An Immersive Experience in the Meatpacking District
July 20, 2017
Randy Weiner is always striving to break the rules of theater. Seeing You, an immersive theatre experience which opened in May, is Weiner’s latest attempt to create something that challenges conventions and norms of what is thought of traditionally, as theater. Weiner, a former science teacher, created “The Donkey Show,” “Sleep No More,” “Queen of the Night,” and founded the burlesque club, the Box. Recently we had the chance to sit down with him, to talk about his role as director and creator of Seeing You, to find out what drew him to the district and what we can expect from the show described as “unnervingly timely.”
Meatpacking: What drew you (and the show) to the Meatpacking District, to the space beneath the High Line? Has location influenced the show at all?
Randy Weiner: The producers of the show Will Griggs and Nick Panama found the space after searching around the city. We had done a workshop on 13th street right behind where we are now located, but in a small space. When you are down there rehearsing all the time, it is really fun when you can go to Chelsea Market or Gansevoort Market. It was a very personal and selfish decision.
Meatpacking: We totally get that.
RW: Once we found the space, we looked at the venue and reacted to it. We create projects that are immersive and experiential or whatever you want to call it, this funny kind of theater, which is in essence a response to the space. We are always trying to figure out what aspects of the performance space can be worked into the show. The space we found has a lot of height and the original pillars of the building are exposed. It feels industrial and this feels innately like America, holding itself up, really making itself great. I think all those things drove each of us to react, and we then tried to work them into the show.
Meatpacking: I like that you mentioned the words immersive and experiential. That’s the nature of this neighborhood and the direction it’s been going on for some time from Samsung 837 to Intersect by Lexus. So it seems like a natural fit that Seeing You chose to locate in Meatpacking. Back to the term “immersive,” how do you define this genre that you are in and in many ways set the standard for?
RW: How do I define the genre? What’s interesting is that in many ways it is actually not a genre. It’s kind an anti-genre because what’s so cool about it is that you can make up the rules each time. The fun of it is actually to try not to repeat yourself. Whereas there is a genre of theater where there are the seats and the stage. Broadway is a genre because there are a lot of seats and a big stage. Off Broadway is a genre because it’s a smaller stage. Each of them starts to define the kind of shows that are created for them. You could do a big stage and a lot of people or a small stage and a few people or the structure of the audience is walking around or standing or you could do whatever you want. What I like is when you keep breaking with convention, you keep discovering entirely new ways to have the audience experience the show. I think that’s what we’ve done; I think that’s what I have always done. I did a show on 27th St called The Donkey Show 20 years ago.
RW: The show happened in a nightclub and people would dance and you would sort of be dancing and watching the show and be part of the show. The Box was also a show because the performances are kind of staged. Then I did Sleep No More. Was it a museum or was it a big haunted house? After, I did Queen of the Night which was in Times Square with food. I think all of those spaces were extremely different. Every single one of those shows is completely different. It would be hard to call it a genre. I wanted to have a whole different relationship between the audience and the performer.
Meatpacking: What sets Seeing You apart from your other shows?
RW: I try to work with different collaborators for every project I do. This show I did with Ryan Heffington. Ryan is the coolest man in the world, this superstar choreographer who worked with SIA. This is really in honor of Ryan Heffington. The whole spirit, the tone, the style, and the music of it is all about Ryan Heffington. Honestly, he is cool because he’s so intelligent, hardworking, and truthful. He doesn’t care about being commercial or not commercial. All he cares about is being truthful.
Meatpacking: That’s awesome. Would it be safe to say that we should expect more choreography in Seeing You?
RW: Yes. That would be a very safe assumption.
Meatpacking: In the show’s description, it says it is “unnervingly timely.” Can you go into detail about that and how it relates to today?
RW: The whole show takes place in a very stylized World War II setting. We were a country who went to war for example with Japan, which is a particular part of the show. Japan would have things like kamikazes pilots. They fought their war on a completely different wavelength and they had a completely different culture from the West. There were things like suicide bombers and we were just trying to understand them. There were racial issues with Japanese Americans. There are also issues of sexuality, which normally you wouldn’t see in a WW II movie that doesn’t really deal with a gay couple. We just want to dig beneath what is usually presented to us and see it as messy humanity. African Americans also served in the war and we show how they were treated so it’s got all sorts of racial, sexual, political issues in the show. The show has relevant subject matters, but again we leave it for the audience to develop them for today.
Meatpacking: What is your day-to-day like at the production; is there a “typical” day for you?
RW: Wow a typical day. I’m working on a lot of things from Sleep No More to The Box to various projects all the time, but normally we would have rehearsal for Seeing You at 1pm. What I love to do is Citi Bike. Everyone who knows me is always like Randy has got his Citi Bike helmet on. I am a big proponent of bike helmets. By the time I finally park the bike, I do the rehearsal then we have a dinner break. I will either go sit on the High Line or just walk around the neighborhood. The neighborhood is so awesome and I’m old so I remember when it really was a place of meat packing with streets all slippery with blood and fat from the hanging carcasses. There is so much going on in the neighborhood today, such rapid development it’s shocking and phenomenal to witness.
Meatpacking: Do you ever bring your daughters into Meatpacking?
RW: My daughters love the Meatpacking District. We recently went to see the Whitney Biennial. When I want to go to Meatpacking, they are like bring it on and want to join me. I have turned them into mini little bikers so we will bike to the Meatpacking District and they absolutely love it. My wife loves it. We all love it.