A Dozen Dreams is the theatrical / artistic installation designed to pull us out of our pandemic dreams and nightmares and then journey beyond them. I experienced A Dozen Dreams the day after the CDC mask mandate was lifted (although, still required during the show) and the installation could not have been better timed.
A Dozen Dreams is a collaboration between 12 female artists and playwrights and an all-female design team; it was conceived by the team at En Garde Arts. It is a walk-through piece where you travel alone or in pairs, with voices (via sanitized headphones) guiding you through a labyrinth of dreamscapes. Each room was conceived, created and performed separately, but they all work in unison to help us make sense of the past year plus in isolation.
The artists’ voices’ themselves direct us, confront and comfort us in unexpected moments of clarity, empathy and exhaustion. The program will give you a description of the various rooms but the emotions generated by these spaces rolls up to hit you unexpectedly. Guided by the artist voices, you are in each of the 12 rooms less than 10 minutes.
Depending on the viewer's experience, some rooms may make you agitated, while others you feel rushed - because it is almost impossible to take in the artist, the visuals and the emotion in the short time you have. I confess I wanted to sit on the floor in the room “As Hard As You Can” and listen to playwright and spoken word artist Ren Dara Santiago over and over. But you are forced on – just as the pandemic seemed to march on despite our wishes.
The experience is divided into three major parts. The opening vision is Ellen McLaughlin’s “My Dream in this Moment” which is described as ‘a collective memory of what theater used to be and a prayer for theater’s future role in bringing us back together.’ It is a melancholy reminder of what we have lost with theater, both singular and as a community.
Then you cross the mall (it is performed in the Brookfield Place in Battery Park) into the labyrinth, where the next 10 rooms are interconnected but separate, reminding you of half-forgotten places in your memory. In each room, one of the artists has created a singular dream, that we are invited to share with them. Some are coping dreamscapes; some are dreams of a better world and a few are rebirth dreams that hold the promise of a new path. The meat of A Dozen Dreams is here in the labyrinth where our expectations, desires and fears intersect.
Exiting the labyrinth, you cross out into the light for an epilog of a hopeful future, provided by Emily Mann’s “Spirit Dreams,” in which she awakens from a dream of something that was good and beautiful, in which she didn’t feel alone, and where her friend Kecia Lewis sings a beautiful song reminding us that the world is something we must recreate every day for ourselves and for each other.
The immersive experience is fantastic and, at the same time, a bit isolating. You know that there are people both ahead and behind you, and yet you go through it alone, forced into isolation as complete as the Covid lockdowns. This makes the release from the labyrinth back into the world of people all the more powerful.
It isn’t traditional theater, we are still waiting for that to return. But it is emotional and moving theater, more visceral than zoom or pre-recorded shows. It is a step forward, and given the year we’ve all had, it is a step I could not wait to take. I was joyful at the end. Take someone with you if you can, you will want to dissect the experience later over wine and relax for the first time in a year.
A Dozen Dreams is therapeutic and hopeful, the promise of a better and different world to come. It was conceived by En Garde Arts Founder and Artistic Director Anne Hamburger, with the visionary visual and environment designer Irina Kruzhilina and former Lark Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner, the playwrights featured in A Dozen Dreams are representative of a range of voices and experiences, from Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-nominated artists to fresh new talents. Authors include: Sam Chanse, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Emily Mann, Martyna Majok, Mona Mansour, Rehana Mirza, Ellen McLaughlin, Liza Jessie Peterson, Ren Dara Santiago, Caridad Svich, Lucy Thurber, and Andrea Thome. Singer Kecia Lewis is featured in the dream of Emily Mann.