This post was updated Feb. 27 at 4:20 p.m.
Marike Splint’s familial history of immigration inspired her to explore the connection between humans and the communities they inhabit.
The assistant professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television examines this relationship in her audio-theater experience “Among Us – UCLA,” which will be presented by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA starting Saturday. In the performance, participants are guided through campus by a voice in headphones, which promotes self-reflection and site-specific engagement by asking them to closely observe their surroundings. The voice helps individuals explore their relationships with their community and external space.
“How do you position yourself in a space that you live in? I wanted to address that question in the place where it was actually at stake rather than recreate it in the theater,” Splint said. “These questions are most resonant in the public space itself.”
The experience guides participants through areas such as the Inverted Fountain, Dickson Plaza and Powell Library as they are prompted to contemplate the sights and strangers around them. These prompts are split into two halves: They’re first meant to help individuals observe and analyze environmental preconceptions, but, in the second half, participants are asked questions about their own lives that they answer through physical actions.
Splint said the piece places the audience as the main subjects, giving them an active role in the performance. Although this framing may be unconventional for normal theater productions, she said the experience also takes inspiration from visual and sound art because of how it creatively challenges people’s preconceptions. Splint said she uses the campus as the canvas for participants to analyze, comparable to classical visual art canvases.
“Even if it doesn’t really look like theater in its form, it’s very much about your relationship to people, very much about creativity. It’s about who are you as an individual in the context of the collective,” Splint said. “The questions that are asked really resonate in a larger theatrical theme.”
Splint said for every new location of the “Among Us” experience, she would research the locale of the city to appropriately plan out a different route for her audience. However, she said since she was already familiar with the UCLA campus, she had to shift her view of the university from a workplace to a performance site. She said since UCLA is a self-functioning university that was planned out and deliberately built, she found it interesting to hone in on how its environment was made and how the spaces on campus interrelate.
“What I found interesting was the opportunity to look at UCLA not as a workspace but as a mini-city space – how does it operate and how do we consider that, how do we look at it?” Splint said.
An advantage of holding the experience at UCLA, Splint said, is the diversity inherent in its students, faculty and even surrounding residents – all with differing levels of familiarity with the campus of UCLA and the space they’ll be reflecting upon.
Ivy Hurwit, the arts engagement coordinator for CAP, said she helped coordinate the test runs of the experience and partook in the 85-minute performance. Hurwit said she saw familiar areas, such as her everyday route through Dickson Plaza, in a different light by slowing down and focusing on her presence on campus.
“UCLA students will have a greater appreciation for … the places on campus that they inhabit and will have an opportunity to think about their identity and their presence and what they believe in,” Hurwit said.
Hurwit said this greater appreciation for the campus is important for a university that often takes its beautiful location and community for granted. This theme of awareness about external space and human diversity was one of Splint’s main goals in developing “Among Us,” and she hopes that this newfound cognizance will help bring the participants closer on a communal level.
“It’s about configuring the audience as a community and not having them look at something external, … but having them experience something among each other,” Splint said.
The piece’s communal aspect is most defined in the latter half of the program, which Irvin Mason Jr., a fourth-year theater student who was a part of the initial test runs of “Among Us – UCLA,” said was enlightening. He said seeing who responded to questions about beliefs or income gave him an understanding of their differences, and the uncomfortable experience of answering questions in front of strangers made the performance more eye-opening.
The questions and prompts in “Among Us” are meant to shift how people perceive others in their community, Splint said. By allowing people to break their daily rhythm and examine their perception of both strangers and space, Splint said she wants every participant to see the campus, other people and even themselves in a new light.
“At the end, participants have gone through an intense, shared experience and they know a lot about each other, and they may have chosen to reveal things about themselves,” Splint said. “You take the headphones off, and, without speaking, a lot has been shared.”