The Shells Project – an immersive experience right at Berlin-Tempelhof
By Sarah Luisa Santos . June 11, 2015
Whoever was puzzled and fascinated by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks will probably enjoy the immersive theater experience that the guys from 7 Minutes in Heaven Productions are opening this weekend.
The Shells – Ausflug nach Neu-Friedenwald is a performance piece inspired by the legendary work of film director David Lynch, where the audience will be able to “inhabit a role in the unfolding drama, engage directly with the town’s residents, and confront their own anxieties and sense of propriety in response to the action around them.”
“The Shells is set in the fictional town of Neu-Friedenwald, established in 1945 by a group of Americans disillusioned with a homeland they considered increasingly nefarious, immoral and ungodly. Carrying the torch of American frontier mentality, they set out across the Atlantic to build a settlement in the terra nullius of newly liberated West Germany. Isolated in their “city upon a hill”, the residents of Neu-Friedenwald sternly pursue a utopian vision of community living premised on the neo-puritan values of family, chastity and discipline.”
Interested in having your prejudices put to test?
Take a look at the small interview I had with the production team to learn a bit more about this unique performance:
Is the concept originally yours? How and where will it be set?
The concept for The Shells is our own, yes. The Shells is inspired by many things: it is a ghost story, it‘s a murder mystery, it‘s a character-driven drama, a surreal tale of dreams and nightmares. It is a meditation on US-American film, iconography, stereotypes and tropes. It is so many things all at the same time while always returning to the very ordinary and, maybe for that particular reason, so universal and relatable story of a tightly knit community haunted by an act of violence.
Neu-Friedenwald will be built on the seventh floor of the Greenhouse, a former job center-turned-art space in Berlin-Tempelhof: lodged between industrial barrenness and a forest-scape, the Greenhouse itself echoes the performance’s investigation of borders, thresholds and interzones. Of course, Berlin also has a very particular shared history with the United States; Tempelhof was in the American sector, adding to the site-specificity of Neu-Friedenwald.
I read it is going to be an immersive experience. How is this going to take place? How can the audience participate?
Ticket holders will be invited to access the performance, and thus Neu-Friedenwald itself, as tourists. While they are encouraged to explore and take in all the town has to offer quite freely, they will come across certain spaces, mostly private households, where they will be asked to follow particular rules in order to enter or remain in the space. The red thread that runs through the way in which the guests do or don’t engage with the performance is choice: Where do I go? Who do I speak to? Do I remain active or passive? Do I get involved, do I intervene, do I aid and abet, do I turn a blind eye? Every action that is undertaken or refrained from has consequences, and so people will find themselves constantly negotiating how to position themselves.
It reminds me of the movie Dogville, from Lars Von Trier. Correct if I am wrong, but the movie is also set in a theatre style and has these hidden abuses happening. Is there a correlation here?
The story of a seemingly idyllic town where abuse occurs behind closed doors is as old as time. Among many things, one big difference between Dogville and The Shells is the approach to the narration of spaces. We believe in and work within a fully furnished universe. Where Dogville is minimalist and bare, Neu-Friedenwald is a titillating multi-sensory environment that demands to be engaged with.
Talking feminism is not easy. Sexism is also hidden not only in violence, but in everyday acts, comments and jokes. How are these questions addressed in the production?
The everyday, socially acceptable face of sexism is as much a part of the fabric of Neu-Friedenwald as the more concrete examples of violence against women. Characterized by a pervasive sense of gendered aggression and an imbalance of power, the town’s social climate mirrors structures and conventions more than familiar from the world beyond the parameters of the performance.
How long is it going to be on? From when to when?
The performance will run from the 13-20 of June, with one day and one night slot per day. The narrative is ongoing, meaning that it unfolds and evolves; no slot repeats the actions of the ones that came before. You can get your tickets at http://theshells2015.com/buy-tickets/. Come visit us.