Without Walls Festival 2019: Wonderful and Eclectic

One of the most satisfying projects in San Diego is La Jolla Playhouse’s annual WOW Festival. This year is no exception. An eclectic gathering of performances at Liberty Station drew folks across the full age spectrum. Most events are free, and some have a very affordable admission.

Peregrinus assayed the rise of conformity and consumerism in a dehumanized world. Teatr KTO riffed on the anxiety TS Eliot explored in poetry. Blending wordless dance and mime, the nine performers were energetic and expressive. The jets that flew overhead added an unexpected poignancy.
Pandora and Jar of Hope drew on the fears and anxieties of high school students to explore the tensions of growing up. The Theatre Arts School of San Diego’s cast of five leveraged a small stage in the round. The short middle third was a bit muddled after a very strong opening, but the conclusion of the 20 minute piece was cathartic and uplifting. I detected a bit of Julie Taymor, a worthy influence, during the last sequence.
The most ambitious production we saw at WOW contnued the high school experience. Hall Pass was an interactive production, staged inside High Tech High and presented by Blindspot Collective Theatre Company. The setting is perfect. The hook is we are visiting the school on an orientation tour, and we have a schedule of classes we choose to attend. As with shows like the magnificent Tamara (mid 1990s Los Angeles), it is best to split up so that you can reconvene with your date after and compare notes. The experience is immersive. One sequence pitted a trio of popular girls (with a predilection for prescription drugs to solve angst) opposite a pair of girls grieving the fatal overdose of a classmate. Another clever act was called “Detentionicide” and was presented by an angsty rap quartet. Sydney Joyner proved to be a standout, half of us saw her in the opening number as the ebullient Class President. “Lockdown” riffed on the airplane sequence in Almost Famous when the characters in the face of possible death reveal their hopes and fears.
Several ukulele players and dancers provided interstitial knee plays in the hallways, which also fill the gaps in coordinating the timing of each act / class.
The Tall Tales troupe defied gravity on their twirling ship. Invariably (and favorably) compared to a Cirque du Soleil act, they likewise were reacting excitedly to a plot only the actors know.
Without a Net was like being in the equivalent of the Close Up Room at Cirque du Soleil. Great acrobatics, rings, juggling and choreography made for a hugely satisfying experience under a very intimate Big Top.

A bit of a buzzkill was delivered by She Buried the Pistol, one woman’s effort at revisiting her great great grandmother’s near disappearance from the family’s history. It is very well-written, but probably better seen earlier in the day.

WOW reminds me of a blend of two great experiences: The LA Olympics Art Festival in 1984 (an eclectic and well-curated lineup) and the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival (an unsure but ultimately satisfying lineup).


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.