From Good People and Much Ado… to next week’s War Horse, Scott and I have been spending a lot of time in theatre seats lately.
And as impressive and enjoyable as all of these shows have been, sometimes you need a palate cleanser. Something that’s a bit off-the-wall, that you’re not really sure what to expect from at any moment.
Enter Theater Ninjas’ The Excavation, currently “on loan” to the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of The Last Days of Pompeii exhibit.
You don’t really see a Theater Ninjas show, you experience it.
According to their website, the Theater Ninjas are “architects of out-of-the-ordinary experiences” creating “innovative, exciting theater events that use the power of the human body to tell stories.”
And I learned just what that means when I attended their performance of The Excavation at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Scott and I got to the museum a little early that Friday night. Fortunately, it’s the Cleveland Museum of Art, so there’s always something to do. After enjoying Gallery One, we made our way into the Atrium where the performance takes place.
While a few of us were meandering around, we ran into the Artist who led us on his tour of the contemporary galleries. Two parts irreverence, one part art history, our Ninja tour guide shared his offbeat insights not only about the art on the walls, but also the trashcan by the elevator.
As our guide took us back to the Atrium, we could see it was about time for the performance to begin. Once there, we noticed a few characters filtering into the waiting crowd – we met Luigi an archaeologist and a young lab assistant named Edith.
Gradually, all of the characters made their way to a platform in the center of the Atrium where they gave us a taste for what we were in for that night.
Like The Last Days of Pompeii exhibit, The Excavation explores how the ancient city of Pompeii lives on in our modern imagination. Why are we still so fascinated with the lives we never knew, trying in vain to piece together stories from the buried rubble?
Unlike a traditional play, The Excavation has no seats and no single stage. Instead, short, interactive vignettes take place throughout the evening in all corners of the Atrium.
A hallway becomes a lecture hall, an escalator a lovers’ quarrel – with the actors fully responsible for setting the scene, not able to rely on stage dressing.
I loved the intimacy of it all – during each scene, you’re fully engrossed in what’s going on as the actors are performing just for you and a small handful of other people.
It’s important to note, though, that you will not be able to experience all of it in a single visit. As with a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you can choose where you go and which performances you see, but at the expense of missing others.
The good news is that all performances of The Excavation are free, so multiple visits are highly encouraged and easy on the wallet.
While the performances had us laughing all night (The Vettii Brothers puppet show is a don’t-miss if you’re into pun-y groaners), don’t be mistaken that Theater Ninjas is doing this just for chuckles.
There’s an underlying layer of sobering and at times scary reflection about our obsession with Pompeii thousands of years later – and what it says about the modern human condition.
Jeremy Paul, Artistic Director of the Theater Ninjas, wrote in the program notes “It is a performance rooted in the idea that human beings are frequently, blindly and joyously wrong about mostly everything…The thesis of The Excavation is that we can never truly know Pompeii, but through attempting to do so, we might inadvertently learn something about ourselves.”
Credit is due to the Cleveland Museum of Art for partnering up with Theater Ninjas to provide this unique programming. It’s a smart complement to the Last Days of Pompeii and I would love to see similar programming based around future exhibits.
The next performance of The Excavation is this Friday, April 12 in the Ames Family Atrium.
This is followed by performances on April 28 and June 12. The shows this Friday and June 12 start at 7pm; April 28 starts at 2pm.
Additionally, stop by the museum for Ninja Days April 14, 19, 21, and 25 and May 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, and 19 (3-7pm on Fridays, 12-4pm on Sundays). During Ninja Days, characters from The Excavation will be around the museum, performing scenes and bringing the art on the walls to life.
No two Ninja Days will be alike, so visit often. Just like performances of The Excavation, Ninja Days are free.