Anything for a Weird Life

Impressions of The Lights Went Out Because of a Problem

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous.

But nothing can stop Lola B. Pierson, the Creative Director of The Acme Corporation.

Pandemic? Nah. The Acme Corporation will make you a play in a box that you can set up and enjoy at home.

Folks aren’t available for traditional rehearsal? Okay, fine. Just slow down the usually brutal eight week prep week to opening night” window and let the work take form… over years.

Between now and December 17th, you can see the fruit of solving so many problems faced by the theater community in Baltimore in the era of the pandemic at the Voxel theater in Remington via the vibrant, magnificent, rule-shattering work The Lights Went Out Because of a Problem: A Found Opera.

I had to go opening night, one of two sold-out opening weekend performances. I was curious to see where the path of this long-gestating work has lead, and I was not alone.

If the local music scene got knocked down via the restrictions of the first few years of the 2020s, the local theater scene was… decimated? Annihilated? Not to sound dramatic, but we are talking about drama, and you can’t put together a production by sharing files on Google Drive (no offense to those musicians who did).

If the COVID restrictions weren’t difficult enough for all forms of live performance, there has been a general crisis, similar to one facing Arthouse film, in regards to who theater is for. There will be murmurings of we need to find a new, younger, more diverse audience” before another production of A Christmas Carol or My Fair Lady sets up shop and takes up space. Sure, a certain segment of the population will attend, but your audience is literally dying. Sometimes in the aisles.

I do not have a dog in this theater fight the way others may have, but I always want to see the new, and The Acme Corporation has been presenting the new for some time now, taking big risks (staging a play for 12 then 24 hours straight? who does that?) and continually questioning the status quo via their productions. The acts of The Lights Went Out Because of a Problem unfold and take form in a challenging way, certainly, but the beating heart of the piece is clear throughout. By the time the members of this found opera” begin singing via the haunting and beautiful vocal arrangements of Allison Clendaniel, I had been challenged and confronted, made to recall the parts of the these past few years I am still processing, maybe even trying to forget. But the only way out is through. And the only way through is the work we make as artists.

I wrote a letter to Lola in the early stages of the pandemic letting her know how much I appreciate what she does. I am a punk, not a theater kid. But to see someone create such a singular body of theater over a period of time, refusing to take easy ways out, questioning various perceived limitations and traditions of the form, making uncompromising art on their own terms? That is punker than punk. And you have a chance to check it out via the glorious moment of this current production.

As the kids say, we are so back!

Tim Kabara

IG: @kim_tabara

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