En­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences

Business World - - ARTS & LEISURE - Nickky Faustine P. de Guz­man

FOOD IN a the­ater is al­ways for­bid­den, but food and the­ater can go to­gether in TAXI (the­ater, ap­plied, ex­pe­ri­en­tial, im­mer­sive) The­ater, a per­for­mance art com­pany whose goal is to en­gage all the au­di­ences’ senses into the en­tire nar­ra­tive.

Started in 2016, TAXI was founded by Eric Villanueva dela Cruz, who is a fac­ulty mem­ber of De La Salle- Col­lege of Saint Be­nilde ( DLS- CSB) The­ater Arts Pro­gram and a se­nior artist- teacher from Philip­pine Ed­u­ca­tional The­ater As­so­ci­a­tion (PETA). Mr. Dela Cruz said TAXI is a small group of cre­atives from PETA who all have a back­ground in sto­ry­telling and teach­ing.

“It is a risk for me, this whole multi-sen­so­rial ex­pe­ri­ence, but also a dream. It’s not the first time that peo­ple ven­ture into this, but to com­pletely in­te­grate all of the senses in or­der to tell a story is some­thing. I do not know if it is the first time, but def­i­nitely, I’ve never heard of some­thing in­te­grat­ing food into the story. Whether or not it is the first time, I have this op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore it,” said Mr. Dela Cruz.

On April 11 to 14, TAXI pre­sented a lim­ited-run of ‘ Musta?, its sec­ond show af­ter Mu­la­gat, a hor­ror play in 2016. ‘ Musta? en­gages and high­lights the au­di­ence’s taste buds while Mu­la­gat is all about smell.

“The­ater al­ready has a big im­pact, but I want to add some­thing to the dis­cus­sion so my in­ter­est slowly led me into en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Noth­ing is orig­i­nal now in terms of story telling, so I said to my­self maybe this is the way to do it,” said Mr. Dela Cruz.

Pre­sented to­gether with the Arts Man­age­ment Pro­gram un­der the School of De­sign and Arts ( SDA) in DLS- CSB and TAXI The­ater, ’Musta? is about a girl’s jour­ney to de­pres­sion, her ac­knowl­edge­ment of it, and, later, her bet­ter out­look on life.

“My mom died last year, and I couldn’t think of any­thing but this. In my dra­maturgy class, I thought this is the way to go. When I pre­sented it to my class, they all wanted to do it be­cause every­one, af­ter all, has mo­ments of light and dark­ness. We spent a huge amount of time gath­er­ing sto­ries, do­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence, and con­sult­ing coun­selling or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Mr. Dela Cruz.

MULTISENSORY EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Be­fore the two-hour ex­pe­ri­en­tial show started, the au­di­ence was briefed that there were two breath­ing sta­tions in­side the SDA the­ater just in case any au­di­ence mem­ber could not take the show.

There were also signs and in­struc­tions on the wall say­ing things like “Breath” and “Take your time.” Af­ter the brief­ing, the au­di­ence mem­bers were given am (rice wa­ter) in a glass test tube be­fore en­ter­ing the dark al­ley that lead to the the­ater. Asked of the

sig­nif­i­cance of the rice wa­ter in the nar­ra­tive, Mr. Dela Cruz told Busi­nessWorld that peo­ple with de­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­ence a loss of ap­petite, hence the bland liq­uid.

The in­side of the the­ater was pitch black, which am­pli­fied the ex­cite­ment as well as the ter­ror of what the show could of­fer. The au­di­ence was in­tro­duced to a girl in py­ja­mas whose name was not men­tioned. Or maybe it was — this writer’s at­ten­tion was wan­der­ing around the small cham­ber ar­ranged as the girl’s bed­room. On the walls were writ­ten “emo” (emo­tional) mes­sages about her anx­i­eties and angst over school and life. The au­di­ence could walk around the small room and in­spect her things, while her voice-over was played in the back­ground. She then walked into the next hall, where the the­ater seats were, to look around the art in­stal­la­tions. The au­di­ence could also roam around the stage to look at the art in­stal­la­tions — a black plas­tic trash bin turned into a hol­low hang­ing black cloud in­stal­la­tion that any­one could en­ter. The in­stal­la­tion rep­re­sented the black thoughts of any­one with anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion.

The au­di­ence had to fol­low the pro­tag­o­nist in­side the cham­bers of the the­ater, which sym­bol­ized her jour­ney to men­tal well­ness. At some point, there was a cham­ber where the au­di­ence could touch and play with scented clays and bub­ble wrap — which was a ther­a­peu­tic ex­pe­ri­ence — be­fore be­ing led to a tele­vi­sion that showed sto­ries of real peo­ple bat­tling de­pres­sion.

The en­tire nar­ra­tive ended up in a sim­u­lated Zen gar­den where two calm­ing nar­ra­tors in­structed the au­di­ence on what to do, which re­quired them to par­tic­i­pate in the en­tire story. The au­di­ence mem­bers were given choco­late ( a happy food!) and win­ter­melon tea ( a sweet treat) which were part of the multi- sen­so­rial nar­ra­tion. This last part re­quired the au­di­ences’ will power to stay awake and fol­low the story de­spite the very re­lax­ing, very serene am­biance of greens, the sweets, and ta­bles with pil­lows.

EN­GI­NEER­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCES

“TAXI The­ater is en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, ex­tend­ing au­di­ence en­gage­ment, and nur­tur­ing imag­i­na­tion,” said Mr. Dela Cruz.

“The first half was about the man­i­fes­ta­tions of de­pres­sion, to­wards the end was about her re­cov­ery. I wanted to do some­thing about na­ture [ to end the ex­pe­ri­ence], be­cause it is in look­ing for some­thing beau­ti­ful in the or­di­nary that we find peace and mean­ing,” said Mr. Dela Cruz.

While there were voice-overs that pushed the nar­ra­tive for­ward and told the au­di­ence what to do next, he said, “It is dif­fi­cult to say that the au­di­ence is be­ing di­rected [ to­ward a re­ac­tion] be­cause ev­ery au­di­ence is unique, you’ll get dif­fer­ent sto­ries. It is sub­jec­tive. My main premise now is how you ex­pe­ri­ence things. And in terms of ex­tend­ing the au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion, it is about their con­tri­bu­tion to the whole nar­ra­tive,” he said. —

NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZ­MAN

TAXI The­ater’s ’Musta was a multisensory ex­pe­ri­ence which had the au­di­ence wan­der­ing around var­i­ous rooms as they read, lis­tened, touched, and tasted.

WAN­DER­ING through the halls of the ’Musta ex­pe­ri­ence led the au­di­ence through the mind of a de­pressed girl.

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