“Does it ever strike you that life is just memory?”
As immersive theatre and its intoxicating brand of participatory performance art continues to grow in popularity (for the first time in the festival’s history the Hollywood Fringe has presented ‘Immersive’ as its own show category), audiences are being treated to a bevy of unique experiences from creators looking to immerse their patrons in something different.
Fire & Light, Stephanie Feury Studio’s Fringe-friendly bifurcation of their acclaimed Firelight, invites us to be immersed in something both surprisingly personal and bracingly new: the warm, complicated emotion of memory. The two pieces, when taken together, present something so generously intimate, so unabashedly poetic and introspective that audience members can’t help but be swept away, as we intrude upon these characters’ private worlds, and think back on our own loves, losses, joys, and wistful regrets.
As you step through the door away from your world and into Fire, the first thing you are struck by is the warmth and specificity with which the creators have conjured the setting. It is Christmas time in some not-too-distant decade, and all your dearest friends have come together to celebrate in a twinkling, sophisticated party atmosphere. You are greeted by these ghosts of Christmas past with a familiar embrace and a glass of wine, and encouraged to make yourself at home. While there is some light interaction and small talk between performers and audience in this moment, anything done or said is immaterial. The window for conversation ends quickly, and while I observed a few of my fellow participants freeze up as they were spoken to, you needn’t worry: this isn’t that kind of show.
What follows, once the guests are settled, is a hypnotic, titillating, and ultimately painful recounting of a story of love, deliciously discovered and tragically lost. With just enough detail to be compelling, and unspecific enough to be universally relatable, these four performers captivate us as they revel in the heady excitement that can only come from truly connecting with another person, and the special ache that can only be caused by their eventual absence. Fire favors the expressive over realism, giving us a spellbinding blend of movement and spoken word shared by a cast so utterly committed to the beauty and the pain that they live through for our pleasure. The cheery, nostalgic setting of a carefully furnished den provides a feeling of familiar comfort that makes you all the more vulnerable to the honesty of the emotions on display. We can all relate to the heavy-hearted kind of loss explored here. To look back on a time when you were close with someone knowing you can never go back, the way barricaded by hurt feelings, words unsaid, and above all, time.
As you transition from Fire to Light, the aesthetics switch drastically but effectively. While Fire presents a heightened performance style in a recognizably grounded playing space, Light invites you into a patchwork tent with knickknacks and mementos piled to the cloth ceiling in a hazy dream space. The two characters here, so beautifully honed and real, seem to be sharing this place together, which becomes the physical representation of an entire lifetime experienced side by side. Where Fire’s performers, while excellent, were bound by a certain degree of necessary sameness as they worked together to convey one single point of view, the couple at the center of Light is comprised of two breathtakingly distinct individuals who, through the performers’ chemistry and the masterfully understated staging, still feel like two halves of a whole. Where Fire was filled with grand, expressive choreography, Light instead invites us to appreciate the quiet beauty in the subtle: The way a cloth is carefully pulled away and folded to reveal a treasured tea set. The body language of a domestic squabble being put on hold for the sake of company.
Two companions, backs turned to one another as they enjoy a drink and moment of quiet reflection, lean on each other in a moment of profound intimacy and need. You sense two lifetimes intertwined sitting in that tent with you, memories and compromises and disappointments and joys piled up along the walls as high and as tangible as the knickknacks lining the walls. Has this shared life been perfect? No. If they could go back in time would they change anything? Perhaps. Do they cherish what they have? Absolutely.
This is what Fire & Light does so well. Through movement and text they articulate the weight of memory, the feeling of each moment passing by as that weight increases. Even the best moments of your life take on an added tang of bittersweet when reexamined as memory, because you know how the story ends. Stephanie Feury Studio engages all of our senses as their characters share themselves with us, tapping into every reservoir of experience we have with the little things that make a life: the embrace of someone happy to see you, a piece of music playing on a scratchy record player or a cup of warm apple cider. I finished my cup, savoring every drop that was offered to me, because I knew then that this was the lesson Fire & Light conveys. Enjoy every moment you’re given, because once you realize you have one, it’s already gone.
Tickets for Fire & Light are available through the Fringe Festival’s official website. Catch the show on Sunday, June 11th or June 25th.
For even more Fringe Festival recommendations, check out Immersed’s interviews with the creators of upcoming 2017 Fringe shows like Narcissus and Echo and Dark Arts, reviews of shows like The Rise and Fall of Dracula and Normal, or a full listing of notable experiences on our events page.