By Joe Szalinski
For many Yinzers, Camp Guyasuta conjures fond memories of childhoods spent outdoors in the pursuit of badges or some sort of self-discovery. For others, memories of staying up late to cobble together inappropriate Mad-Libs, getting punched in the face during a game of basketball, or getting run over by a runaway toboggan. However one’s experiences are flavored, Vigilance Theater Group harvests the collective nostalgia of sitting in the woods and attempting to figure out the human condition in their immersive production, Campfire Stories.
Once parked, audience members are led by a lantern-wielding guide or chauffeured via golf cart to the cozy amphitheater that’s nestled amongst the trees. Here, refreshments are offered; a couple beverages and s’mores kits that can be roasted and assembled by one of the fire tenders.
After people have a chance to get seated, Tal Kroser warms up the audience with a few songs, slyly getting folks to participate by playing a set that can best be described as “WDVE in the Wild.”
Following the well-known tunes, