Art happening Relative Positions takes over the Union Project | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Art happening Relative Positions takes over the Union Project

"The audience has their choice of where they want to go."



When people attend most plays or dance concerts, they expect to receive their money's worth without leaving their seats. But on July 6, visitors to the Union Project will assume partial responsibility for their own entertainment.

 "It's going to be very in the moment," says Shana Simmons of Relative Positions, the collaborative show she produced. "The audience has their choice of where they want to go."

The inspiration for Positions, says Simmons, was a 2010 improv festival she attended in London, wherein guides led participants through a series of free-form performances. Simmons and fellow Continuum Dance Theater member Jessica Marino planned a more unregulated "tour," one showcasing local dancers and other artists repeatedly staging short vignettes.

The July 6 event kicks off with a VIP hour. At 7 p.m., the artists assume their stations throughout the spacious former church for the first of the event's two acts. The second act features different artists. At three points in the evening — opening, closing and intermission — come improvised dances set to an original score performed by the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra.

Troupes and performers include such local names as Continuum, The Pillow Project, Beth Ratas and Gia T. Cacalano. Guides will ensure everything progresses smoothly, but most will refrain from speaking or ushering people along.

 "There's a whole gamut of things to choose from," Simmons says. "The audience probably won't see everything, so it's really placing value and importance on their experience."

Visitors expecting a unifying theme might be disappointed: Performances range from a murder-mystery re-enactment to a monologue delivered in a closet. At the same time, Marino says, she and her colleagues fastidiously planned the layout to minimize disorder.

"We wanted to have that feng shui quality," Marino says. "You don't have to go on a certain path, but when you walk in somewhere, you want to feel comfortable and at ease."

Simmons acknowledges that there's no way to know for sure how the audience will react — their impressions, like so many aspects of the show, depend partly on chance.

"It's either you like it or you don't," Simmons says. "We could shape their experience to what we want it to be, but that wasn't really my intention."

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