Metro Weekly

Rorschach Theatre’s ‘Distant Frequencies’ mixes historical fiction with magical realism

The seven-chapter story covers 100 years of D.C. history in destinations across the city

Rorschach Theatre, Distance Frequencies
Rorschach Theatre’s “Distance Frequencies: Transmission” — Photo: Ryan Maxwell Photography

“We have always been interested in immersive theater, ways you can kind of surround the audience with the world of the play,” says Jenny McConnell Frederick, who founded and runs Rorschach Theatre Company with Randy Baker. “When we realized, obviously, that we couldn’t perform in the usual way in 2020, we thought, ‘How can you immerse the audience in a story without people?'”

They landed on a project “that uses the city as our set design,” the backdrop for “a seven-chapter story of historical fiction, with some magic realism thrown in, covering about 100 years of history in D.C.”

With chapters set in different locations of the city, Distant Frequencies also serves “to help people discover their city in a new way.” To follow along, theatergoers head to particular destinations and proceed to open curated boxes with relevant artifacts.

“There are letters, sometimes there’s an audio file, there are receipts for things, and photos,” says Frederick. “You put together the story from the pieces that we give you.” Although there are some well-known settings, including U Street and Georgetown, the project has also included more off-the-beaten-path destinations, from Rock Creek Cemetery to Kingman Island.

Currently, the company is presenting “the conclusion of the story,” a production that “ties up some loose ends and connects some dots” — but does so in a way that “it certainly can be watched by anybody, whether you’ve experienced the first seven chapters or not,” says Frederick. Yet it’s far more consequential than simply that. “Since March of 2020, we have not produced anything with live actors. This is definitely our return.”

Frederick adds that the resulting site-specific work also marks “our first large-scale show outside.” Audiences will experience the show using wireless headphones.

“If you’ve ever seen or been to a silent disco, it’s that same technology,” says Frederick. “So everyone will bring a blanket or a chair, and sit on the lawn and hear all the sound through headphones.” Frederick calls the show “a really refreshing experience for people to come and see. The storyline features a gay couple who are both native Washingtonians, and some other characters are native Washingtonians. So it’s a fun way to really have some good D.C. vibes.”

Distance Frequencies: Transmission runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 31. The Great Lawn at the Parks at Walter Reed, 1010 Butternut St. NW. Tickets are $40 for just the live show, or $150 including the seven chapters. Visit www.rorschachtheatre.com.

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