Time Travel Cabaret can be seen on Friday, April 12th at El Cid. For tickets, click here.
In the not-too-distant future (this Friday, to be exact), the quantum curtain will rise at El Cid for a night of unexplainable phenomena, wholly improbable performances, and a not insignificant amount of temporal tomfoolery. Immersive theatre company The Unmarked Door invites you now to sample the oddities and curiosities it has encountered on its travels all in the name of exploring the expanses of known (and unknown) time for a truly noble purpose with Time Travel Cabaret. Leading up to the event, the troupe has treated its followers to a steady stream of hilarious and bizarre teaser footage that promises a memorable night for all 21 and over aspiring time travelers. Film and television composer Rolfe Kent, founder of The Unmarked Door, finessed the continuum for a few moments of his time to talk about this latest endeavor, but before we discuss what’s to come, it’s important to understand what’s past.
The Unmarked Door first blew onto the Los Angeles immersive scene on the cold winds of December 2017 with Heart of Winter, a musical trip to the snowy forest floor where participants engaged in party games, snowball fights, and relationship intrigue as reconvening alumni of a particularly explosive class. The show was active, silly, and a refreshingly wholesome bit of counter-programing for everything else happening that fall. They returned to make us shiver in the summer with The Witnessing, a 2018 Hollywood Fringe offering with a paranormal bent. Would-be investigators were presented with a collection of cursed objects by a pair of highly entertaining docents who related the macabre history of each piece. The tongue-in-cheek tone gradually descended into palpable dread as spirits conspired to turn the evening into the sort of event in need of its own investigation. In the span of only two productions, The Unmarked Door demonstrated a willingness to explore different tones, genres, and varieties of immersion that indicated a boldness in their storytelling that few other companies could boast. From what we have seen so far, Time Travel Cabaret seems to continue that streak of refusing to be easily categorized, now with a distinct flavor of sci-fi absurdism. But something else makes this event stand out: a cause.
Beginning what they hope to be a fruitful partnership going forward, The Unmarked Door is working with and identified the night’s beneficiary as the L.A.-based nonprofit 826LA, a quirky educational program dedicated to facilitating youth creative writing. Per their own mission statement:
“826LA is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. With this in mind, we provide after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each student’s power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in their individual voice.”
You may already be aware of 826LA’s work and presence in the city by another name: the Time Travel Mart located in Echo Park. This immersive and hilarious storefront has been featured in Atlas Obscura and other guides to the more unique points of interest around the city. At the mart patrons can find a wide variety of creative joke gift accessories and in-world apparel that are all must-haves for any traveler stocking up for their next time jump, obviously making the aesthetic of the Cabaret quite apropos. Even more exciting, you can pick up paper-bound collections of some of the writing done by students during their time in the program. Proceeds, of course, go to 826LA and its classes. It’s been intimated that some of the current students have prepared something special for the evening, though what exactly they have in store, like the evenings other secrets and the formula for faster-than-light travel are all closely guarded by The Unmarked Door’s creative team. For greater insight into what they have in store for this Friday and beyond, here is my brief interview with Rolfe Kent.
The community hasn’t heard from The Unmarked Door since last year’s Fringe, a much longer break than the one between your first and second shows. What have you all been up to in the downtime? Does the organization do any work outside of the now three ticketed events listed on your site?
Launching the Un-D was a step into the unknown – from being fans of interactive and open-frame shows to becoming a creator involves so much discovery and experimentation, yet it was something we were gagging to do – to enter and become part of this exciting madness. What does that take? And where does that lead? To be honest, it takes following the end of the string into the darkness, ready to try anything, because that’s where the adventure lies. We eschew getting stuck in one trope or genre – there are too many interesting things to explore to just do one kind of thing. After the fantasy of the winter show, and the darkness of the Witnessing, we also did an audience looping show called Awry at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga in September 2018, and a binaural ASMR experience for the Les Bains festival in Paris in February this year, the later of which we are exploring ways to manifest here in L.A.
