Connect with a stranger, become an actor and an audience in the theater experiment at the UM art museum

ANN ARBOR – An experimental theatrical production that transforms two guests into both actors and spectators returns to the University of Michigan for its first in-person performance.

A Thousand Ways, Part Two: An Encounter opens Tuesday, March 8th at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. As with the remote productions in July and November last year, two guests are asked by a script to communicate intimately.

But this time, the guests will meet in person in the museum’s glass gallery.

In each performance, the participants—ideally strangers to each other—follow a series of instructions presented in the form of index cards. A picture of each other unfolds. While the first part of “A Thousand Ways” was presented as a telephone conversation, the second part creates a unique personal experience.

Co-presented by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and billed as a theatrical production created by a collective of 600 Highwaymen, the drawn curtains, heavy carpet and matte black walls of the UMMA gallery give the feel of a black box theatre.

Participants sit opposite each other and take turns drawing from a central stack of index cards through an opening in an acrylic glass divider. Some cards ask the pair to work together to connect shapes on the glass, while others ask yes-or-no questions or direct one participant to describe a scenario for the other to visualize.

The in-person exhibition allows for a different take on the series’ exploration of human connections, said Christopher Ankney, UMMA director of marketing and public relations.

“The collaborative element makes you realize that you can have a human connection with someone that goes beyond language,” he said. “We haven’t been able to do that with COVID isolation lately, so I think this experience is rejuvenating.”

While in the first part each guest was asked to imagine the other’s surroundings, part two encourages guests to imagine the face under the mask facing them or to imagine how the other guest interacts with loved ones.

“It’s the sequel — it goes a little bit deeper,” Ankney said. “It penetrates into the more intimate details of a person’s inner existence.”

The deeper the artist couple delve into the deck, the more intimate each participant’s knowledge of the other becomes, but the exhibition is set up in such a way that they may never know each other’s names or see each other again, Ankney said.

“Come in, meet a stranger and surprise yourself,” he said.

The in-person exhibition runs March 8 through April 24, and guests can sign up for a 90-minute slot on the A2SF website. Tickets are $10 for general audience and $5 for students.

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