What'd I experience?
I walked into Ars Nova and gave my name at the box office, but instead of a paper ticket I was handed a blue satin scarf with the word CANDY scribbled on it in silver sharpie. This scarf would be my entry into The Wildness. The people around me sported scarves of many different colors, but it seemed to me that blue was THE scarf to have. I tied mine loosely around my neck while I waited to check my coat and umbrella.
When we could enter, we were told to find the symbol on our scarves and then stand next to whatever resembled that symbol in the performance space. I was fairly certain that CANDY was the only marking on my scarf, but perhaps I had missed something more obscure? I frantically scanned the material until the theatre staff laughingly directed me to an area beneath a dangling bag of Jolly Ranchers.
I looked around, amazed by how much the rather intimate space had transformed since I had last been there, about a year and a half ago for a live taping of Freestyle Love Supreme, Pivot TV's new show starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and his freestyle rapping crew.
Here's a screenshot of me in the audience of one of the episodes:
At the taping, there were basic rows of chairs and tables like you'd see at your average comedy club, a different world entirely from the runway-like platform that now divided the room in two, the hanging upside-down doll's house that housed a baby doll and Super Man action figure, the patched quilt that covered the ceiling, the mysterious boot, man's overcoat, package, knife, and candy suspended in the air.
Suddenly women in sequined mini-dresses and sparkly make-up strutted down the platform and plucked two men from the audience. They disappeared backstage and I envied them and their level of audience participation.
I was welcomed into The Wildness with an opening number that warranted head-bobbing, including lyrics that were as memorable as they were truthful, such as "We have sequined panties" and "It's warm in here and we have beer." At the end of this dramatic display, the borrowed audience members were returned to us.
The cast engaged in something called an "Overshare," which is precisely what it sounds like. One of the two audience members who was taken backstage earlier, an older man, was the first to overshare.
His words, exactly: "I fear that I will never have great sex again."
WOOOOW, talk about brutal honestly. We were instructed to reply, in unison, "You are not alone."
And then the story commenced, a story of a usually bearded heiress named Ada and her companion, Zira (usually not visibly pregnant), and their attempt to save a village full of people from extinction.
The action was frequently broken up by songs and to my delight, more overshares, another audience member admitting how terrified he was to become a father in a few months.
"You are not alone," we chanted out.
At one point we were told to don the blindfolds we had been given upon our arrival. Ohhhh, so THAT'S what those were supposed to be? I didn't like the idea of blindfolding myself, but I was assured that nothing weird would happen, and so I took a leap of faith and tied my scarf securely over my eyes. It was so strange to be blind to what was happening before me, to deliberately deprive myself of a sense I had always taken for granted. I felt like I was at a live concert with my eyes closed, and it was both disconcerting and awesome. I could sense movement in front of me, and when I heard the instruction to remove my blindfold, the cast had assembled a sort of fort out of cushioned backless seats on top of the platform.
Our next order of business was to collect the cushioned stools from the space that matched the color of our blindfold. Up until this point it hadn't even occurred to me that I had been standing. But I was NOT about to complain about sitting down. Once we were seated, we were passed a bag of Jolly Ranchers and invited to take one but not eat it until we were told to. I unwrapped my green apple flavored Jolly Rancher and couldn't resist tasting it just a little with the tip of my tongue, but I waited to place it inside my mouth with everybody in the room; the experience was unifying, it felt almost sacred.
The final song contained a truth so relevant that I couldn't help singing along out of sheer agreement.
I was ten minutes away from Ars Nova and nearly at the train station when I realized that my blindfold/scarf was still tied around my neck like an accessory! I was never asked to return it, or I definitely would have done so before leaving, and although I felt slightly guilty for potentially stealing a prop, I was happy to have such a specific memento from my experience.