We all have family, whether biological, inherited, or chosen. And those families come with a vault of stories that shape who we are. That is the concept behind cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA's upcoming production, Family Forest.
cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA is an ensemble of artists that creates theatre, arts events, concerts, and even has a company of clowns. Last month, they took over El Cid restaurant, dressed it up like a 1940s LA club (with contemporary Silverlake hipsters), and performed a silly space odyssey radio play starring a group of talking animals (Sound/Stage: Space Rover). This is not your typical theatre company.
So, in looking at Family Forest, which runs June 16-July 8 at Your Theatre (inside the Hayworth Theatre), you should not expect an evening where you sit, watch, applaud and go home. Family Forest is billed as "an immersive multi-media experience about the families we’re born into and the families we choose."
It is more like a dinner party than a play. A set installation by Myriad Slits is the house, the eleven multi-media artists are the hosts, the audience are the guests, the activity stations are the ice breakers, and the homemade drinks and snacks are the hors d'oeurves. The guests (audience) are expected to participate in the conversation (family history) for the first course (the first hour), and then dinner is served (the performance).
Like at any good dinner party, you should come prepared with conversation topics. Luckily, Family Forest has the topic built in for you! During the first hour, audience members will visit stations that feature family-investigating games like an interactive map that triangulates where your family originated, where you grew up and where you live now, and a photo booth that places your head at the root of a family tree that you can populate with photographs of up to 50 celebrities.
Artistic Director Negin Singh explains, "we're trying to build a whole community around the concept [of family] and trying to push people to have conversations about their families and reflect on their history before they come to the show." Prior to the audience's arrival, cARTel will ask ticket holders of each performance to email the song they most associate with "family" and those songs will be compiled for pre-show music. After the show, that playlist will be emailed to audience members as a thank you, or a "party favor," if you insist on continuing with the dinner party metaphor.
The closing performance on July 8 is not going to be the end of Family Forest. cARTel is continuing the conversation online with a family recipe sharing project. If you submit a family recipe with a story, it will be featured in cARTel's upcoming cookbook.
Family Forest runs Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm, June 16-July 8 at Your Theatre (643 S. Carondelet St, 90057). Tickets are $10.50 at wearecartel.org. If you post your family recipe on facebook and tag cARTel, you will get a buy-one-get-one-half-off ticket deal.