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I’m a tea drinker, so Tea Party at the End of the World, a Cannonball Festival entry from IKantKoan Play/s, immediately caught my eye. Any chance to have a cup alongside an intimate tea-party performance sounds like a cozy evening of theater.
Writer and performer Jessica Creane, in collaboration with director Joseph Ahmed and sound designer Ashlin Aronin, definitely subverted my chill tea party expectations. Creane introduces herself as the very opposite of chill, but that uncomfortable feeling helped break the tension between my fellow partygoers and me as we poured tea for ourselves at the top of the show. I settled in with my sencha fukamushi (something Creane described as “perfect for getting tea-drunk”) for the rest of the performance.
In this “pocket world” Creane creates for the audience, time passes by without notice. She deftly balances the anxious awkwardness of hosting with a strange sense of effortlessness, seemingly choosing teas and bowls at random for us to sniff and sample. While pots steep, the audience engages in a series of “civilized” party games to open up and wax poetic about different kinds of endings (guests are invited but never obligated to join in).
Creane structures the performances around two influential moments of her life: the death of her father and a formative trip to the Arctic Circle last fall. Both brought up questions around the inevitability of ends, both physical and emotional, and the ways we try to protect ourselves from being fully present in these moments. The death of her father was simultaneously a known fact (in that all humans will die) and an unknown fact (unexpected at the time it happened). In the Arctic Circle, the knowledge of ending—both in the near-total darkness of autumn and the cracking sounds of icebergs melting—made it difficult to be present.
While Creane certainly indulges in her own experiences, she is a gracious host. Much like a dinner-party conversation, her stories are interrupted by smelling the aroma of teas and parlor games that encourage introspection. These games and experiences help audience members to rephrase such ruminations around endings to find agency in how we might choose our own ends. Fear of a last day becomes, what is something good we might imagine about it?
It’s in these games and teas being served that the performance comes alive, and where Creane shines as host. I am so glad that my fellow partygoers were eager to participate in such deeply personal questions, speaking in confidence about the ways we hope not to die and the things that will likely haunt us until we do. And strangely enough, framing this experience around tea helps the whole immersive performance come into focus. Brewing tea involves patience and being present: things that humans often fail at. Drinking tea together requires us to engage with someone else, to open up, and to take the moment in.
The immersive elements of this performance don’t come from Creane’s monologues but from her guiding you and your fellow partygoers through vulnerability. Know that your time at this tea party will expand your palate, provide a history lesson in tea brewing, bring up some difficult memories, and cause an existential crisis about the inevitable heat death of the universe. It’s OK, though—you’ll be well-equipped for introspection with some stellar loose-leaf options for comfort on your last day.
Know before you go: These teas are caffeinated.
This piece contends with the meaning of life and our agency around the end of life. It does not assume that there is a correct answer to how we live or when we stop living. Ticket-buyers with questions on the show’s content are welcome to reach out via the Fringe box office.
What, When, Where
Tea Party at the End of the World. By IKantKoan Play/s, directed by Joseph Ahmed. $35, with pay-what-you-can options. Through September 25, 2023, at MAAS Cottage, 1320 N 5th Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
This event does not require proof of vaccination to attend or masks to be worn.
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