Review: ‘Promenade: Baltimore’ at Single Carrot Theatre

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“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one.”
– The Eleventh Doctor

Have you ever been driving in a car or riding on the subway and seen a tussle on the street? A group of people all dressed up? An apartment or rowhouse lit up at night, the window like a television screen broadcasting the inside events outside to the street? Did you wonder, “So, what’s going on there?” Come on, you know you’ve been curious. It’s in our nature to be inquisitive.

Promenade: Baltimore (Promenade) taps into that curiosity, that desire for connection, and uses it to create a fascinating, moving experience that is personalized by the perspective of every audience member. Single Carrot Theatre (Single Carrot), in conjunction with Hungarian contemporary theater production workshop, STEREO Akt, has created a totally immersive experience that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Here’s the scoop: Audience members board a bus in front of Single Carrot in Remington. At curtain time, the tour of Baltimore-by-bus begins. You seriously cannot arrive late for this production. For the next 100 minutes, give or take, the bus makes an approximately 10-mile roundtrip journey through a diverse array of Baltimore neighborhoods. Traveling to Charles Village, Waverly, Guilford, Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, Mondawmin, Sandtown and more, a cross section of Baltimore life carries on outside the window.

E’Tona Ford. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Actors portray a variety of everyday folks. Their characters are sometimes only distinguishable from all the other people who are out-and-about because the bus pulls over or pauses in front of a scene. These characters show up all around the city; the audience sees them in different contexts and numerous storylines form. The effect of this process is remarkable. Never knowing when a Promenade scene may occur, everyone is constantly scanning the street and looking – really looking – at people. It’s like a lesson in mindfulness, each moment alive with what’s happening right now.

You know how Baltimore is; you can travel a couple blocks in any direction and find yourself in a place unrecognizable from where you started. While crossing over these invisible boundaries that divide the city by wealth, class, race, orientation and nationality, a live-mixed soundscape plays through headphones the audience wears. Stories, music, city sounds, urban legends, interviews and fictions overlay the scenes that unfold outside the bus.

Single Carrot Artistic Director Genevieve de Mahy saw Stereo Akt’s exemplar production, Promenade: Urban Fate Tourism, in the company’s home city of Budapest a couple years ago. Inspired by the “sense of connection to the world” she felt from the experience, she proposed an international collaboration. Martin Boross, director of both the Promenade in Hungary and, now, Promenade: Baltimore, worked with Single Carrot for the better part of a year. The culmination of their partnership was a trip to Baltimore for Director Boross and other members of Stereo Akt; they remained through the opening of our Promenade.

E’Tona Ford and Zipporah Brown. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

De Mahy and company spent months interviewing nearly 40 Baltimoreans, all residents of the neighborhoods on Promenade’s route. She attended services at churches, sat in on community meetings, and was taken on walking tours by residents of multiple neighborhoods. Promenade isn’t a people zoo; Single Carrot was welcomed by the communities and received permission to engage with the homes and businesses used in the scenes.

In case you didn’t get that I’m a complete geek the first time, I’m going to quote Doctor Who again: “You know that in nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important.” On some level, I think we all know that everyone we encounter has fundamental commonalities with us. We are, in many ways, the same. Learning about other people’s experiences – joys and struggles alike – strengthens this bond. It breaks down barriers and erases borders. I believe that is why Humans of New York, The Moth, and Baltimore’s own Stoop Storytelling are all so popular. They share everyone’s stories, regardless of class or race or gender or any of the other categories we’ve designated. We are, all of us, important.

It requires a dizzying amount of coordination and synchronization to make a production like this work. It demands not only the normal wrangling of props and calling of cues, it also entails driving actors between neighborhoods so they arrive at the various locations of their scenes before the bus does. Traffic and pedestrians and people who inadvertently become part of the action make timing unpredictable.

Dominic Gladden. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Every single person involved in Promenade: Baltimore is essential and praiseworthy. With a special shout-out to Stage Manager Kate Lynch and Sound Operator Heiko Spieker, who should receive combat pay for the amount of stress they endure each performance, I want you to know all the people who make this bus go round and round:

Ensemble Creators and Actors: Zipporah Brown, Christopher Dews, E’Tona Ford, Brian Gilbert, Dominic Gladden, Laura Malkus, Courtney Proctor, Michael Salconi, Matthew Shea, Meghan Stanton, and Rohaizad Suaidi.

Production Team: Director Martin Boross, Ensemble Coach Julia Jakubowska, Single Carrot Artistic Director/Dramaturg Genevieve de Mahy, Costume/Properties Designer Anna Platis, Sound Designer Mark Bartha, Sound Engineer Jared Paolini, Sound Operator Heiko Spieker, Production/Stage Manager Kate Lynch, Assistant Stage Manager/Crew Driver Abby Cady, Technical Assistant Hayden Muller, and Crew Drivers Grace Felder and Alisa Glenn.

You have the opportunity to participate in something really special: to see Baltimore through fresh eyes. Promenade: Baltimore is a funny, poignant, slice-of-lives production that grants the audience permission to really look at what’s going on outside the window. The stories presented by Single Carrot Theatre – and all the ones taking place alongside them – are what make our city beautiful. And ugly. And tragic. And joyful. Get on the bus and remember why Charm City is home.

But do it soon! Seating for Promenade: Baltimore is limited to what’s on the bus and several performances are already sold out. Don’t let this opportunity drive away without you.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Promenade: Baltimore plays through June 25, 2017 at Single Carrot Theatre – 2600 North Howard Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 884-9253, or purchase them online.

NOTE:
Check out the tie-in events, as described by Single Carrot:

Promenade: Brunch at the Eagle! 
When: Saturday, June 10: 11am-1pm, Show at 2pm
Single Carrot and the Baltimore Eagle have teamed up for the theatre’s latest LGBT+ mixer. Join us for brunch drinks and delicious food, trivia, fabulous prizes, and a fantastic show!

Know Your Neighbors: A Promenade Post-Show Roundtable 
When: Sunday, June 11 & Thursday, June 22: immediately following the 6:30pm performance
Continue the conversations of Promenade: Baltimore with neighbors new and old. Discuss the beauty in the everyday, the struggles the city faces, and help forge new connections in a city of borders and boundaries

Promenade: Block Party! 
When: Sunday, June 25: immediately following the 6:30pm performance
Join us at Single Carrot Theatre for a twilight block party! Neighbors, audience members, artists, and friends are welcome to a celebration of Baltimore City. Beat the heat with drinks, popsicles, and stone cold conversation!

LINKS:

House of Bankerd State of the Arts Episode 37 – Promenade: Baltimore

Single Carrot Promo Video for Promenade: Baltimore

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