What's it about?
Take Care is an immersive theatrical experience (featuring The Flea's resident volunteer acting company, The Bats) that through audience participation forces audiences to examine and take responsibility for the world's failings, such as the systematic dehumanization of people of color, and our ever worsening climate crisis.
What'd I experience?
I am individually approached by a woman who asks me if I would like to come with her. I would, so I do. She gestures to a coat rack and invites me to store my belongings for the duration of the performance, promising me that they will be kept safe. I hesitate and she says, smiling, "Pease check your coat, bags, umbrella...privilege."
I look up at her, amused, but she just smirks at me.
A man escorts me downstairs, arm linked with mine. After we make it down the first flight of steps, he hands me a plastic cup of water. He tells me I can drink it now or later, but adds that if he were me he'd hold onto it because "You never know when you'll need clean drinking water."
I don't know what to make of this but I am thirsty, so I sip from my cup of water, making sure to save some, just in case.
We arrive at the performance space and he informs me that Take Care requires audience participation in order to thrive. The three levels of participation are as follows: Primary participation, Group participation, and Voyeurism. He has me at Primary participation and I tell him so. He then leads me to a very specific seat in the space. I am not left alone for long. A woman greets me and offers me a mint that I accept and eat immediately. I am then handed the prompt sheet that I'll use for the remainder of the show. Take Care runs according to a stopwatch. Participants perform various actions at various locations throughout the space at specified times. I train my eyes on the nearest of the many digital clocks visible to me.
My first cue is at 00:05. I memorize my line quickly. At five seconds I begin whispering (in pitch black darkness) the sentence, "Carbon dioxide literally cannot cause Global Warming" until the timer reads thirty seconds.
My heart is beating quickly and as nervous as I am, I love that I am performing.
My second cue begins at 01:15. I have received a plastic water bottle wrapped in a plastic bag. I am instructed to leave the water bottle by my seat, step into the space, and twirl around with the bag above my head, letting go of the bag after ten seconds and returning to my seat by 01:30. As I complete my prompt, I notice four or five other people joining me in my twirling and releasing of plastic bags. The sound effect of heavy wind and rain fills the space.
My third cue is at 03:10, so I have more than enough time to memorize my action. I walk up to a black man stood on a green X and I yell at him, "You can't expect a handout," before spitting at his feet and returning to my seat. The man yells back at me, "I don't expect shit from you!" The man remains on his X while he goes through a revolving door of insults and hate, never failing to defend himself in a rational and nonviolent way.
My forth cue isn't until 08:05, and I try to relax and be as much of a voyeur as I can until that time. News coverage of hurricanes plays on the screens. The Bats are freaking out, distributing plastic ponchos to everyone in the audience, saying, "Take this, you'll need it." I feel uneasy, and quickly throw on my poncho, wondering if we're all about to get drenched. A tarp is laid out in the center of the space, and three poncho-clad participants huddle together on the tarp, covering their heads with cardboard boxes. The Bats spray water at those on the tarp and I am grateful I didn't get that particular prompt. At my starting time, I walk into the space and am handed a wireless microphone. I read a news report off of cue cards, at one point walk to the tarp to interview the cardboard box people about how they ended up there, and then return to my seat.
I have over five minutes to contemplate my fifth cue, but I am no more comforted by the time 15:25 rolls around. A table covered in mallets and dark skinned baby dolls is rolled on to center stage. From my start time until 16:05 I smash the baby dolls with one of the mallets, my face contorted into a horrified cringe. One of the doll's heads is knocked off, but I keep smashing, reluctantly, before I complete my action and retake my seat.
My sixth prompt is to line up at the yellow microphone and tell a true, dramatic story about weathering a storm like Hurricane Sandy at 16:45. I remain seated. Thankfully, I don't have any truthful, dramatic stories about weathering any natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy came about, I was unaffected. But others were not so lucky, and hearing those stories one after the other is very eye-opening.
Suddenly The Bats yell that we have to run for cover. They move around a bunch of chairs and the participants scatter about the space, leaving me without a seat and forced to wander about awkwardly, clutching my water bottle.
One of The Bats announces there is a prize for the person who has managed to accumulate the most clean drinking water. Several participants walk over with their full plastic cups of water. My cup of water spilled onto the floor in all of the earlier chaos, but I still feel pretty cocky when I present my unopened water bottle. My high is short-lived. A woman with two unopened water bottles wins, and her prize? The opportunity to experience Take Care from a cushioned chair, whilst enjoying snacks and a two liter bottle of grape soda. She can claim her prize...
She can auction it off to the highest bidder!
The bidding starts at $5 and the woman ends up selling her prize to a man for $10. I wonder if he'll really pay her...
At 26:05 I am prompted to ask my neighbor if I can put my head in his or her lap. Random and slightly creepy, right? The first person I ask is a good sport, and I rest on a complete stranger's lap for a bit under five minutes.
All of the people of color are gathered center stage by some of The Bats. They are told to remove their shoes, which they do. They are then banished to a corner of the room.
My final prompt at 43:45 is to participate in an open forum. All participants are invited to speak about the systematic dehumanization of people of color, the ongoing climate crisis, and respond to the question, "Whose responsibility is it then?"
I am frozen in my spot. There is so much I want to say, but I can't form the words. By participating in Take Care, I have implicated myself in the corruption of my world. "Whose responsibility is it, then?" How can I, a privileged white person, not take some of the blame? One by one people share their feelings and I feel as if I am back in my Race & Ethnicity class during one of our open discussions. In the midst of this brutal honesty, the same person whose lap I placed my head on stands up with purpose and invites the people of color back to the communal area. Applause breaks out. We sit in a circle, almost touching, and go around the room completing the sentence "I am". People come up with some really touching sentences, such as "I am lucky, but I worry that my children won't be" and "I am so fearful for my future." By the time the microphone makes its way to me, all I can say is "I am my mother's daughter."
The circle is completed and all of the participants, myself included, take their bows with The Bats.