‘Out There’ Festival Makes Experimental Theater Accessible

This year’s slate of experimental theater at the Walker emphasizes heart and connection.
Out There Festival, Walker Art Center, Roosevelvis
Roosevelvis. Photo courtesy of Roosevelvis.

This year’s Out There festival at the Walker nicely illustrates a little-known fact about experimental theater: It’s often really accessible. When it works, a show can take roundabout byways to locate universal truths of the heart. Of course it doesn’t always work, but neither does Tennessee Williams. While often relegated to smaller stages in the Twin Cities, unorthodox performances can be, ironically, most enjoyable for people who don’t typically relish a night at the theater—but who are livened by a happening, the excitement of uncertainty, or the power of sound and visuals wedded to elliptical narrative. 

The four works that make up the body of Out There are from Paris, Beirut, and New York. The one I’m most anticipating is Germinal, a freewheeling exploration of the concept of starting the entire world from scratch (with visuals, harmony vocals, and an electric guitar). Germinal arrives with considerable international buzz after a lauded run in Seattle. 

American company The Team delivers an intriguing premise: Two (female) actors play the spirits of Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt on a road trip that involves battling over the soul of a troubled woman who works in a meat-processing plant. It’s been described as “buoyant,” with a lot of humor and a restless unpacking of American archetypes. 

Out There Festival, The Walker Art Center, Germinal
Germinal. Photo by halory goerger.

Rounding out the four-week experimental journey are Riding on a Cloud, a search for the links between memory and experience featuring the brother of the show’s Lebanese director, who survived being  shot in the head by a sniper during that country’s civil war; and A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace, with five actors reciting texts from the writer’s work at varying speeds and volume levels, directed and mixed live. 

Wallace himself might well be an apt metaphor for Out There’s experimental ethos in general—despite a reputation for being difficult to approach, his work was surprisingly accessible (and fun) up close, all the while breaking or ignoring barriers that might have gotten in his way.

Out There 2016
Walker Art Center
Jan. 7-30

Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.