Ever stop to think about the kind of Baltimore we’ll live in 11 years from now? Imagine our great city in the throes of a remorseless and invasive global virus—kind of like the one that we’ve persisted through for months now, only worse this time. This new infectious agent has its sights set on our species and its digital creations. Shared memories, sustained thanks to technology, have fizzled. And what’s left? An atmosphere so mangled by the grave effects of climate change that air is now a danger to our skin. Full body gear is worn outdoors and social distancing remains a necessary practice.
It all sounds like something based on life as it unfolded in the spring of 2020. But this surreal scenario—or rather, the plot of rECHOllection, an upcoming interactive project by Baltimore-based collaborative artworks company Submersive Productions—was conceived months before we knew what COVID had in store.
“The virus was supposed to be a metaphor,” says Glen Ricci, Submersive’s co-artistic director, and one of rECHOllection’s co-creators. “At the time, we were already physically and socially distancing ourselves by choice through social media.”
This was in the unsuspecting latter months of 2019. “A lot of it was like, ‘how do we talk about pandemics? How do we talk about this virus without making anyone too worried?’ And then the world shut down, and we were like ‘here it is!’” adds co-creator Susan Stroupe.
Still, the concept of an in-person performance would present a looming roadblock. But with newfound time for planning, Submersive’s core creative team—Stroupe and Ricci, along with co-artistic director Ursula Marcum and artistic associates Mika Nakano and Trustina Sabah—came up with the concept for an outdoor installation set in Druid Hill Park. Unlike a typical theatrical experience, this open-air (and open-ended) showcase would invite passersby to explore a futuristic world by foot, with transplants sent from 2032 to lead the way.
This weekend, rECHOllection, which emerged with a small preview near the park’s Latrobe Pavilion Oct. 30, will mark Submersive’s first hoorah in roughly 20 months. Set to run from noon to 3 p.m. on Nov. 6 and 7, the dystopian production will undoubtedly elicit strong emotions in some, who may not want to stay for its entirety. Submersive says that this is okay.
“What we’re doing is creating a space, and that space is three hours long. However as much time they want to take up or be there for within that window is totally up to the audience,” Stroupe says, adding that because rECHOllection doesn’t take on a traditional narrative, “what you experience is just kind of like a slice of life in a way. If you came halfway through and stayed for 45 minutes, you wouldn’t need to worry about FOMO, you know?”
Regardless of how long they choose to take in rECHOllection, Submersive wants its audience to walk away with hope—even though it’s characters are dealing with what may appear to be hopeless conditions. As they cope with a diminishing Charm City, the futuristic denizens we see throughout the showcase find new joy in their joint effort to restore collective memory. Unaided by technology, they manage to express themselves and, ultimately, bond with one another.
For Sabah, “Catharsis is what comes to mind. During the creative process, one of the things that was important to me was to ensure that humanity wins—that we solve the issue of disconnectedness and find connection in some ways. It doesn’t have to be physical. But humanity wins, and that’s what we want.”
Mikano agrees. “I think that the heart of the show is connection. I don’t know what to expect, but I hope that people find themselves curious, and I hope we can evoke some connections that [the audience] didn’t expect to find.