Anthony J. Piccione
It often feels exciting to talk about what new forms of theatre – and what new forms of art and entertainment, generally speaking – may emerge in future society. Whenever this conversation comes up, it is always worth talking about how theatre could potentially be merged with the still relatively young art form of cinema, and become an audience experience unlike any other, and that is exactly why the UVX (the Ultimate Viewing Experience) was created.
Set to play at the Abrons Arts Center from October 13th to November 5th, the UVX – presented by the Luxury Universal e(X)perience corporation – is advertised to the public as an “intermersive” theatrical experience, which involves the incorporation of a film, while also allowing the audience to decide what happens over its course – with the help of theatrical performers and various effects – in a setting that doesn’t sound too different from that of a “choose your own adventure” type of scenario…
A diverse range of people are involved in this project, and I had the chance to talk to a few of them over the past week. Lyle Sterne is one of the producers of this project – along with his friend, Alexander Chmaj – and he says that the show is “not simply combining cinema and live theatrical elements,” but rather “a whole new form of entertainment and is comprised of two distinct elements: the film and the ushers.” Mr. Sterne goes on to explain that “every successful LUX UVX screening begins with the film being screened. LUX only presents certain films that reach its rigorous standards,” and that “LUX owns all of the rights to each of these films and is able to use a proprietary advanced editing software to make real-time changes to the film to best suit the whims of the audience.” Mr. Sterne says that “the ushers, who are referred to at LUX as "buddies" are always willing and obligated to provide you, the audience, with the best viewing experience possible. This could mean anything from a musical number performed by your buddies to having buddies in the aisles with t-shirt cannons to help bring the FUN right to your seat,” and that “it is through this process that LUX achieves an end product that is 110% more FUN than a Regal.”
Indeed, it does sound like it is quite different from the average play. At the core of this event beginning in October is Holmé, a film by French underground autuer Jean-Luc Depardu II. However, it is through audience participation – along with the help of live on-stage performers – that the story of this film can potentially change and be different each night, depending on what theatergoers decide. Indeed, I’ve seen plenty of solid interactive theatre experiences before, but I haven’t heard of one quite as intriguing as this, in terms of the way film in combined with the experience.
Actress Yurika Ohno – who portrays one of the ushers – says the show can often be a surprising experience even for those involved. “At first, it was very confusing and I was worried because I need to be ready and available … but it is very exciting and challenging.” Ms. Ohno says, while adding that “not only the audience does not know what is going to happen, but neither do we actors!” Additionally, actor Jeremiah M. Figuereo – who portrays a “fun enforcer” in the show – says that “the UVX is many different things in one, and the audience gets to be a part of it with the performers,” stating that the audience gets “to choose what they want to see from a group of options, and make live changes to the experience their having. That’s something that has absolutely never been done in any Broadway or Off-Broadway show.”
As projectionist Ulysses Popple puts it, “being able to vote on what happens in the play and film is a whole new paradigm shift,” while going on to say that “the audience collectively decides what real actors do next and the lens through which the whole audience sees the show.” Meanwhile, stage manager Siri Gussiås Nerland says this show “is the most challenging show I've ever worked on,” while adding that “it’s a lot of fun working on something like this, but since it's not your average play there's a lot more that needs to be taken into consideration and my responsibility as a stage manager is a lot bigger than on any of the other shows that I've worked on.”
The event – which opens this week – does indeed seem to be one of the more avant-garde theatrical experiences I’ve heard of so far in New York, and all who are involved seem to be enthusiastic over what the audience reactions will be. “None of the ideas in the project are entirely unique nor are they one person's alone, each person that has come in to the project has continually added to it,” says Mr. Sterne. “It's been an absolute joy to see happen. I've also honestly never seen a group of people who are so earnestly invested in having as much FUN as the UVX has allowed us all to have and I think that's a large part of what has made this so worthwhile for us and hopefully for our audiences.” Meanwhile, Ms. Ohno says “it is very new and it not happening yet, so all the possibilities are out there,” and that “not only you see things, but you [get to] experience,” while Mr. Figuereo says “it is the most unique experience they will ever have while in the theater. It is a fun twist on what you are accustomed to seeing and will probably never see anything like it again.”
Stay tuned this coming weekend to read my official review of this event here at OnStage Blog. In the meantime, to learn more about UVX and to reserve tickets, please visit www.luxuryuniversalexperience.com.
Anthony J. Piccione is a playwright, producer, screenwriter, activist, essayist, critic, poet and occasional actor based in New York City. His plays have previously been produced in NYC at various theaters and festivals such as the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the NYWinterfest and Manhattan Repertory Theatre, as well as Connecticut venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theater, the Windsor Art Center and Windham Theatre Guild. Additionally, his one-act play “Ebol-A-Rama” was recently published this year by Heuer Publishing (www.hitplays.com), and he has also previously worked as a teaching assistant at Hartford Children’s Theatre and New Britain Youth Theater, in addition to his work with OnStage Blog. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. To learn more about Mr. Piccione’s recent and upcoming productions, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com and be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and Instagram (anthonyjpiccione).