You won’t find curtains or costumes at this performance. Instead, it takes place on the same stage audiences have front row seats to every day: Houston itself.
Remote Houston, a live-art experience presented by Alley Theatre, takes 50 headphone-wearing participants on a walking audio tour of the city’s streets and light rail system, with a Siri-like narrator, Heather, as guide. “Sorry, I’m not human,” she tells participants at the beginning of each show, “but I’ll try to be your friend.” Audiences become the performer; artificial intelligence, the director. “Are you adventurous?” Heather will ask. “Cross the street. Are you pragmatic? Stay on this side.”
“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done,” says Dean R. Gladden, the Alley’s managing director, who first brought the production to Houston last spring (after this fall engagement, there will be one more chance to participate). “People loved it,” he says. “It’s fun, participatory and makes you more conscious about how technology shapes yourself and your city. More than 1,500 people—ranging from ages 17 to 70—participated in the inaugural, sold-out spring shows.”
Remote Houston is part of larger project Remote X, which was created by Stefan Kaegi, a member of German-based arts collective Rimini Protokoll, and premiered in Berlin in 2013. The group has produced shows across the world, with Houston the 18th city to participate.
“I love cities as stages. It’s much more immediate to stand still and think of a public space as a theater,” Kaegi says. “I wanted to create a project that travels with very few props and can be flexible to adapt into new places and contexts easily.”
To plan the performance route, Kaegi visited the Bayou City ahead of the show’s local debut. The resulting two-hour tour spans three miles, starting in the East End and working toward the Theater District, with stops at Evergreen Cemetery, the Atlantic coffee plant, the downtown tunnels and the Chase Tower lobby, among others.
“Remote Houston is less of a history lesson and more of a thought-provoking exploration of life within a city,” says Gladden. “People will experience things that have been here all along that they didn’t realize existed. You’ll look at Houston, and yourself, through a whole new lens.”