We Studied The Wolseley Institute’s Betwixt Exhibition
Russell: It all begins with an unexpected encounter. A brisk-walking, fast talking stranger pulls you in. He relishes sharing his history with you – and that of The Wolseley Institute, of course. The mood is set… you are in for a romp, a ride, an adventure… that what he seems to indicate as he sends you into the “exhibition,” as he calls it. Once you enter his realm, two fairie-esque characters greet you with a challenge to your identity. Who are you? Intruder? Onlooker? Passerby? Thief? You could be anybody entering this world. They don’t know who you are and you don’t know who they are. Perhaps… nothing is as at seems?
Mike: This scene set the tone of the show for me. These two creatures were so inquisitive about me. It was borderline interrogation, but at the same time, they made me feel so loved. I was a stranger in their world and they were doing all they could to find out more about me.
Russell: The first portions of the show are fast-paced. You exit a room, then are pulled back to find that the people who were there when you left may not be the same people who are present now. You pass through a short hallway, changing directions each time and ending with someone new at every turn. It adds up to be a confusing, energetic mishmash of ideas. Cohesive story does not seem to be the goal here, however the thematic strength of what is being presented looms large. If we are constantly in transition, if we are constantly on a journey, what should we leave behind and what should we cherish and carry with us as we move forward? These questions are ever present.
Mike: I loved this aspect of the show. You met so many people in such a short amount of time, that it was just a constant pounding on your senses. Getting pushed, pulled, commanded, etc all made this feel like I was in a place I shouldn’t be. Even though I felt like that, I never felt like I was in danger. These creatures were being cautious, but letting me know they were not playing around. I knew I had to stay in line and respect the world I was in and their beliefs.
Russell: “…a place I shouldn’t be” is a fascinating point, Mike. Even as we were moving through the show it seemed the characters we encountered were almost always moving on their own individual journey. We caught glimpses of other travelers as they caught glimpses of us. For me, one of the most intense sequences involves a character who actually isn’t traveling, she’s stuck. An artist in search of an audience, the horror of her existence may not be the uncertainty of any destination but instead a certainty that she has reached a destination that does not fulfill her.
Mike: This room was very powerful for me. The design of this room will have you questioning what you’re seeing. You may start to see things that aren’t there and your mind will play tricks on you. You can really feel the pain of the person in the room with you. What she says to you, the way she touches you (there is light touching in this show, but not in an extreme way), you feel for her. You want her to move on…in either direction.
Russell: I completely agree with you. The disorientation you feel by the tricky visuals in that room heightened the sadness and desperation. Moving into another room, you find yourself the subject of an interrogation… but the questions are nonsensical or densely philosophical. Who are you, the traveler, and do you know where you are headed? Maybe the choices themselves ARE the correct answer… choices guide your path.
Mike: Ahh the questions. Some were funny, possibly to loosen you up, and some could be looked at as being personal. I was asked a question that really made me think about the last few months of my life and it was tough to answer. I did answer honestly and I was able to continue on my journey. I could have fibbed here, but why? What’s the point of not telling the truth in this experience, in YOUR experience? Answering honestly will help you in some way. I know it did for me.
Russell: This is a show where your choices seem to alter each encounter. One of my favorite aspects of this show is the bizarre mix of tones ranging from heavy drama to whimsy to humor to sincere confusion. Quite often, the change in tone is instant from one line of dialog to another. It is both amusing and unsettling, and in responsive to what you bring into the room with you emotionally.
There are definitely intense elements in “Betwixt.” Early on, you are warned not all characters you may encounter are trustworthy. When one of those exchanges finally happens, it is up to the patron whether they see a monster before them or a savior. Or maybe it’s just a lonely traveler like yourself who could use a friend… if even for a moment. It’s an interesting dilemma and highlights the idea that as we travel through life our perspective shift’s with how we judge our surroundings. Notice I did not say interpret, I said judge. I walked away from this show pondering my own prejudices and assumptions about strangers I encounter.
That being said, I found the final sequence truly endearing as I found myself being judged by another. This wasn’t a negative thing, perhaps she was only trying to figure out where I belonged and was hoping to help me on my way. After all, life is just a journey. We are always in transition.
Mike: The mix of tones helps this show. I felt loved in this show and I also felt like I was a waste of a life. It wasn’t a constant direction one way or another and just when you feel happy, you get knocked down a few pegs and when you feel like you’re worthless, you get to feel loved again. This was my personal journey, of course your mileage may vary depending on how you take everything you see.
“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
For more information on The Wolseley Institute, check out their Instagram. This will be the place for announcements on upcoming events and a possible extension of Betwixt.