As I was walking through the Dupont Underground, I felt a sudden tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a woman with transparent white cloth wrapped around her clothes — a ghost. Without uttering a syllable, she led me to another ostentatiously dressed figure. The ghost handed me a ring, pointing at the second figure. When I showed him the ring, he almost burst into tears. He told me it was his wife’s.
This experience was not a weird dream. Rather, it was part of “Cabaret Rising,” an immersive theater show.
Last Friday, Dupont Underground, a cultural organization that holds events in the former streetcar station underneath Dupont Circle, hosted the opening night of “Cabaret Rising.” The show was put on by TBD Immersive, a performance company that believes in “creating art that blurs the line between audience and performer,” according to the company’s website. This installment comes as a sequel to “In Cabaret We Trust,” which was put on in September 2017.
TBD aims to turn theater into an interactive experience. Rather than limiting the audience’s experience to a passive, seated role, TBD hopes to give viewers a chance to actively engage with the actors.
“Cabaret Rising” takes attendees to the 2020s, where a rebel fringe group called the Resistance is using the underground tunnel network to hide from a populist Republic, an apparent allusion to the administration of President Donald Trump.
Dupont Underground’s graffiti and empty tracks serve as an excellent setting for a revolutionary group, and the lack of phone service was a serendipitous touch for an off-the-grid movement.
Upon descending into the tunnel entrance, participants were greeted by a figure welcoming us to “our home.” His remarks were forceful, as he politely warned us not to “f–k with our s–t” or we would be kicked out. He set the tone for the incredibly strong performances that followed from the rest of the actors.
Unfortunately, the specifics of the performance cannot be revealed without spoiling visitors’ appreciation: The show is best experienced with as little background knowledge as possible. Additionally, there is no universal experience at an interactive show, as the performance changes based on the audience’s response.
Throughout the tunnel, there was a plethora of different installations and props that added details to the story, including murals, gift shops, acrobatic acts and even several ghosts who claimed the underground belongs to them. These installations gave participants a chance to piece together bits of the plot while everyone was exploring the tunnel.
It quickly became clear that my investigation alone was insufficient to fully comprehend the unfolding story. Audience members were mingling with actors and being led to important points of the story.
After about 45 minutes, we were led to the end of the tunnel, where the cabaret was taking place. Until I sat down, I believed that I had gotten accustomed to the unorthodox format of the show, but the cabaret showed me that I could not have been more wrong.
Initially, I felt as if I were watching a dystopian open mic night. The topics covered by the singers in their acts were direct and pointed, which was unsurprising considering the political nature of the plot. The diversity of acts was impressive as well: There were sword ladders, jugglers and even ventriloquist burlesque dancers.
The variety of costumes and decor was both impressive and fascinating: Some actors donned a hipster look similar to a Palo Alto techie, some were dressed in all-black punk-rock aesthetic and others looked like Harley Quinn’s futuristic minions.
What audience members get out of the show is largely determined by how open they are to immersing themselves in their surroundings. Passive viewers may feel extremely lost in the vast array of events, and visitors will likely be intrigued by plot gaps between intermissions. I, for one, could definitely have discovered more if I had participated more actively.
Regardless of how much one engages with the show, the performance is enjoyable for every type of participant. The myriad of political messages leaves audiences with plenty to ponder. The extraordinary talents of the show’s actors, particularly those performing in the cabaret or as acrobats, made the performance all the more intriguing. On the whole, “Cabaret Rising” is by far one of the most original experiences that Washington, D.C., has to offer.
“Cabaret Rising” runs at the Dupont Underground every Sunday until March 4, with entry between 2 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. depending on the ticket purchased.