In times like these, live performance might seem enticing as a form of escapism from the outside world. Last Friday night, I went looking for a bit of escapism and found Wild Women of Planet Wongo, fresh into its Chicago run.
Immersive is an understatement. From the minute you walk into the performance space, you find yourself in a completely different realm entirely opposite from your own. The pre-show area is set up like an old sitcom from the sixties, complete with couches and bookshelves for the audience to sit and peruse. The set is a living, breathing entity, free for the audience to interact with as if we were guests in a neighbor's home.
Upon show time, we were brought into a completely different room with no seats to be seen. As someone who's been to her fair share of performances, I was a bit confused by the concept. Usually, seats provide a barrier between the audience and the performers. I'm more used to being a spectator. But in Wild Women of Planet Wongo, you are invited to become a participant to events that unfold less than three feet away from you. Think Rocky Horror on steroids. If live theatre transports you into a different world, this show grabs you by the shirt, drops a protest sign into your hands, and hauls you into the plot.
The story itself revolves around a planet populated entirely by women, an idea that's no doubt crossed all of our minds. One of the most jarring pieces of the show is its rawness. During the performance, I found characters approaching me, starting up conversations as if we were old friends. It’s evident within the first ten minutes that a great deal of the show revolves around audience interaction, giving each show slight variations that make each performance special. You could see this show every day for a week, and the experience would be different each time. Not only does this speak to the hard work that the actors put into their characters, it also helps to contribute once again to the special little world that has been created. However, this world doesn’t just stop between acts. Wild Women of Planet Wongo has two intermissions, in which one of the Wongettes invites members of the audience to compete in games, including “The Mating Game,” and “How to Beat Your Man Slave."
These games are not only ridiculously fun for both the players and audience members, but they also make the audience feel like they’re just as important as the characters in the show. Throughout the performance, I noticed that a group of audience members had come in costume, complete with neon wigs and antennae that effectively made them look like Wongonians. This is what truly sets Wild Women of Planet Wongo apart from traditional theatre; the line between audience and performance is so deeply blurred that it genuinely feels as if you’re on a different planet. I brought two of my friends along to see Friday’s performance, but what surprised me is the variety of people in the audience that night. Groups of friends donning costumes intermingled with couples out on date nights during the finale dance sequence in which the audience was invited to join in. By the end of the night, it was clear that Wild Women of Planet Wongo had not only captivated and enthralled us, but had immersed audience members from all different walks of life to the point where we too felt like a part of the show.