I was in Hyde Park, but it wasn't Hyde Park ...
As a resident of Our Fair City for more than 20 years, I can navigate the avenues and boulevards easily and with familiarity. I've lived in West Campus, Clarksville, Bouldin Creek, and, oh yeah, Hyde Park. I'm as familiar with these neighborhoods as with the proverbial back of my hand.
So the eerie feeling of being lost in Hyde Park induced by the performance Floodlines was unsettling to say the least. It wasn't that it had us careening through the neighborhood French Connection-style with landmarks whizzing by too quickly to be clearly perceived; we were creeping along at a speed joggers could keep pace with. But it was precisely this deliberate pace that induced a dreamlike stupor, and more than once, I had the disarming feeling of being completely lost. Floodlines is more a ceremony than a play, and the structure dictates that only 32 people can participate at any one time. The small crowd gathers in Eastwoods Park, then from the wooded distance a somber Hasidic guide emerges and silently directs them to a street where a cortege of Volvos, complete with chauffeurs, awaits.
This convoy snakes through Hyde Park, led by the jogging Jew, with various tableaux being revealed in yards, on sidewalks, in the streets. Here a ghostlike apparition swinging from a tree swing, there a group of brides fleeing from ... what? The landscape isn't physically altered, but the meditative pace and hypnotic effect of the unexpected inserted into the familiar creates the sense of a dream, the kind you start to describe by saying, "I was in Hyde Park, but it wasn't really Hyde Park." At one point, I thought, "If I were let out of the car now, I would have no idea where I am or how to get out." Which was ridiculous; these were streets in a neighborhood I've traveled countless times.
The resulting perception shift is a testimony to the power of this work that Jaclyn Pryor has been presenting annually since 2004; participants see a familiar landscape through an altogether new prism. Site-specific theatre may not be a new concept, but Floodlines succeeds not only in incorporating a location into a piece but in completely transforming the way we experience it.
This year's performance, on Sunday, April 5, is already sold out, though you may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on a waiting list. Or plan now to catch the final Floodlines in April 2010.