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Image: ‘Without Walls’ Festival

HEDDA'ING, created by San Diego-based performer/choreographer and UC San Diego M.F.A. candidate Sam Mitchell, with Norway-based dance theatre artists Siri Jondtvedt and Snelle Hall, set around artist Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” sculpture, as part of 2013 WoW Festival. Photo: Jim Carmody.

UC San Diego Artists Play Big Role in ‘Without Walls’ Festival

Faculty, students and alumni from the University of California, San Diego Division of Arts and Humanities will bust the barriers of traditional theater in a big way during La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls (WoW) Festival, October 9 – 11, at various sites around campus.

The WoW Festival functions as a type of immersive theater where performance takes place outside of a theater building, pushing boundaries and testing form, with the audience pivotal to the action. Launched during fall 2013, this innovative and collaborative festival, includes more than 20 theatrically diverse projects that occur simultaneously in and around The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre District.

Nearly half of the festival’s projects are the work of UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance and Department of Music members.

Second-year M.F.A. student Bennet Fisher, who is a WOW Festival participant, describes his production as a real bazaar that moves around the audience and sells happiness.

“There’s an assortment to choose from—different things that bring different sorts of happiness,” he said. “Every audience member is a potential customer. My primary goal is to make people happy.”

Image: ‘Without Walls’ Festival

“Our Town” La Jolla Playhouse presented The TRIP’s site-specific version of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” directed by UC San Diego alumnus Tom Dugdale, as part of WoW Festival 2013. Photo: Daniel Norwood.

Fisher’s production, “Romulus Kilgore’s Mobile Happiness Bazaar, will be presented in the northwest corner of Galbraith Lawn, Saturday, Oct. 10, at 2:30 and 6:00 p.m. Fisher engages fellow graduate students and an undergraduate break dancer in the piece, which he created specifically for the WoW Festival after experiencing the event for the first time last year.

“I saw the WoW Festival and knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t want to create a performance that has worked or could work in conventional theater. I wanted to create something that could only work in a site-specific environment,” he said.

According to Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Jim Carmody, events like the WoW Festival spotlight the nationally renowned theatre and dance program at UC San Diego by sharing students’ work. Carmody also explained that students working in the university’s safe and remote setting, relative to the New York City theater scene, can take creative risks they might not take otherwise.

Some of the “risky” projects by UC San Diego affiliates include: “Three Sisters,” an Anton Chekov play directed by alumni Tom Dugdale with an acting part played by alumni Josh Brody—both artists who co-founded THE TRIP, a local alumni-operated theater company; “Dido, Queen of Carthage,” directed by alumna Cynthia Stokes; “The Car Plays,” directed by alumnus Michael Schwartz; “Heaven on Earth,” written by Charles L. Mee and directed by alumnus Scott Feldsher, with new faculty member / set designer Robert Brill, and four student designers; “The Bitter Game,” directed by faculty member, Deborah Stein, featuring sole playwright-actor Keith Wallace, an M.F.A. candidate; “A Completely Factual Tour,” by David Jacobi, playwright and alumnus; “Grounded,” a San Diego Repertory Theatre production presented by Ubuntu, an alumni theater company; and, “In Case of Emergencies,” presented by Chalk Rep, another alumni-founded theater company.

Image: ‘Without Walls’ Festival

“The Bitter Game” UC San Diego M.F.A. Candidate Keith Wallace, playwright/performer for La Jolla Playhouse’s 2015 Without Walls Festival. Photo: Jim Carmody.

Faculty member Deborah Stein worked collaboratively with M.F.A. graduate student Keith Wallace whose original piece, “The Bitter Game,” will be performed Saturday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. on the Revelle Basketball Court. The production addresses the violence against black men and women by police and the emergent Black Lives Matter movement.

“Our piece involves moving the audience around a couple of times, which is hard to rehearse without the actual audience,” admitted Stein. “Also, it’s hard to anticipate outdoor noise levels. We’re using a microphone, which I don’t know if we would do if we were staging it indoors.”

Stein acknowledged that such work presents an unusual way to participate in theater and opined that the future of live art in America will be increasingly participatory and community oriented.

“This whole experience has been a real gift both as an artist and as a teacher,” said Stein. “It’s rare to get to do something so ambitious and to know you’re going to have an audience. Because the piece engages issues that are very present and urgent in America today, I’m looking forward to the conversations I hope it provokes.”

According to La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley, the inaugural Without Walls Festival in 2013 exceeded expectations, demonstrating that San Diego audiences remain receptive to one-of-a-kind experiences that challenge traditional ideas about theater.

“Across the theater landscape, the relationship between the audience and the art is changing,” said Ashley. “We are looking forward to engaging more students with La Jolla Playhouse and this kind of work.”

The WoW Festival is a three-day, community-wide event that includes a Family Day, Saturday, Oct. 10, and hands-on interactive programs sponsored by the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Children's Discovery Museum and the Timken Museum. Besides UC San Diego representatives, performers include local theatre and dance companies and national and international artists.

Tickets to festival productions are on sale now. A mix of free ticketed events will be available, too. For more information and a complete list of programs and artists, visit