It's hard to know what you're getting yourself into when you board a 12-seat van driven by XOXO's Matt Cosper. The artistic director, who is currently manning the wheel for drives to Bohemian Grove — the theater troupe's latest production set on a farm in Clover, South Carolina — turns on a soundtrack to the piece that gives some clues as to the funny, strange acts that are ahead.
It's a creepy soundscape, where conversations about the afterlife, fragments of nightmares and a story about a violent and mysterious encounter in a dark forest collides with the dreamy strains of "Goodbye Horses" (featured in Silence of the Lambs) and Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera."
Upon arrival, visitors will find the grove brimming with a small cast of characters. There are ditsy cops in short shorts; deceptive, runaway children who run ... well ... fast; and nurses offering refreshments and carrying torches to guide visitors through a wooded countryside that comes alive with music from a lovely, mysterious Nicia Carla in a formal, glittery gown, as well as some silent, serene moments of relaxation.
The show offers a unique experience in the world of avant-garde theater by creating something that can be felt on a deeper, more personal level. It's a literal joyride through a theatrical journey about the afterlife.
This is the second series of performances of Bohemian Grove.
The show premiered at the farm in its current form with funding from the Arts & Science Council in 2014, and this year XOXO received another grant for month-long performances that have been tweaked.
Like most shows from XOXO, Bohemian Grove has undergone a series of drafts before becoming what it is now.
In a sense, it's a living body that's constantly growing into something different as time and creativity nurture and tear apart its structure.
Bohemian Grove was first presented at a NoDa bar lined with different stations set up for the audience to walk through.
Next, it took a different form as A Guide for the Newly Dead, staged at Duke Energy Theater.
Cosper explains that though related, the production's drafts can differ drastically — in the case of Newly Dead, it borrowed characters from the previous production, but significantly morphed the plot and setting.
"We sort of give ourselves room to let accidents and the subconscious work on the show," says Cosper.
In April, Cosper debuted another new work, #Cake, at Artspace 525. Its final edition, slated for 2016, will be similar to Bohemian Grove in that audiences will be mobile. The "choose your own adventure" show will have performance stations at various points around Uptown, and attendees can choose to upgrade their vehicle transportation.
"Basically, we'll give the audience the raw materials for the show," says Cosper, "and then they can create their own experience."
But before then, a second draft of #Cake will be presented in October during Boom, a festival taking place up and down Central Avenue. Organizers say the goal of Boom is to showcase Charlotte's ever-growing avant garde and contemporary arts scene.
Cosper is working as part of the curatorial team for the festival, and his XOXO is one of five companies that make up the founding core of the series — also to feature On Q Productions, Moving Poets Charlotte, Taproot and a theater troupe guided by UNC-Charlotte theater professor Carlos Cruz (he's behind the new, pop-up theater, Mobile Arts & Community Experience — better known as MAX).
Manoj Kesavan, one of the organizers of Boom (as well as Pecha Kucha Charlotte, not to mention a founding member of the nonprofit arts collective Que-OS), has high expectations for the fest and its diverse performances; the project is set to be similar in concept to Fringe festivals in other major cities.
"We all have been feeling that it is high time Charlotte had such a festival — a unique showcase for the kind of art that we want to see and share," says Kesavan. "And who's better to do it than the artists who create such art, and care for it the most? As you know, we definitely have the depth and diversity of talent here."
Cosper's XOXO will continue to explore different aspects of the theater experience and breaking the framework to traditional expectations — specifically regarding structure, nonlinear narrative, setting and nontraditional theater spaces.
The group's current production of Bohemian Grove is a great example of the innovative contemporary works to come. But, more than that, it's also a show that you shouldn't miss.
Performances continue through the end of May (reservations only) and include transportation from a meeting spot to and from the a farm and cold beverages along the course.
"We've really tried to create something that's very open and designed to raise associations in the audiences mind, so that every audience is going to have their own unique memories jogged by the performance and their own individual associations," says Cosper. "So, ideally every audience member is having their own unique show."
Pat Moran contributed to this story.