— Hall of Haunts IV: THE GAUNTLET —

Elements conceived and directed by Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews,
Mason Rosenthal, Daniel Park and Elizabeth Weinstein.
Created with Alanna Bozman, Mal Cherifi, Dana Haberern, Paloma Irizarry,
Austin Kelley, Eliza Leighton, Eli Preston, Dani Solomon and Monica Wiles.
Costume help from Rebecca Kanach.

Performed October 23 and 24 at Rutherfurd Hall in Allamuchy, NJ
and October 30 at Chris Davis's house in Philadelphia, PA.

 Contestant 29 (Mal Cherifi) faces off against Number 2 (Daniel Park) with Little Gene (Dana Haberern) in the tub at Rutherfurd Hall. Photo: Eli Preston.

Contestant 29 (Mal Cherifi) faces off against Number 2 (Daniel Park) with Little Gene (Dana Haberern) in the tub at Rutherfurd Hall. Photo: Eli Preston.

You know this story: It's the epic tale of our hero leaving home for adventure, hitting the road on a quest riddled with trials, and then arriving on the other side as the same hero, but transformed in some way. In any monomythic hero's journey, we are asked to invest ourselves in the story's protagonist: be it Odysseus or Arthur, Dorothy or Frodo, Skywalker or Potter, we sit on the sidelines rooting for them, feeling the cathartic pangs of their foils and the fist-pumping glory of their victories. And after they slay the dragon, blow up the Death Star, then make it back to Kansas and inherit a chocolate factory, their win and their wisdom is ours, even though we did little more than turn the pages or watch frames flicker by.

But what if you don't trust the hero? Maybe the hero is incredibly annoying, or prone to making mistakes, or perhaps a more suitable hero comes along. What if you could intervene and say, "Stand aside Luke—Leia is taking your place!" That was the premise of THE GAUNTLET, a hero's journey turned on its head and performed in two very different locations: first at a 40-room mansion in a tiny town, and then at a modest row home in a big city. In both locales the Mediums offered not one, but 10 different heroes to the 500 people who came to see the show, and every room presented new challenges not for the hero, but for the audience to answer: How long can you wait? Who is the biggest loser? What's behind that door? And do you like this particular hero enough to keep them in your story?

 Labraíd the Clocksmith (Sebastian Cummings) chastises Persephone Proserpina (Dana Haberern) for her self-serving project in  ALCHEMY.  Phptp: Laurie Rapasardi.

Labraíd the Clocksmith (Sebastian Cummings) chastises Persephone Proserpina (Dana Haberern) for her self-serving project in ALCHEMY. Phptp: Laurie Rapasardi.

THE GAUNTLET was born in part from the Mediums' 2014 Halloween show, ALCHEMY, a true hero's journey in which the audience assists a young alchemist in bringing her twin sister back from the dead. On her way she is helped and hindered by various colleagues, and at one point I wondered, "Why do we trust her over the others? Just because she got to us first?" It's a similar question that Gregory McGuire posed in his 1995 novel Wicked that looks at the Land of Oz through the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West instead of Dorothy. In L. Frank Baum's original Oz story from a century earlier, we put our faith in the witch Galinda because she's young and blond and claims to be good, and the only other witch in sight is lying around dead under a house, unable to give her version of things. Our other adopted allies, the Munchkinlanders, are cute and hospitable enough for us to overlook their zest for nationalism, witch-hunting and racial purity. ALCHEMY fed its audience similar tropes, and looking toward our 2015 Halloween show, I wanted to frustrate that by removing the hero/villain dichotomy and inviting the audience to choose whom their protagonist would be. Again, and agin.

 Elizabeth Weinstein offers audience members a choice at Almanac Circus Dance Theatre's event,  THE FLEECING.  Photo: Morgan F.P. Andrews.

Elizabeth Weinstein offers audience members a choice at Almanac Circus Dance Theatre's event, THE FLEECING. Photo: Morgan F.P. Andrews.

Another ingredient for THE GAUNTLET came from a living installation by dancer Elizabeth Weinstein. At an event in Philadelphia in early 2015, Liz stood entwined in red thread, holding a ball of yarn in one hand and a knife in the other. For the price of a token, she'd either cut a single strand of yarn from her body or entwine herself twice more. As her friend I felt obliged to free her, and quickly spent all my tokens in the knife bucket. But with most people tossing theirs toward the yarn, my project was futile. As an audience we lacked a common goal: some people wanted to wrap, others to cut, and many just dropped tokens to see what would happen. But what if we were all bound together to make the choice: freedom or further entrapment? And what would the reward be for choosing one over the other?

With these ideas in mind, the Mediums assembled a team of 13 performer-creators who looked at maps, played lots of games, and spun a story about a purgatory-like institution that would transform those who had been losers in life into winners of death. This un-hero's journey became a rat race of gadget-laden contestants vying to finish first, relying completely on the audience to complete each trial. In one room they had to determine which door to open by asking the right questions. In another, the group worked together to outwit a weary monster. There were tests of observation and logic, and also ethics as we recreated Liz's yarn-and-knife game as a web in which the group decided who would stay and who would go. Liz herself played a Cerberus-like secretary named Gene who began the show by exchanged people's humanity for anonymity, and ended it by determining if one's loserdom in life could be traded in for success in death.

 The Chair Monster, played by Austin Kelley. Photo: Eli Preston.

The Chair Monster, played by Austin Kelley. Photo: Eli Preston.

THE GAUNTLET was a tall order both for its performers to make (a meta-gauntlet to be sure) and also for the audience to win. On many occasions they would not pass a trial, and thereby lose their guide, sometimes during the penultimate scene. The result upset the trope trained into us by hundreds of heroes and their journeys over the ages. Other times they managed to get their contestant from start to finish, sometimes through the advent of bribery. While the contestant-guides were bound by THE GAUNTLET’s rules, bestowed by a mysterious Rule-Maker who held their fates in the grip of said rubric, the audience often realized the moral of the story: that rules can either be followed or broken, that there is a time and a place for both, and that notions of losing and winning are subjective. Though everyone chose a different path. In the end all made it through THE GAUNTLET victorious and perhaps a bit wiser for doing more than simply turning pages and watching frames flicker by.

Resources:

  • Baum, L. Frank, and Michael Hague. The Wizard of Oz. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. Print.
  • Bishop, Claire. "Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?" Living as Form. Cooper Union, New York. 23 Sept. 2011. Lecture.
  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.
  • LaTorra, Sage, and Adam Koebel. Dungeon World. Portland, OR: Sage Kobold, 2015. Print.
  • Mondegreen Collective. Capacity for Veracity: A Rowdy Evening of Keeping That Sh-t to Yourself. The Iron Factory, Philadelphia. 4 Sept. 2015. Performance.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail. EMI/Python Pictures/Michael White, 1975. Film. 
  • Park, Daniel. You Are The Hero. The Art Church, Philadelphia. 4 Sept. 2015. Performance.
  • Weinstein, Elizabeth. "Red Thread". The Fleecing: A Conclave for the Bumblefish. By Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. 1fiftyone Gallery, Philadelphia. 27 Feb. 2015. Performance.

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