Possession has been on my mind for the last year. Possession of the spirit, of the body, and possession of one’s own art. How to possess a thing, and how to let it go.
Since last fall, I’ve been working with fellow playwright Lisa Dring to write an immersive, site-specific show with Rogue Artists Ensemble—Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, an adaptation of ancient Japanese ghost stories set in an old warehouse.
This was not our intention. The project came to us sideways, yet naturally. Like we were meant to work on it together.
Kaidan is a project that has long been brewing in the bowels of Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players—the idea itself was never ours, though the words, the shape, the adaptation of the stories themselves certainly were born of our brains. You can blame a lot of it on us.
But true possession of the work, so to speak, was already in question from the beginning. We were asked to take this on. The ownership of the stories were transferred to us, were lent to us, but it has never been ours alone, which has its own kind of freedom.
All stories are borrowed, lent, and passed along, in one way or another.
As the project progressed, we began to focus our main story on a single woman, Kana Mori—a woman who is very much possessed literally by a spirit and emotionally by a dark past. Kana’s journey—in which she loses control, fights for possession of her own will, struggles to center herself in an ever-changing landscape—began to mirror our own experience as writers. Not only were we in deep collaboration with a creative group of designers and actors with their own points of view about what the show should be, but we were coming to terms with the role of the audience in the piece. This is, first and foremost, an immersive theatre experience—meaning the audience is part of the story. They are active in what is going on, which makes Kaidan the audience’s play as well. Our possession over the play was schizophrenic on its best days.
We labored over every word, every beat (just ask our lead actresses, who may have memorized nothing short of 20 versions of their monologues), every transfer of information. We threaded the connective tissue lightly, then sharply, then hit the audience over the head with it, then lightly again. We argued for days about two or three words in the ending scene.
And yet. And yet. And yet.
In the end, we had to let it go. All shows always end up belonging to the actors after opening night, and to the audience. But here, with Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, this is even more pronounced. The actors and audiences are actively engaging with it every night. No one person has the same experience. Some retain the words we sculpted, others are focused on the mask design, others are wondering how long they are going to sit in the dark and if a ghost is sneaking up behind them. Others will remember the moment they had candy with a monk, and nothing else.
I stand outside the warehouse at the box office. I welcome guests, fret about tickets and audience numbers (we can only fit 12 people per performance). I can’t even hear what is going on inside. But that’s okay. It is no longer mine.
In the end, with all art, we cannot fully possess what we create if we are going to share it with others. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, or something to fight for, or are free from blame when something isn’t perfect.
But sometimes it is better to swallow the idea of full possession. Lisa and I wrote something that is a piece of us—but now it belongs to you. We’re just ghosts in the warehouse.
Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin has extended through November 19. Visit RogueArtists.org for information and tickets.