WoW — the acronym stands for Without Walls, La Jolla Playhouse’s adventurous program that brings theater beyond the confines of buildings and into the wide world outside.
It started in 2011 with “Susurrus,” an iPod play with music that was also a stroll through San Diego Botanic Garden. Each year brought new site-specific experiences — “The Car Plays” in the Playhouse parking lot; a Greenwich Village nightclub act in Hillcrest; a play-along street theater/walking tour of Little Italy; and in 2013 (the first WoW Festival), four days of special events staged by local, national and international artists that turned the Playhouse Theatre District into Festival Village.
Now it’s festival time again, and Oct. 9-11 will bring in a range of attractions, including drama, comedy, dance, music, puppets, and audience participation. A number of events are free and family-friendly — there’s even a special Family Day, Saturday, Oct. 10.
This year’s centerpiece is “Healing Wars,” a mixed-media dance/drama that explores the physical and psychological wounds of war, from the U.S. Civil War to the seemingly endless battles around the world today. The piece, which premiered last year at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., was created by multi-award-winning choreographer Liz Lerman in response to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Called “powerful,” “stunning,” and “utterly original,” it will have an extended run through Oct. 25.
Another must-see is “The Spheres” by Strange Fruit, an Australian troupe that has achieved near-cult status with its haunting aerial dance works. This one, billed as a tale of transformation and wonder, features large, glowing globes and graceful performers atop swaying 14-foot poles.
And that’s just the tip of the WoW-berg. There’s “Ojo: The Next Generation of Travel,” a 75-minute “perspective-altering adventure” by Pittsburgh’s Bricolage Production Company; and “A Flock of Flyers,” hailed as “a Canadian contemporary classic,” in which a flight squadron, left plane-less by budget cuts, manages to continue training with a series of tightly choreographed Monty Python-esque maneuvers that have delighted audiences around the world.
There will also be in-site-ful offerings from local theaters, like Ion, Moxie and Sledgehammer, as well as The Trip, an alt-theater company known for putting a wildly contemporary spin on classic plays. At the first WoW Fest, they re-imagined Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” as a backyard BBQ. This time, they’re staging Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” on a tennis court at The Scripps Research Institute on North Torrey Pines, a free shuttle-ride from Festival Village.
Tom Dugdale, The Trip’s co-founder, director, play-adapter and composer, is an award-winning UC San Diego grad now teaching directing at Texas State University; he brought his troupe there to work on the show. How did he come up with the idea of Chekhov on the court?
“Tennis is very specific to San Diego and La Jolla; it captures the idea of leisure, and it’s such a fierce, well-behaved contest, with competitors expending huge amounts of energy, but always with a net they can’t cross,” he said. “I thought that was like the Three Sisters and their rivalries — fierce, but always with a veneer. They’re a protected, privileged group of people, living in a protected zone — like the tennis court.”
Will the actors actually play tennis? “Some,” Dugdale said. “We’ve been working on our game!”
There will also be live music, and more comic riffs than Chekhov ever imagined. “It’s a heavy piece,” Dugdale said, “but we’re mining it for its comic potential.” They’ll have an extended run, through Oct. 18.
There’s lots more to the WoW Fest, including a new set of “Car Plays,” and of course, food and drink stations. Full schedule at wowfestival.org
--- WoW (Without Walls) Festival 2015 ---
• When: Oct 9-11
• Where: La Jolla Playhouse Theatre District and other venues around UCSD
• Cost: Free-$29
• Schedule and tickets: (858) 550-1010 and wowfestival.org