I’m taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to inform you that if you live anywhere within driving distance of BYU, you really, really need to rearrange your schedule this weekend (January 21-23) to come experience Off the Map. Part of the Bravo! series, Off the Map brings in performers from around the world. It is an experience that defies categorization, with no defined boundary between theater, dance and music. This is Off the Map’s third year, and we’ve loved the lineup of shows each time we’ve attended. We were so impressed by the performances the last two years that I just have to suggest (is insist too bossy? I’m pretty bossy) that everyone needs to experience it.
The first year we attended, it was just two weeks after my father-in-law passed away and it just so happened that all three performances dealt with grief and losing a loved one. It was very painful to spend three hours opening up fresh wounds, but it ended up being a very cathartic and healing experience. My friend described her experience as “life-changing”.
We started by watching The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, part puppet theater, part animation. It was sweet and cute and so creative, but it was also painful to watch the scenes that mirrored our recent experience of loss. We loved it and wished we had brought our kids to see it.
Then we walked over to the concert hall to watch Translunar Paradise, a mix of theater and mime and dance. If you had asked me before if I would enjoy watching mime, I would have laughed, but it really was a beautiful experience. As I watched, I realized I have always held the ridiculous assumption that, since death is less unexpected for elderly people, it must be less painful for them to lose a spouse. After watching this, it suddenly hit me: “Oh, crap, it’ll only get harder the longer we’re together.” That shouldn’t have been a revelation, but it was, and it kind of bummed me out.
The last show we saw was Iran’s Leev Theater Group’s performance of Hamlet, Prince of Grief, a one-man retelling of Hamlet. It was interesting to see how he fit the entire story into thirty minutes using toys to represent the other characters, but I flinched as I sat next to my husband every time Hamlet said, “My father is dead.” It felt like maybe it was too soon to immerse ourselves in so many portrayals of grief in one evening, and if we had known the subject matter ahead of time, maybe we wouldn’t have dared, but it turned out to be an important part of our healing process and we were so glad we came.
The second year of Off the Map was much less heavy and life-changing, but still very entertaining. Performances included The Shanghai Restoration Project, a Chinese-Ameican musical group that combines hip-hop, rap and traditional Chinese music, The Elephant Wrestler, a mostly one-man play about an Indian tea seller, and Linea Cie Sens Dessus Dessous, a delightful juggling/rope wrestling performance that we wished we had brought our children to see when we heard the laughter of all the kids in the audience.
This year, I’ve decided we really do need to let our children experience Off the Map with us. We always regret not bringing them, and the two shows offered this year both seem pretty kid-friendly.
This year’s performances are LEO:
“This solo physical theatre piece challenges gravity and reality through the clever interplay of vibrant acrobatic performance and high-tech video projection. Universally appealing to adults and children alike, this is the funny, intriguing and moving journey of a seemingly ordinary man whose world becomes physically unhinged. Jaws will drop as LEO takes “off the wall” to a whole new level.”
And Next Door:
“A blend of personal memories, shared stories, and movement, Next Door is low-fi, physical storytelling that celebrates imagination, connection and the importance of human relationships. When Ivan Hansen’s neighbor dies, Ivan suddenly realizes he didn’t even know him. Puzzled by knowing nothing about the man he had lived next to for so many years, Ivan begins to wonder, in this acclaimed two-character play, what exactly it is that joins people together.”
Although all the performances we’ve seen have been very different, the common thread to me has been smart, creative people doing smart, creative things. I can’t recommend this experience more emphatically. Get your tickets, even if this seems like something out of your comfort zone. Especially if this seems like something out of your comfort zone!