Rorschach Theatre’s current production is not a show. Well, not yet. It’s more of an adventure of the mind and, if you wish, the body.
Since October 2020, patrons could receive seven chapter boxes of a project entitled Distance Frequencies. The boxes are to be opened in order, one through seven, and the contents further a storyline, starting with a handwritten letter from 1935. The writer and recipient are at first unclear, identified as only J and B. But the ethereal nature of the letter’s contents is immediately engaging, with whisperings of death, secrets, and faint echoes of voices from long ago.
Along with every chapter is a destination to be visited in DC, which ties into the events of the story. The first is Rock Creek Cemetery, where the mysterious B sits and writes her letter to J. A map is included with a route to follow and the letter serves as narrator while you walk through the cemetery and pass the scenery B mentions.
It is an immersive experience but not in a way that has been previously seen with this style of theater. Only you and the items of the box must be present. The immersion is into the space of the story itself. To the Titanic Memorial, Kingman Island, Georgetown, and the gardens of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. All beautiful and interesting locations in and of themselves, but add the unraveling of a complex and haunting tale and the journey is imbued with a bit of magic.
For those who prefer not to be in public, feel DC is too far, or simply prefer the comfort of their own home, the production offers virtual tours of each chapter’s scenic setting on its website. Appropriate links are included with explicit instructions in every box telling where to go, what order to peruse the box’s contents, and suggestions to further the adventure, like nearby businesses to patronize and other sites to take in.
The story moves forward and backward through time. You discover that J and B are the children of a man, JJ, who was in a forbidden relationship. Back when interracial marriage was considered a crime, JJ and Angelica were passionate, poetic, and madly in love in the 1900s. You get more maps, pictures, and letters in the boxes. Filling in the details of their romance.
There are so many letters. Handwritten letters, a near-forgotten form of communication, which are in their own way a small piece of history. Letters of longing. Letters of regret. The letters pull you even further into the narrative. Making you feel personally connected to the characters as their life unfolds before you.
Fast-forward to the 1990s and we follow a young man named Ernie who was trying to piece together the same mystery that you now have on your hands. A fantasy story of a transom window that could take you to a place where your hopes and dreams are real, written by JJ on a typewriter. Letters claiming the window actually exists. And a body secretly exhumed to find answers.
Rorschach Theatre has hit the jackpot with this innovative form of art, incorporating literature, music, mystery, romance, and DC’s highlights and history, all steeped in a hope for a better world.
On July 15, the concluding chapter, Distance Frequencies: Transmission, will open as a live performance at The Parks of Walter Reed. The theater advertises that you don’t have to go through the first seven chapters in order to enjoy the show, but the knowledge would enhance the experience.
It is not too late to order the boxes and catch up before opening night. I for one am excited to see how this interesting tale ends. Is the window real? Can you really step inside to a place where your dreams are true life and love knows no bounds? Many more questions I could pose but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who may choose to take part in the immersive preshow journey.
Distance Frequencies speaks of echoes of sound. B writes in the first letter of this “beautiful idea, that there could be some future radio that could replay sound from some impossible distance.” And that is what the “show” is. An echo of others’ lives that comes in bits and pieces, like sound bites, out of order. Some sad. Some strange. Some faded and hard to understand. And if you could just complete the puzzle then you would understand. And everything would be clear.
Distance Frequencies: Transmission will be performed live July 15 to 31, 2021, at The Parks at Walter Reed, The Great Lawn Entrance at 1010 Butternut St NW, Washington, DC. Tickets for the live show are available here.
Distance Frequencies was created by Randy Baker, Kylos Brannon, Jenny McConnell Frederick, Roc Lee, Tosin Olufolabi, Doug Robinson, Debra Kim Sivigny, and Jonelle Walker
Rorschach Theatre Artistic Directors: Jenny McConnell Frederick and Randy Baker
SEE ALSO: A year into COVID, how theater is changing maybe forever by Amber Key (includes interview with Jonelle Walker about success of Distance Frequencies)