Let’s Get Personal, the new one-woman show playing this weekend at Baltimore Theatre Project, takes two things that typically get a bad rap – self-help workshops and audience participation – and turns them on their heads. In the deft hands of Annika B. Lewis, the audience is immersed in a satire of the more indulgently excessive side of personal development, presented with complete earnestness and not the hint of a smirk or wink.
On entering the performance space, audience members were greeted by Ms. Lewis in typical workshop presenter business attire. She encouraged everyone to stay in the stage area and indulge in some drinks and snacks from the conference table in the middle. While the audience grazed, Ms. Lewis withdrew to the spectator seats and spoke from there, immediately giving audience members the hint that they were as much part of the performance as she was. Everyone was asked to introduce themselves by their first names, at which point she introduced herself as “Annika from Sweden,” a “performance expert.” “And now you know each other’s names. But do you know who you are?”
The remainder of the show (with the audience safely in their traditional spectator position) focuses on Annika’s patented “Body Box Method”, a personal growth process designed to help participants develop larger personalities through three “simple, concrete and easy to follow” steps. If that phrase sounds familiar, it is because nearly all of the dialogue is pulled from self-help and management training literature, such as “There’s just one rule: Say YES!” and “I believe in me. I believe in you.” There is one particularly amusing moment involving Ms. Lewis literally unpacking her baggage (shipped via FedEx) on stage. To say too much more about what happens next would be to ruin the experience for those who have not yet seen it. I strongly encourage you to go and see for yourselves, and be prepared to laugh and to think about “art as experience economy”.
The second half of the show consists of F.E.A.R. – Scherzo #2, a work-in-progress and international collaboration between Ms. Lewis, based in Copenhagen, and Vincent E. Thomas, a local dance artist. After returning to the performance space after intermission, the audience was asked to take seats on the stage; there were, however, seats available in the spectator section for those who chose not to be in the middle of the action.
The work begins with Ms. Lewis and Mr. Thomas unrecognizable and nearly indistinguishable from one another in multiple layers of winter clothing. To the strains of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, they engage in a dance of convulsive, seemingly uncontrolled movements that belie the soothing music and lyrics. But their performance doesn’t stop there. Like Let’s Get Personal, it transforms again into a collaborative experience between the performance and the audience members, who are in fact asked to “get personal” about the things they fear.
It is a powerful work that asks for more than just to be observed. It’s a shame that it runs only through Sunday, and more people will not get the chance to experience it. Let’s Get Personal/F.E.A.R. – Scherzo #2 may not be for everyone, but it addresses issues that are universal.
A note regarding accessibility: The entrance to Baltimore Theatre Project is up a steep flight of iron exterior stairs, followed by two flights of stairs up to the lobby. There are wheelchair lifts both outside and inside, but the signage was not completely clear about whether audience members could access them without the assistance of staff. In addition, street parking is extremely scarce in the area, particularly as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra nearby is also performing this weekend; however, paid parking is available in several garages within a few blocks of BTP.
Running Time: 90 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.
Let’s Get Personal/F.E.A.R. – Scherzo #2 plays through Sunday, February 21, 2016 at Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 West Preston Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-8558, or purchase them online.