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‘VIBRATIONS’ takes audience through dreamscape of sound, movement

Production Workshop runs experimental performance art piece attempting to “queer sound”

<p>Benzinger wanted to make participation in the show’s cast and crew accessible for anyone who wanted to join, especially encouraging queer and disabled people. </p><p><br/></p>

Benzinger wanted to make participation in the show’s cast and crew accessible for anyone who wanted to join, especially encouraging queer and disabled people. 

On Saturday night, Production Workshop’s performance art piece “VIBRATIONS” opened at the PW downspace. The hour-long experimental show, which closes tonight, explores the different ways the body experiences sound and music by depicting a series of dream sequences. 

A sensory-friendly version of the production also ran Saturday afternoon, in which the sound volume was adjusted and fog, haze and flashing lights were not used in the interest of accessibility. 

“VIBRATIONS” is meant to be a therapeutic journey and an attempt at “queering sound,” said writer and director Jenna Benzinger ’22, which they define as “reclaiming it and making fearless sound and taking up space.” 

The show follows a central character, “The Body,” who represents a generalized human body, as they navigate their relationship to sound, eventually immersing themselves into a dream world and finding their bearings through a series of musical sequences. 

Benzinger said they wrote the show while taking time off from the University. “I was supposed to graduate in 2021, but I decided to take the year off because of the pandemic and also because I’m hard of hearing,” they said. 

“When we started wearing masks … I couldn’t lip read, and that’s mainly how I am able to understand conversations in loud and busy spaces, so when that was taken away from me it was really frustrating,” Benzinger said. “So this show is definitely born out of the frustrations of uneven access (to) sound.” 

Given the themes that informed the show, Benzinger wanted to make participation in the show’s cast and crew accessible for anyone who wanted to join. “We made sure that especially for (the role of) ‘The Body,’ we’re casting a queer and disabled person because that’s very much in tune with the character,” they said. “Everyone could be a part of this space, but we definitely urged queer and disabled people to take part.” 

Assistant Director Ren L[i]u ’23 echoed Benzinger in stating that accessibility was a priority in their casting and decision-making process. “People didn’t necessarily need to have traditional theater experience because … theater is not the most accessible space,” they said. “A lot of the cast identifies as queer or trans or disabled and has a particular relationship to performance.” 

“We were looking for people who were willing to have fun and willing to be flexible,” added Leona Hariharan ’23, another assistant director. “It’s a weird show and lots of weird things are going to happen, and you need people who are willing to be weird.”

Although the production was largely based on personal experiences, Benzinger did not want the show to be entirely about those experiences. “As I started writing it, I realized that I wanted a lot of it to be devised with the cast,” they said. 

The process of putting the show together was collaborative, and Benzinger incorporated input from the show’s team and cast members in the final product. L[i]u said they hosted a “sound museum circle” during which the team members described their relationships to sound. The exercise eventually informed one of the show’s scenes — dubbed the “interactive sound museum.”

“A lot of the prompts were like … what is your favorite sound ever in the world?” L[i]u said. “Also, what sounds can be really overwhelming and bad, and what sounds can be helpful and good and exciting?” 

The “interactive sound museum” was the culmination of the collaborative spirit of “VIBRATIONS.” “One day we all brought in an object that makes funny sounds that we connect with, and we just started bouncing ideas off,” Benzinger said. “We really wanted to build it from little noises to just pure chaos.”

The scene also garnered enthusiasm from the audience. “I really loved the scene with the sound museum, where there were all of these different noises coming together … it was really fun to watch,” said Rebecca Dalum ’22, who attended “VIBRATIONS” on Feb. 26. 

Benzinger’s goal while writing the show was to explore disability in a celebratory way. 

“I wanted to be able to write about disability in a way that could be sexy and fun … rather than a ‘woe is me’ type of thing,” they said. “I hope people will walk out of the show having had fun.” 

The buzz of the crowd at the end of the show indicated that this hope was fulfilled. “I thought it was very fun and exploratory and joyful,” Dalum said.  “It was just a joy to watch.”

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