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FWDC’s immersive theater wants to take you on a strange journey

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Alice and her adventures in Wonderland belong to that particular genre of children’s stories that has probably caused more than a few people to remark, “ummm… this is for kids?”

True enough, there’s a clothed talking rabbit, a sleepy mouse, a sad turtle, a grinning cat that can disappear, and a host of other fantastical characters and creatures. But there’s also a Mad Hatter, a rage-filled Queen of Hearts, a hookah-puffing giant caterpillar, a shrinking potion… Add to all that a language that seems to consist mostly of puns and wordplay and it’s enough make your head spin. The lack of logic in Wonderland gives it a little bit of a nightmarish quality, or a fever dream, or… well, there’s a reason this story served as subject matter for a late 60s Jefferson Airplane song, isn’t there?

But that sense of not quite knowing what’s going to happen next — and being in the middle of it — can also be pretty thrilling, and anyone who has ever been curious about what it might be like to follow Alice down the rabbit hole (or through the looking glass) will get their chance on Friday, September 12, courtesy of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective.

For their signature fundraising event, the Fort Wayne Dance Collective has transformed the corridors and chambers of the Masonic Temple into the weird world of Wonderland, populated by the March Hare, the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and Alice herself, just to name a few.

And you, the audience, will be a part of it, too.

In fact, in a bit of “not-quite-one-thing-but-not-quite-another” phraseology that wouldn’t sound too out of place in Wonderland, you, the audience, will be a character — not necessarily an active character, but not quite a passive one, either.

Alison Gerardot, a dancer and choreographer at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, describes Wonderland as “immersive theater.” The site serves as the stage, and the audience is essentially part of the story, moving through the space without many restrictions, and able to follow whatever character captures their interest. “It’s very much an interactive event,” Gerardot explains. “We’re calling it ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.”

The FWDC tried something similar for last year’s fundraiser Star Crossed, a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet that put the audience in old Verona as the story unfolded around them. It proved very successful — over 200 audience members made the trip — and when casting around for a story for this year’s event, Alice in Wonderland proved a natural fit for a dance organization that often looks towards the avante garde and non-traditional for inspiration. “Alice in Wonderland lends itself to a lot of different interpretations,” says Gerardot, who acts as co-producer and choreographer for Wonderland. “It’s not a linear story. In Star Crossed, when something happened, something had to happen after that. But with Alice In Wonderland, it’s all dream-like, so it doesn’t necessarily have to happen one thing after another. That gives people a lot more free rein throughout the space.”

In Wonderland, there’s an intro scene and a final scene, but multiple events will be happening in various parts of the space at the same time, with performances running on a “loop.” “Basically, if you’re in one part of Wonderland and can’t get to something happening in another part, that same scene will re-play itself later on through the course of the night,” says Gerardot.

Of course, words like “performance” and “scene” are fully accurate in describing Wonderland. Heather Moore shares producer’s duty with Gerardot and serves as the director for the non-musical, non-dance related elements of Wonderland. Moore’s husband Jeff, who was involved in the early stages of the production before other commitments took him elsewhere (see our story of page 6), says the entire experience is what used to be called a “living museum” where the exhibits are ongoing “The idea is to create ‘dramatic action’ using characters, or poems, or bits of text from the story, in an unscripted, semi-structured and semi-improvised way,” he explains.

At the beginning of the journey, audience members will be provided with a map. After that, they can follow Alice or the Queen of Hearts or the Mad Hatter or whomever they choose, and take in a break dance battle between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, a slam-poetry spouting jabberwocky, the court of the Red Queen, and many others. Live locals bands Soft n’ Heavy, Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, and Metavari (who also played last year’s Star Crossed) accompany several of main scenarios.

The performances and performers in Wonderland reflect part of FWDC’s outreach mission. As stated above, the event serves as a FWDC’s primary fundraiser for the year, to raise money both for scholarships for students in need as well as to create and sustain current the organization’s outreach programming for the community.

According to the FWDC, the organization served over 29,000 people throughout Northeast Indiana last year, and has provided scholarships, work-study opportunities, community programming, classes and performances to this region for the past 36 years. FWDC serves thousands of students in schools, at sites for people with disabilities as well as through the Healing Arts Program in partnership with Parkview Health Systems.

Gerardot, of course, hopes Wonderland will prove as successful as Star Crossed was last year, both artistically and financially. “The cast this year is a little smaller (than Star Crossed), but it feels like there’s more going on,” she says. “The story is so loose that while we were putting it together, we felt there was room for a lot of different things. There was a lot of ‘yeah…that fits. Let’s work that in there’.”

For more information on Wonderland and the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, please visit FWDC.org


The Fort Wayne Dance Collective presents Wonderland

Friday, September 12. Doors open at 7:30 and show begins promptly at 8

The Masonic Temple, 216 East Washington Boulevard

Tickets: $40 in advance; $50 at the door

Tickets can be purchased at fwdcwonderland2014.bornwpapertickets or by calling (260) 424-6574.

For more information on Wonderland and the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, visit fwdc.org

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