Photo by Clinton Brandhagen
When I asked a friend of mine if he wanted to come see Dog and Pony DC’s production of Beertown with me he replied, “No thanks- it doesn’t look like my type of thing.”
He’s right- if you expect to simply sit quietly through a show then Beertown isn’t for you.
However if you are ready to partake in a potluck dessert spread, slap on a nametag, and participate in some rousing discussion then I cannot recommend Beertown enough.
Audience participation is not only encouraged in Beertown but absolutely key for the show’s success. The audience becomes citizens of a Beertown, a fictional town in the heartland of the country. The town has gathered for the “Quinquennial Time Capsule Celebration”, a tradition held every five years where the town’s Time Capsule is opened and its contents are subject to examination. The citizens then vote on removing old items and adding new ones to reflect current values and image of Beertown today.
Led by Beertown Mayor Michael Soch (Joshua Drew) and other Dog & Pony ensemble members as Beertown employees and citizens, the audience walks through every step of the 100 year old tradition complete with a pledge of allegiance and a singing of the Beertown Hymn. Short antecedents are peppered in throughout the show that illustrate the all-too-familiar history of Beertown as an early frontier town that boomed through its production of (can you guess?) beer. The Beertown brewery has since closed and the town has fallen on tough times. You could easily substitute name “Beertown” with “Detroit” or “Cleveland” and the show wouldn’t skip a beat.
The small town portrayals of the Dog and Pony’s ensemble is only half the show- the other half is what the you as the town’s citizens bring to the table. The ability for the audience to get-up and interact with the show is truly refreshing and makes for a unique night of theatre. Over the course of the night every member of the audience raised their hand and offered something to say. I was surprised how quickly the patrons adopted Beertown as their town, starting sentences with, “As a Beertonian,” or “Our town.” Some even made-up personas and backstories- explaining how long their families have lived in Beertown and what living in this fictional town meant for them.
Almost as amazing as the audience participation was the transformation of the Capital Hill Arts Workshop blackbox space. Perhaps it’s because I have had the strange honor of stage managing the production that was in the space before Beertown, but I was impressed how Set Designer Colin K. Bills turned a black box into a convincing town hall basement complete with retro patterned white walls and parquet flooring.
Beertown will invoke many questions on how history changes through time and eyes, what control we have on our legacy and what is important to a community- but it is up to the audience to answer them. What makes Beertown a great experience is what you and the rest of the audience puts into it.
Dog and Pony DC’s production of Beertown performs through December 10th at the Capital, located at 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Closest Metro stop: Eastern Market (Blue/Orange lines). For more information visit their website.