Fringeworthy

Aural Examination: Checking in With the Creators of Multichannel Play Double Freakquency

A page from the script of "Double Frequency," a play in two channels.

Even if you go to see the Capital Fringe show Double Freakquency tonight, you probably won’t hear it. Not all of it, at any rate.

This crafty riff on Rashomon involves actors lip-syncing simultaneously to two tracks of prerecorded dialogue. Audience members are issued headsets and must choose which soundtrack they wish to follow. Whichever one listeners select—or even if they channel-hop between the two willy-nilly—the performers’ lip movements will match the words they’re hearing, theoretically. (A brief excerpt performed at the Fringe preview event two weeks ago looked convincing.) The tracks may feature discrete musical scoring and sound effects, too. And depending on how itchy each audience member’s trigger finger is on the channel-switching button, the show could potentially be different for everyone who experiences it.

Writer/director/producers Adam Stackhouse and Liz Sykes say they chose their play’s premise, which concerns two sets of neighbors whose apartments share a thin, sonically permeable wall, to exploit the narrative possibilities suggested by this unique method of storytelling.

Liz Sykes & Adam Stackhouse, the writers/producers/directors of "Double Freakquency."

Sykes and Stackhouse are new to the Capital Fringe Festival, though they’ve been making technologically experimental theater together since 2007. Two years ago they formalized their partnership into The AVAdventure, a company that creates and produces performance events and games that combine improvised live performance elements with prerecorded audio and/or video files—walking tours of college campuses navigated by MP3, for instance.

“We do corporate, we do nonprofit, we do educational institutions,” Stackhouse says, speaking from the company’s office in Richmond. “We have a strong following in the college entertainment market.”

Fringe takes all kinds. Sometimes even the kind that talks about market sectors.

Their first performance in Washington—well, half in Washington—was The Declaration of Codependence, a story-game played simultaneously on the National Mall and in Colonial Williamsburg in February 2011, with actors and gamers at the two sites maintaining contact via videoconference. The AVAdenture presented about that show at that year's South by Southwest Interactive conference.

Double Freakquency sounds modest by comparison, but it’s still a first.

“We’ve never done a show for a general ticketed audience to walk up off the street and be a part of,” Stackhouse says. “The thing that was unique and inspiring to us is to have it be in one room, in a single setting, sitting still. A lot of the shows we’ve done have people running around jumping behind buildings.”

Even though their events typically require the audience to wear headphones—those same ubiquitous devices we use to create a sense of privacy in public spaces—Stackhouse and Sykes maintain that their work fosters a sense of community among the participants.

And that goes, well, double for Freakquency, Stackhouse says.

“The most rewarding experience, we think, would be to touch base with one or two people afterwards and see what they picked up that you didn’t.”

Double Frequency premieres tonight at 9:15 p.m. at the Studio Theatre's Stage 4. Tickets are available here.

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