Bricolage's 'Strata' creates unique works

An image from Bricolage Production Company's 'Strata' Credit: Courtesy Bricolage Production Company
An image from Bricolage Production Company's 'Strata' Credit: Courtesy Bricolage Production Company
| Monday, July 30, 2012, 8:49 p.m.

Abandon your expectations of what theater is and embark on an interactive, urban adventure with Bricolage Production Company.

“Strata,” which begins performances Wednesday at a succession of secret Downtown locations, aims to blur the lines between performance and reality with an immersive experience that promotional materials describe as: “... a private rite of passage where the choices you make determine your destiny — and reveal your past.”

“It's a two-hour experience that begins Downtown at a secret location where you meet an agent who will deliver you to an undisclosed, strategic training resource and testing agency. You are being re-fitnessed with the goal to achieve ‘iconsciousness,'” explains Bricolage's artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter, who is deliberately mysterious about what audiences will experience.

The work has been in development for at least four years.

It began in 2008, when Carpenter worked behind the scenes at Theatre of the Senses' immersive theater event “Echo of a Shadow” during the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Festival of Firsts.

His experiences there influenced the direction that productions at Bricolage would take.

“We've been playing with the fourth wall, trying to create a heightened sense of involvement for the audience. That is the heart and soul of this piece,” Carpenter says. “You make choices that affect the narrative and in-person experiences.”

Participants embark on their adventure in pairs at 30-minute intervals for two hours of sensory and mental experiences and encounters at a series of highly designed rooms in Downtown locations.

“We are trying to incorporate a communal story in a particular place and engaging elements that are already there to create an experience that will challenge pre-suppositions of a space,” Carpenter says.

It's similar to a growing genre of recent site-specific productions such as “Sleep No More,” a re-enactment of scenes from “Macbeth” that was staged in New York City last year, and works by the German “reality trend” theater creator, Rimini Protokoll, Carpenter says.

“Ours is very much different than anything out there. There is not a model for what we are doing, so it's really interesting.”

It's also the largest production Bricolage has done, he adds.

The production was created in collaboration with lead artist Riley Harman and Clear Story, and in partnership with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

There's a cast of 23 actors, many of whom will be unfamiliar to Bricolage regulars.

That was a deliberate choice, Carpenter says: “We wanted to blur the lines. We want the audience to go with it and not be pulled out by a familiar face.”

If it's successful, Carpenter expects people's reactions will be as individual as their experiences:

“We are hitting you on an emotional, dreamscape level. If we do it right, there will be many different reactions — like coming out of a very vivid dream.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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