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What does it mean, in September 2021, to connect with someone new? We have spent a year and a half in some degree of social isolation and trepidation remains around meeting new people in meaningful ways. Perhaps the remedy is in Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s Being/With, currently presented as part of the Fringe Festival.
Location, location, location
I don’t know how to talk about Being/With without destroying the experience of Being/With. It’s engaging, uplifting, thoughtful, and introspective. It’s intimate, even though you’ll likely never meet your fellow audience member who’s sitting in another room like yours in a different building—in a different zip code. It’s beautiful. It’s fun.
The experience of Being/With, regardless of whether you’re participating from the South Philly or West Philly venue, starts in a gallery where you sit in front of an aerial shot of the neighborhood you’re in and listen to stories about growing up and living there, well past a time when one is considered grown. Two other audio stations follow, intermixing stories from both neighborhoods and preparing you for some of the themes you’ll encounter in the rest of the production.
This hyperlocality, combined with the universality of so many experiences described in the audio, helps at once to establish that you are alone in this space . . . and that you are not alone at all.
The magic on stage
From the audio experience, you are led “backstage” and encouraged to select a colorful garment accessory from a rack positioned near the stage entrance (don’t worry, they are all cleaned before being reused). I chose a hot-pink fur poncho.
Once in your “costume,” you are given a headset with a mic and led into what is effectively a black box theater, but without a stage, without performers. It’s just you, a table, chair, stool, daybed, and a few shelves filled with objects that are not so much beautiful as they are interesting.
Only it’s not just you. On one wall, you see yourself, and then you see someone else—the person at the other venue on the other end of the city appears to be sitting beside you.
The effect is striking. It would have been more so if my camera and screen were facing me from the same direction. I had to choose between making eye contact with the place where my West Philly friend would have been sitting beside me or actually seeing them sitting beside me on the screen. I chose the latter, and on the screen, it looked like I was talking to someone over my shoulder, instead of to my “companion."
I don’t want to tell you about what happens from this point. I will tell you that you will engage with this other person in a much more intimate way than you normally would with someone new. I will tell you that you should be ready to be vulnerable, but also playful. I will tell you to wear comfy shoes and a mask you feel comfortable talking in.
And I will tell you that you may leave Being/With with deep feelings of longing for a time when you could share experiences like these in person, of nostalgia for people you haven’t seen and places you haven’t been in these 18 months or longer, or of something else. Despite that, you will connect and you will feel. In today’s world, I think that’s exactly what we all need.
What, When, Where
Being/With. Written and directed by Nichole Canuso. $35. Through October 2, 2021, at the Evangelical Church of the Trinity, 2300 South 18th Street, and the Pearlstein Gallery, 3401 Filbert Street. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com. Tickets are $35.
Access to the Church of the Trinity venue requires a few stairs; the Pearlstein Gallery is wheelchair accessible. Please note that patrons are expected to get up and move during performances. Masks and proof of vaccination are both required.
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