Taking A Walk ‘Among Us’ (REVIEW, LAX Fest)

Stepping into Union Station in Los Angeles is always like stepping into a time machine. Not just any time machine, but a time machine that takes you straight into The Movies. Complete with the capital letters.

The iconic setting makes for an irresistible setting for immersive theatre and forms of public art.

Marike Splint’s Among Us, which started up today as part of the Live Arts Exchange festival in LA, takes advantage of the architectural beauty of Union Station as a backdrop while focusing the participants’ attention on the station’s people.

Oh… so… many… people.

But we’ll get there in a second. First I better tell you what Among Us is, from a technical standpoint. (Isn’t our little open frame world grand? You never know what you’re going to get.)

Strictly speaking Among Us is a podplay: an audio experience that moves the audience through a given space. There are two parts to Among Us, the first taking place at Union Station and the second, hours later, at a location that is disclosed only after the completion of the first part.

Most of the action of the first part of the piece revolves around each individual participant moving through Union Station responding to prompts and questions provided by the disembodied voice in their headphones.

What unfolds isn’t so much a story in the narrative sense, but a kind of a guided meditation mixed with a heightened social awareness. Through some technical mojo every participant is tuned to the same channel, so that the injunctions we each receive are in synch.

The first half of Among Us is at its best when the narrator offers us a point of view to consider or a pointed instruction. It stumbles a bit, for me, when the questions called for a more general introspection — and I think that’s something true in for this kind of work as a whole. There’s a kind of self-revelation that comes with confrontation as opposed to soft consideration. This is a thread that I’m just starting to develop, and I’m thankful that Splint’s work is helping me crystalize this observation.

The abundant crowd of commuters who make their way through Union Station provide amble subjects for reflection. While the play participants are hard to miss with the stark white headphones they wear, they take a backseat to the crowds that move about their daily routines and adventures. An ample cross-section of southland humanity, each carrying their own universe around with them.

Part I takes a little while to get going, lingering a bit at the start on the framing and asking us to consider some of the broader ideas about to come into play. Something more akin to a thesis than a prologue. Once we are underway the piece moves and ends on a collective moment that sets up part II.

Hours later the group, or at least a version of the original group, reemerges at another point. In this case it was outdoors, in a relatively sparsely populated spot. Where before we were the observers, now we were transformed into both active agents and subjects of the piece. The questions we are then faced with less introspective than statistical in nature. The kind you might find in a census poll with a psychological bent.

The interesting effect these personal-yet-impersonal questions have is to both give the dry facts of sociological statistics a heartbeat and to light up the notion of perspective. It was something that hovered in the liminal space between the play’s text and my own observations while moving through Union Station, but in the second part this theme is made explicit.

Splint’s work pushes deeply into the participatory here, using methods that are often overlooked in favor of crafting fictional narrative. Yet there is so much to be mined from the factual, from calling up he audience to meditate on ideas and struggle with them honestly.

Getting it right is the real trick, and from my little point of view Among Us does just that.

Among Us plays as part of the LAX festival through October 2nd. The two-part experience is split between a morning and evening session. For more on creator Marike Splint, check out Episode 35 of our podcast.