Progressive theater engages audience & spurs foot traffic inside local shops
As his Cellular Cenes creation enters its fifth season on the streets of downtown Lee's Summit, director and creator Ben Mart till enjoys all the little twists on tradition.
For him, the twists on traditional theater start with his play on the tried-and-true notion of a boy meets girl story all the way to locations he and his actors use as a stage. The idea for the roving two-person play actually stemmed from a Ted Talk given by the Doris Duke Foundation's Ben Cameron in 2010.
"In this talk, Cameron was essentially telling us that the arts needed to change and evolve," Martin said. "He said nobody wants to a dark room and turn off their various mobile devices for two hours at time anymore. And so as I was working with (Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street) to find new ways to involve the arts in downtown, I remembered that talk and we came up with this ideal of a progressive theater performance. And then we added another twist by turning the old boy meets girl story into a girl meets boy story — or better yet, girl traps boy."
Tickets for Cellular Cenes are available through Downtown Lee's Summit and Martin encourages people to buy tickets in advance because the roving show can accommodate up to only 30 guests. Guests initially meet at 6:45 p.m. at Red Door Wine Store (229 SE Main Street) to check in and prepare for the show. Guests download and install the groupme app on their phones and show producers log each guest's phone number into group on the app.
"This is a pretty fun component of the show, " Martin said. It allows us to send them alerts telling them when and where to go for the next scene. It also lets them interact with each other and send messages about the show they're watching. Remember our initial goal was to showcase some of the great stores in our downtown, so when scene ends the actors just walk off, but we leave time for guests to walk around and see the business afterward. And then we'll send another group message letting them know when and where to go for the next part of the show."
During the past five years, Cellular Cenes has used a number of downtown businesses as its stage, but Red Door Wine Store and Got Art have been consistent partners for the show. The script, written by Martin, has essentially stayed consistent as well. Although Martin says he does make minor tweaks and changes each season. He said the changes are usually made to adapt to each new cast members approach to the character, and even sometimes based on how he's seen the audiences react. The audience, and even unknowing downtown shoppers add their own twists to the show.
"You just never know how people are going to react," he said. "And the other unknown are the other people just out enjoying our downtown. You never know when someone will inadvertently walk through the scene. And every reaction is different — whether that's the person walking through, the audience, or even the actors themselves. It really adds something to the show and makes it unique and fun."
Martin said while there is some walking involved, he believes the performance can appeal to just about anyone as the action takes place within a three-block area and they leave enough time between scenes for guests to browse through the businesses and still walk to the next location.
This season, Cellular Cenes is co-produced by Summit Theatre Group and stars Laurie Crawford and Jeremy Edwards. In the past, rain has not stopped the show, but Martin said if the rains come in this weekend, they will likely reschedule the performance and honor any purchased tickets.
Check out the Link 2 Lee's Summit #DoLocal calendar for some of the events and shows happening this weekend in Lee's Summit. The calendar is available on the web site or on the Link 2 Lee's Summit mobile app.
5 p.m. — Fourth Fridays Art Walk @ Downtown Lee's Summit
7 p.m — Cellular Cenes @ Red Door Wine Store (click here for tickets)
8:30 p.m. — Oasis @ Konrad's
7 a.m. - 1 p.m. — Downtown Lee's Summit Farmer's Market
9 p.m. — Vantage Point @ Konrad's