theatre, audiences will walk through an interactive theatrical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
The show will start to happen around the audience, says Alison Gerardot, director of outreach. The first main scene is a fight scene, and then there’s the party scene – the audience will really party, eating and being merry, with the Capulets.
The Dance Collective’s Star Crossed is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy that takes audience participation to new levels. In a choose-your-own-adventure format, a series of scenes will be performed all over the Embassy, from the stage to the basement; even lobbies in the theater and Indiana Hotel will hold a piece of the story.
Gerardot says the fundraiser is a means to establish a new relationship with the community and provide more scholarships to the organization’s students.
A year and half ago, we got a grant from the Foellinger Foundation to have a consultant come in to retool and rebrand the Dance Collective, Gerardot says. When it came to incorporating fundraising, we needed some significant event that somehow relates to the mission. We are not the type of organization to do a 5K run or host a lecture.
Gerardot says the concept was inspired by an episode of the TV show Gossip Girl and a little research. On the show, which is based in New York, one of the main characters attends a fundraiser that uses this type of immersive theater.
Gerardot found out that an actual troupe called Punchdrunk, a British site-specific theater company, has reconstructed three abandoned warehouses in New York City for its adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, titled Sleep No More.
Gerardot says Star Crossed will be a bit scaled down. In the New York production, audience members are sometimes isolated from other people in their party as they explore the large space. Gerardot says for the Dance Collective’s first such performance, it was important to have parties stay together and incorporate tour guides into the format to keep audiences from feeling apprehensive. The organization selected Romeo and Juliet because of its familiarity.
It had to be a story that everyone knows. You have to kind of know what’s going on and what to expect, she says.
As attendees enter Embassy Theatre, they will receive masks that will distinguish patrons from performers in the crowd who will not be wearing masks. They will also receive pieces of blue or orange fabric that signify whether they side with the feuding Capulets or Montagues. The crowd will then be separated into two large groups to tour the theater.
Modern costuming and contemporary music from The Orange Opera, Metavari and other local performers update the Shakespearean theme.
Gerardot says the use of masks lets the audience freely enter into the performance.
You can feel empowered to do a lot more, she says. It takes away some inhibitions.
The open interactive concept could be developed for other stories and be performed in various venues in the future. Gerardot says the staff is already in discussion about next year’s fundraiser.
We are a non-traditional organization, so people expect us to have a nontraditional event. It really caters to younger audiences – you’re not sitting down, you will be moving around the entire space, she says.
It’s something new and fresh. It lends itself to a younger audience, and that’s who we tend to reach. A lot of stuff that we do is normally outside of the box.
Gerardot says that in previous years, fundraising has been a challenge for the nonprofit organization. She says many people are unaware of the Dance Collective’s outreach programs for those with cognitive and physical disabilities, and for middle and high school students as well.
Its largest dance in-school residency program is at South Side High School, where 155 students take the dance class paid for by the Dance Collective five days a week at the end of the school day. Some of the students will be a part of the performance this evening.
A lot of students, especially South Side students, would love to have more experiences and take more classes. We would love to have students go to the Summer Dance Intensive at (Indiana University) Bloomington, but not many of them can afford classes outside of their regular classes at school, Gerardot says.
This is an opportunity to provide them more opportunities for something they love to do. Our scholarship requests have doubled – there’s a need there, and we’re trying to keep up with that.