Outer space has always been a somewhat difficult concept for me. Even the word itself – space – implies a vast, incomprehensible emptiness. This year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival brings us The Pod, the brainchild of creators Nick Rheinwald-Jones (SpyBrunch) and Katelyn Schiller (Lucid Dramatics), and a euphoric love letter to that unknowable plane.
Macora Aerospace and Robotics International has tapped me to be the next candidate for their colonization project to Proxima Centauri B. Proxima is 4.22 light-years from Earth, though, and Macora’s transport vessel, The Pod, is only equipped to sustain one person for a journey that long. Consequently, I’m being provided with an android companion, Ellie (played by Schiller), to keep me sane along the way. She’s not human, but she can learn to be; she and I will be running a simulation today to evaluate our compatibility and see what she can learn about humanity through her short time with me.
The set-up may seem a bit complex – deep space exploration does require a lot of brain power after all – but the execution by the performers/production trio of Rheinwald-Jones, Schiller, and Ashley Jones is an exercise in gorgeous simplicity. The pre-experience on-boarding is succinct and professional, the staging stripped to its bare necessities and extremely well used for The Pod’s purposes. What’s perhaps most remarkable is how much is accomplished in terms of audience emotional investment in The Pod’s twenty-minute runtime. These minutes are spent almost entirely alone with Schiller’s Ellie as she delivers another of what’s become her trademark moving, nuanced performances.
As stated, Schiller doesn’t have much time to work here, but she makes each of the minutes spent with her feel like its own long, beautiful era. Her deep gaze shifts from passive, to emotional, to brimming with tears. I am watching her become human before my eyes, I am watching us become more human, together. Space exploration pales in comparison to Ellie’s self-exploration. Schiller delivers a masterclass in both performance and empathy, skills she’s demonstrated before in Safehouse ‘77 and Sideshow, her previous collaborations with Rheinwald-Jones. Twenty minutes or twenty-thousand light-years could pass while I sit in The Pod, knee to knee with her, and I don’t know that it would be enough; her ability to connect with her audience is so profound I feel an ache in my gut when I am separated from her.
The Pod both quickly and peerlessly accomplishes that almost inscrutable goal for immersive theater productions: It engages and challenges its audiences while profoundly affecting them along the way. This adroit approach to their craft has been a hallmark of both Rheinwald-Jones’ and Schiller’s productions for some time; they are rapidly becoming incomparable mainstays of the immersive theater and Los Angeles theater communities at large, and The Pod is no exception. Space may be difficult to understand, but The Pod isn’t: It’s simply an exquisite experience.
The Pod is currently sold out for it’s initial run at Hollywood Fringe, but you can email email@example.com to get on the waiting list for any cancellations or extensions. Also follow The Pod on Instagram for updates.
All photos by Katelyn Schiller.
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