Theatre Y's THE CAMINO PROJECT is an homage and love letter to Spain's famed Camino de Santiago, which has drawn pilgrims since the 9th Century
It was relatively early in this 6-hour theater event-- while ambling single file on the blue cushioned path on the 606 that is especially kind to long walking feet--when a small tree was spotted tagged with this writer’s house number. “…OMG!” was the thought--- “..is Theatre Y being THAT detailed for every audience member making this theatrical pilgrimage?” It took a few more tree tags down the way to assure that this was just a coincidence, as the tag numbers were going in a descending order. “Aha! it’s a tag from the Chicago Parks Department and not The Bureau of Transient Affairs…”
Bureau of Transient Affairs??
Yes, it is the smiling Bureau of Transient Affairs rep dressed in a flashy red stewardess type costume that first signs you in to THE CAMINO PROJECT as you arrive in the small park by IPSENTO 606 Café on Milwaukee Avenue. You are under the gaze from many a brightly painted head smiling down from what is arguably one of the city’s best-in-class murals. Once you sign the real-world waiver form assuring that you can walk the 5-mile trek and that you won’t hold Theatre Y responsible for any bodily harm,you begin to tune in the surrounds. On the hill a blindfolded woman is covered in blocks. A man with a bullhorn sits in front of her. As attendees are slathering themselves in sunscreen and stretching, you begin to realize that many are part of the cast—and you gain more certitude as to who’s who every time a CTA train rides by and some in the crowd start waving to fellow travelers on the train.
The magic moment arrives to begin this homage to Theatre Y’s walk across Spain’s Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route dating back to the 9th Century. A Theatre Y troupe of 40 or so had done this trek in summer of 2017. Sounds start emerging from the shrouded sound system that you might have mistakenly thought was a baby carriage. The ensemble emerges from the crowd, dancing in circles round the hill. Our guide, Eric, takes up the bullhorn and gives us instructions as we begin the ascent to the 606 trail, reminding that a pilgrimage is mainly done as a quest to find out why you wanted to do it. The music gives way to patter—a pile-on of make-you-smile bromides about time (e.g. early bird catches the worm) and life lessons (e.g. making lemons into lemonade) and of course—“…you can’t know a man until you’ve walked in his shoes..”
We have been instructed to shout bicycle if we see one coming and give “Buen Camino” shout outs to those we pass—but not necessarily for people walking dogs. Meanwhile, we are passing a landscape that is slowly changing. The woman who had been blindfolded and under the blocks re-appears on the street below from time to time holding impossibly large maps as if she is trying to find her way. A man on the side throws a small ball up in the air with the seasoned hand of one you suspect is a juggler. A couple are making out with no shortage of passion--- you wonder how much longer they will stay dressed. A woman on a bicycle with a blow up globe spins past. Another woman holds on the railing and wails her need for friendship, “..I need a friend…Our families are far away..” Meanwhile Eric the guide maintains a friendly banter delivered by bullhorn.
Then, the woman with the maps re-appears! The man throwing the ball we had passed now is ahead again!. The passionate couple is here again and still at it—and still clothed. The woman on the bicycle comes again from behind. The wailing woman we had left behind is now up ahead again and still crying the same lines. Still, Eric the tour guide amiably chats away by bullhorn.
And then- -AGAIN! the woman with the maps re-appears visible through openings in the trail shrubbery. AGAIN! The man with the ball whom we had passed a few times now appears ahead of us yet again, as do the passionate pair and the wailing woman. Our sound system is signaling our journey’s distance—beating music giving way to sounds of horse hooves on cobblestones drawing carriages.
We are losing track of when Eric the tour guide is actually speaking or his recorded voice is coming from the baby carriage. The show and the trek is but a half hour in when we have already arrived in the land of the surreal where anything can happen. When an actor flashes a pocket watch, you begin to expect it to melt Dali style. You start to look for Magritte's bowler hat man behind bushes.
What especially does happen are ensemble dances betwixt pillars for overhead roads, in a blooming English garden or on landings across from the foot-powered swan boats in Humboldt Park, and the like. The script is not so much narrative as dreamscape vignettes populated by Don Quixote and the Wizard of Oz and surprise after surprise that would be spoilers to detail.
Theatre Y Creates Immersive Theater An Order of Magnitude More Immersive
If you too love the immersive theater experiences that Windy City Playhouse has regaled Chicago with these past years—Southern Gothic and The Recommendation—know that those are comparatively immersive theater-lite. YOU are the story here- -protagonist in your tale, and prop for your neighbors. When you spot a boy dressed like spider man you realize all of Chicagoans have potential for walk on parts in this saga. You realize nobody does set design as well as the City of Chicago and the Chicago Parks District. When you watch people in the parks stopping their bike rides to gawk at you watching the dance ensemble hundreds of feet away thru homemade telescopes while listening to Eric’s inner thoughts coming out of the baby carriage you see yourself and other trekkers as their show. Or, as tour guide Eric’s disembodied boom box voice puts it-- “Who ARE all these protagonists???”
To detail more would be spoiler terrain for sure. The work en toto aims and delivers a glimpse of what the Camino de Santiago trek is like- which is probably why WBEZ'S Jerome McDonnell is one of the shows co-sponsors.
This writer can assure you of several things—1) tour guide Eric is one heckuva engaging and charismatic actor and the entire cast does what it takes to keep you on the trail; 2) you will not be bored 3) you will not go hungry 4) you will never feel embarrassed or put on the spot 5) you will likely enjoy getting to know the cast members whom you later break bread with along with fellow guests, just as you would on the Camino de Santiago and 6) you will have trouble believing you just spent six hours on this journey--- time delightfully flies by!
If you need a wheelchair to do the trek Theatre Y will accommodate. This is not a production for those who just love character-driven works with tight narratives in a traditional theater space. If you can take a walk on a wilder side--in all senses-- in this writer’s view, theater experiences don’t get better than this.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Arlene Arnone, Elena Barbaria, Cody Beyer, Yessenia Carreon, Lavell Collins, Catrina Evans, Adrian Garcia Jr., Alanna Gerardi, Erik Gonzalez, Arielle Gonzalez, Arch Harmon, Evan Hill, Kristina Lebedeva, Melissa Lorraine, Renata McAdams, Morgan McAdams, Howard Raik, Eric K. Roberts, Katie Stimpson, Kris Tori, Dylan LaRey Welker, and Nick Wenz.
Stage Manager and Managing Director: Alanna Gerardi
Stage Manager and Bureau Representative: Emily Bragg
Producer and Bureau Chef: Dusan Aleksandar
Featuring the choreography of Dénes Döbrei and Heni Varga,
Lighting Designer Russell Langdon
Set and Prop Designer Henry Wilkinson
Costume Designer Rebecca Hinsdale
Script Consultant Jamie Olah
Thru September 22, 2019
Saturday and Sunday, from 3-9pm
Performances begin and end at Ipsento 606 (1813 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago)