by Brittany Crowell
“You are entering into a dream,” they tell you as they open to door to the first of several rooms. The experience of Bottom of the Ocean begins even before you enter the space. As you are walking the quiet streets of the Bushwick / Bed Stuy border, you come across a dark church with a lighted sine (almost like ocean waves) indicating that this is where you journey below to reach the ocean floor. Knocking on the door and presenting a password, you are granted access into a vestibule where you must watch closely and pass a musical test in order to gain entry to the dream.
The dream itself is magic. Part ritual, part healing, it is full of remembrances and invites audiences to resurface their pain and joy, then leave that which ails them and journey towards a peaceful sleep and a renewing “first tide” (simulated via magical soundscape performed live in space as the audience drifts off to dreaming).
To tell you more about the experience of Bottom of the Ocean would be telling you too much, as the joy of immersive experiences is in the discovery, the unraveling of the mysterious. However, be prepared for moments of joyful silliness, vulnerability, anticipation, and awe. The piece itself is healing and calming; it’s a good dream, and you leave the ocean feeling more peace and clarity than you did upon your arrival. While the space itself can almost feel unsettling, the performance housed in it turns any fear into anticipation until you find yourself dozing into sweet dreaming in a dark and cavernous church basement.
The world of Bottom of the Ocean (or “BOTO” as it is often referred) is one of dense environments, though unlike some other immersive experiences, if you sleuth too much you are gently encouraged to wait (or will find items hiding that were not intended for audience eyes). However, this does not detract from the richness of the dreamscape of creator Andrew Hoepfner and invention designer Howard Rigberg. Laura Borys’ costumes also aid in the audience’s oceanic descent, transforming the actors from one character to another and serving a pivotal part in building the colors and world of the dream and transporting us to the ocean floor.
The experience is created for two groups of two audience, traveling the sea floor in pairs. Performed by only three actors, each take on multiple characters in the oceanic dreamscape, provoking that feeling of unsettling familiarity-yet-difference that one often experiences while dreaming. Each audience is given equal attention from the performers and is encouraged to actively participate (this is your dream) with both performer and partner alike.
The piece handles audience comfort with diligence and warmth. I felt safe throughout each moment of the performance, asked for consent to touch, to drink, to share, though never in a way that distracted from the tone of the piece or removed me from the world it had immersed me in.
BOTO is a communal remembrance and a cleansing; it is a ritualistic baptism, a reminder of that which we carry and that which we should leave behind. It is a must see for anyone who enjoys being fully immersed in a production and in a world. It is also a must see for anyone who enjoys venturing into the unknown and exploring a magical world outside, while looking deeper within oneself to find more clarity.
BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN – created by Andrew Hoepfner with Chia Kwa
Featuring: Leah Ableson; Andrew Hoepfner, Chia Kwa, Alejandro La Rosa,Evan Neiden, Laura Ornella, Jason Spina, and Will Watt.
Costume design by Laura Borys, inventions by Howard Rigberg, website and box office by Evan Neiden. Presented by Houseworks Theatrical at Gymnodpedie (Bushwick United Methodist Church), 1139 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11221. Tickets at https://www.boto.nyc