This immersive theater company isn’t just breaking down the “fourth wall”—it’s blasting it to smithereens.
If you’re looking for classical art, this isn’t it, and that’s exactly the point. ToUch Performance Art is making the classics accessible by yanking them from the theater and throwing them down on the dance floor of a pulsing night club. It’s sexy, it’s interactive, and it’s all based on classical art. Imagine sipping a beer and shaking your booty while a *hot* aerialist twists and slides to electronic music from silks above your head, and a trifecta of go-go dancers makes symbolic love to a conductor on the other side of the room. Makes that worn, velvet-upholstered, slightly musty auditorium seating at the symphony seem a little less appealing, doesn’t it?
The two ultra talented girl-bosses behind this organized madness are Marissa Rae Roberts and Elizabeth McGuire. They’ve been dead set on revolutionizing the way you experience theater since they met while working towards their BFAs at the Boston Conservatory of Art at Berklee. Although coming from two very different worlds of performing art—Marissa from musical theater and Liz from dance and choreography—the two shared an insatiable urge for the immersive, for meshing their art forms together to create a truly dynamic, visceral outcome. “We needed to create something where we could honor the classics and also break the rules,” says Roberts, “and put it into a context that a contemporary audience would really enjoy, and be inspired to listen to an opera or watch a ballet after our show.” Six years later, ToUch is reinventing your fine art experience to be electric, interactive, booze-infused, and, frankly, way more fun.
ToUch’s claim to fame is their six-years-running show, AcousticaElectronica, a strobe-light-glitter-encrusted intersection of old art, contemporary vices, and timeless tropes in classical theater. The AcousticaElectronica storyline draws inspiration from a number of pieces and symbols in classical art, theater, and music, while integrating modern dance and electronic music in a club setting with a full bar. Arnold Schöenberg‘s Pierrot Lunaire, Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Georges Bizet‘s Carmen are just a few inspirations for Acoustica that the average classical theater and opera buff might notice. Unfamiliar with the revered work AcousticaElectronica draws upon? No problem. The delightful sensory overload of music, lights, and performers whirring around you begs you to succumb and indulge anyway. “One of our goals was to bring classical art to a group of people that wouldn’t normally experience or see it,” says Roberts. “From the beginning, we’ve had people who are fist pumping at an opera singer who have no idea what opera she’s singing, but they’re enjoying it.”
Much like a favorite bar or club, this show is deserving of more than just one go. “It’s like Cubism,” McGuire says. “In a sculpture that’s Cubist, there’s 360 degrees of something. And that’s how AcousticaElectronica is. You come once, you’re gonna see many faces of that sculpture, but you’re not gonna get it all. That’s part of the reason people love to come back and should come back.”
It’s not all glitter and roses for the ToUch folks, however: they’ve come up against some challenges gaining popularity. “It’s hard to own a theater company in the United States,” explains Roberts. “We don’t have the financial support from the government that a lot of other countries have, so our decision to be a for-profit arts company was a risk. I think we had to work really hard to crack the code of what would make us financially sustainable, but also allow us to create the work we want to create. Through collaboration, we solved that puzzle. What we came up with is art and immersive theater that takes place in a commercial setting, in a nightclub where people can drink. It’s not a theater setting.”
In a deliberate pursuit to reject the “starving artist” stereotype, Roberts and McGuire founded a sister company of ToUch Performance Art to supplement and support their livelihoods as creators, called ToUch Events. So far, this immersive event design company has created custom event experiences for The Trevor Project, Boston Lyric Opera, and the Breast Cancer Research Fund, among others. “We’ve been engaging in philanthropic events more and more,” says McGuire. “We did a fall fundraiser event with The Trevor Project, which is an LGBT outreach organization, and that really inspired us. So I think we’re trying to turn our focus to those philanthropic events that we believe in, and that we feel are really important.”
ToUch Performance Art is like seeing the symphony, opera, and ballet combined, where you can bust a serious move with a glow stick hanging from your neck and a craft cocktail sloshing onto the floor from your hand. It’s classical art that stays true to its origin while going out of its way to appeal to the modern consumer. Touch them and they’ll ToUch you back.