POST: 'The Encounter' - can my senses be trusted?
What's it about?
The Encounter is not a play, but rather a theatrical experience that relies heavily on technology. One man (in my case, Richard Katz) leads the audience through the true story of Loren McIntyre, a photographer for National Geographic, who in 1969 found himself lost in the Amazon of Brazil.
What'd I experience?
I didn't do any research on The Encounter prior to experiencing it, but I had heard it was a one man show. When I thought back, the only one man show I could remember attending on Broadway was 700 Sundays, starring Billy Crystal. I wondered if this guy was a comedian too. If he wasn't, I couldn't imagine how he could keep an entire audience engaged for 90 minutes without even an intermission.
I went to take my seat, and I noticed that each and every seat in the theatre came equipped with a set of headphones. Huh? I thought Broadway theatres only used devices like that to aid people with hearing difficulties. The moment I sat down, a voice over the loudspeaker instructed the audience members to don their headphones in order to make sure they were working properly. Something about this felt so modern. I had definitely seen smaller scale shows that relied a good deal on the audience using technology, but when I thought of Broadway, for the most part, I thought of a passive audience that was discouraged to use electronics of any kind.
A man walked on stage and I assumed he was a member of the crew. He informed us that some audience members were running late, and therefore the show would start a little later. So he talked to us in order to kill time. He spoke about his life as a father and husband in London and even took some selfies with the audience to bring back to his children. Was this all part of the show? Eventually, I made the connection that this was the man part of the one man show. This man's name was Richard. He seemed nice and funny and sported a British accent. At a certain point, Richard told us to put on our headphones, and that's where they rested for the next 90 minutes, engaging my senses in a way that refused to let me focus on anything other than the world that Richard was creating. This was storytelling. How had I never appreciated the importance of sound in any story? In The Encounter, it was everything.
A giant microphone that resembled a human head was The Encounter's main tool. When Richard told us audience members to momentarily close our eyes and to keep them closed, there was a tangible hesitation in the air. It felt like a risky thing to do somehow. What was at stake? What was going to happen when we were not looking? But despite any and all worries I might have had, I did close my eyes. Richard spoke into the left ear of the large microphone and it sounded like he was in the seat next to me, leaning over to tell me something. Richard did the same thing with the right ear of the microphone, and my brain could almost visualize Richard on my right side, even though I knew that such a thing was impossible. Then he blew hot air into the right ear of the microphone, which resulted in disturbed gasps from the audience, myself included. I could feel my ear getting hot as if someone was right there! Was that a special effect, a headset that could produce heat at the push of a button? Or was that all done with my mind?
I began to seriously question my senses. If a fancy microphone could convince my brain that a man was blowing in my ear or walking directly behind me, or that a helicopter was flying overhead, or that I was smack-dab in the middle of a rain forest, then what does that say about the reliability of my senses? Belief can so easily be manufactured. If I had closed my eyes at any point during The Encounter, I would have believed that I was lost in Brazil with Loren and all the people he met while he was there. And then I'd open my eyes and see that it had only been Richard the entire time, and my imagination was just all too willingly filling in the blanks.
Questions raised during The Encounter, for me:
Does my identity rest firmly in my memories?
And are my memories to be trusted?
Are my senses to be trusted?