Y Show mixes performance and participation

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If you often find yourself nodding off at the theater, you’ll love the YShow, a new interactive multimedia show running through Dec. 17 at the Suburban World Theater. It’s practically guaranteed to keep you awake and engaged.
The YShow has three main elements: six actors, a multimedia screen, and the audience – which interacts with the performers by using a hand-held, wireless computer. These ingenious devices allow audience members to speak via individual wireless microphones, to send text messages to the big screen, and to vote in live surveys.

“We want to show the power of the audience. New technology enables them to interact with the actors and to influence the play,” said Alan Yelsey, owner of Machine Dreams, the company that created the hand-held devices.

The YShow combines music, humor and social commentary and covers a wide range of topics, from Hurricane Katrina to the war against terrorism to Alzheimer’s. Another part of the show addresses growing up as an African-American in U.S. society.

Facing this many different subjects, some members of the audience seemed a little confused after the show. “This performance was very interesting and unique, but they should have focused on fewer topics. I missed the theme going through it,” said Katie De Boir after the show.

But, according to Yelsey, who also co-wrote the script, the current performances are just an introduction to the overall concepts of the YShow. Future plays in 2006 will concentrate on single topics. “We also have an offer to do a show like this in New York City on a specific topic,” he said.
The name “YShow” has three different meanings. First, the letter ‘Y’ stands for the question “Why?” that is asked repeatedly during the show. Why don’t we know? Why don’t we care? The ‘Y’ also stands for the possibility of choosing between two paths for our lives – like a fork in the road. Finally, Yelsey said, the authors introduce the Y model for a new world built on three principles, or legs: nurturing life, equality, and the pursuit of truth.
The show’s producers donate 5 percent of the proceeds from each show to the organization or cause the audience votes for at the end of the performance.

Be Part of the Show
“Can you do something fun for the picture?” one of the actors of the Y Show asks audience members as they arrive at the Surburban World Theater. These snapshots will make an appearance later.

From your first minute in the theater, you’re a part of the Y Show. The actors are all there to welcome you to the Y World, your neverland for 90 minutes.

For the technologically challenged, there are booklets to explain the hand-held, wireless communications devices that are an integral part of the show. However, the darkness of the theater makes reading difficult, and the faint light from the hand-held gizmos doesn’t help much.

My neighbor, a 70-year-old man, asks me to help him with his hand-held, which looks like one of the first big cell phones used in the ’80s. The concept for writing is the same: press 2 once for A, twice for B, three times for C. For persons whose hands are not used to this new finger sport, 10 minutes of training before the beginning of the show won’t be enough.

One way of involving the audience is to ask questions. The first question is an easy one: “Who wants a chocolate?” Not surprisingly, 77 percent of the audience answers “Yes.”
Baskets full of chocolates move through the audience. But who are the 23 percent who don’t want a chocolate?

The audience gets to tackle questions on more difficult and serious issues, from racism to world peace. There are other kinds of audience involvement, too, including yoga lessons led by a cast member. Now, I’m starting to understand why the staff says that the audience becomes the show. This claim seems warranted when I look at my neighbors wearing 3D glasses.

The Y Show ends with the “funny” pictures of all the audience members on the screen. I keep wondering where the show was supposed to be: on the stage or in the seats.
—Elise Esteves Laranjo

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