Director Cameron Watson wants Fountain audiences to walk into the theatre and immediately be surprised. To encounter the unexpected. For his mounting of the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ Dream Catcher, patrons will be startled the moment they step through the lobby door: the seating has been changed to a dynamic in-the-round configuration.
“This play is volatile and exciting,” says Watson. “The muscularity of it got my attention right away.”
Watson doesn’t want audiences to experience the kinetic energy of Dream Catcher in the conventional way. Instead of sitting in the dark and watching the play as an observer, audiences will surround the playing area on all sides and be inside the world of the play with the two characters.
Dream Catcher is set in an empty stretch of the barren Mojave Desert. The construction of a huge solar energy plant in the middle of the desert is threatened to come to a halt when the sudden discovery of long-buried Native American artifacts are found on the site. Changing the theatre seating to an in-the-round configuration opens up the space to help evoke a feeling of wide expanse. It also creates a sacred circle for the audience, a sense of ritual and ancient storytelling that is central to Mojave Native culture. Even the hoop shape of an actual dream catcher is circular, signifying unity.
“I felt like it needed to be a circular, almost tribal, space,” says Watson. “I felt like it is told in a ring. Communal. That we all need to be part of the experience and commune with the story. Inclusive. The circular space echoes the vastness and isolation of the wide open space and also the circular configuration of the solar field in the desert.”
The new set is being created by award-winning and longtime Fountain designer Jeff McLaughlin. Changing the audience seating required extra effort for Fountain Technical Director Scott Tuomey and his crew.
This is not the first time the Fountain has experimented with altered seating. In 1993, The Seagull starring Salome Jens was performed in-the-round. Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver had a three-quarter setting in 2010, with the audience seated on three sides.
But this current in-the-round seating for Dream Catcher is unique and has an immediate impact on the total feeling of the space. It is kinetic, energetic and alive.
Which is exactly what Cameron Watson is wanting.