I was lucky to see and enjoy both Heart of Winter and The Witnessing: two extremely different shows, both tonally and in terms of subject matter. Based on the description, Time Travel Cabaret seems to be continuing this trend. What would you say is the common thread? What makes an Unmarked Door show an Unmarked Door show? When a potential theatre-goer hears you’re doing something new, what should they expect? And is your differentiation an intentional part of your company’s design/mission?
As a company we love to try new things, hence the ASMR experience, and the Awry concerts- both ridiculous ideas that seem to be developing into whole new directions for us, so it’s hard for me to say what defines an Un-D show, and I’m not sure I want to. Hopefully those that find us time and again will realize if our mental mentality fits their own weird, and they’ll keep coming.
Define a Time Travel Cabaret for us. How would you define this reality you’re inviting us to?
I’ve heard an 84 year old say she still feels she’s 17 inside her head. When I get on a bicycle and swerve down the hill I’m transported back to being 11 careening through the woods. We all time travel all the time, and there seems to be a lot of time about. Life is long; find things to fill it with. So we thought we’d make some of it really fun, very eccentric, and raise money for the 826 Time Travel Mart at the same time. The Time Travel Cabaret is an experiment; we’ve woven in some interactive elements, and it’s really a chance for us to work with some stunning and hilarious performers who don’t normally fall into our world. And if you feel stuck in time, this might be the jolt you need to re-warp the continuum and get into an alternate time-stream.
I know 826LA well (and have visited the Time Travel Mart), but for readers who don’t, could you give us a little background? What is your connection, if any, to the organization?
I think 826LA is awesome, and love the nuttiness of the approach, from the pirate outfitters in San Francisco to the Time Travel Mart in L.A. 826la.org is the best place to get background, but in short they help kids develop their writing skills. I think education is key to having an intelligent and wise society, and these guys are making a big difference.
Tell us a little bit about the group of performers you’ve curated. Did they have any connection to Un-D prior to this? Did you just reach out to them for this event? How were the different acts developed? If you can, speak to the through line the Un-D has crafted that ties all of them together.
The Unmarked Door is developing a big show for later in the year, and within the planned show we have all these different kinds of performers and acts, and in discovering all these utterly brilliant performers, from a bubbelologist to champion uke and sax looper, we found ourselves hungry to do something sooner rather than later (even though with time travel later doesn’t really exist). Each is amazing, but in very different (and often unexpected) ways.
Can you go into more detail about the immersive aspects to this event? For people going specifically because it’s billed as immersive and have seen your prior shows, what types of interactivity can they expect?
The Pan-dimensional Bazaar, before and after the stage performances, has interactivity, time-travelers lost and needing your help, and intriguing things to do and discover. I wouldn’t describe the night as immersive per se; we are not going to tell you your name is Gunter and strap you to the ceiling, although that does sound fun, and I’m making a mental note. Perhaps in the next show, which will be very definitively immersive. However our team of immersive boffins have been coming up with time-travel encounters for before and after the stage show, so for the keen punter the one-on-one experience will be there, as well as magic, and also being able to message your future (and past?) self.
What kind of night should audiences expect in general? Is there anything else you want them to know about the tone, vibe, type of entertainment, the cause, anything at all?
What is Friday night for? Don’t you deserve to be inspired and charmed, energized and delighted to start the weekend off? Or is sitting alone with Netflix too slow to download your vibe? Do you and your friends want to have something to discuss, laugh about, and say you could have done better? Then this is the place. You may encounter- time-travelers lost in time, magicians, a Victorian silhouette artist lost out of her time, and all with a full bar.
It is light-hearted, whimsical, scientific, burlesque, and fun, and supports those genius nutballs at 826LA.
Is there anything on the horizon for The Unmarked Door? Another show?
Late summer, our biggest immersive show yet, too secret to tell you about. In fact I’ve already said too much. Has anyone seen Gunter?
Tickets can be purchased for Time Travel Cabaret here.
To learn more about The Unmarked Door, click here.
To learn more about 826LA, click here.