“Third Rail Projects has been creating site-specific work since 2005,” says Zach Morris, one of the company’s trio of artistic directors. “From the get-go, we were very interested in bringing performance to spaces that wouldn’t normally be considered a performance space, and to being able to invite audiences into spaces where they might not otherwise have access.”
Which is precisely what Confection, a custom-creation for the Folger Shakespeare Library, achieves. Twice nightly through March 24, a limited audience of 50 are escorted through the Folger’s hallowed library, private reading rooms, and cramped card catalog — areas the public are rarely granted access to. In the process, they become part of an expressive, participatory exploration of the opulent, decadent banquets of 17th century Europe, and the human cost behind the ingredients, namely sacks of sugar that brought brutal suffering to enslaved workers oceans away.
Confection, which ties into the Folger’s production of Nell Gwynn and its fascinating exhibit Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, is nothing short of an experiential wonder. It runs like perfect clockwork, aligning itself in ways you can’t predict (or expect). And it concludes with a climax that elicits a cumulative gasp from the audience, but not for reasons you might be expecting.
One of the most striking aspects of the evening is its intimacy, much of it conveyed by the performers in alluring, direct eye-contact. There is no fourth wall here. There is just being present.
“I think the company does a really good job choosing skilled performers who can not only execute theater and dance, but can really connect with a person,” says actor Albert Denis, whose show-stopping segment involves a confounding game of musical plates while channeling a Carmen Miranda persona. “The company looks for performers who have empathy to them.”
“Actually, this is one of the least complex performances we’ve ever done,” says Morris, also a co-creator of Then She Fell, the company’s award-winning experience still running in Brooklyn. “Recently, we sent people wandering around the streets of New York, which eventually culminated with you running into the person who you came in with at an exact second on a predestined street corner. So we’ve had lots of practice at creating invisible machines that are able to afford the audience, hopefully, a seamless experience.”
Confection runs through March 24 at The Folger, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. There is a maximum of 50 people per performance. Tickets are $40-$60. Call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu/theatre.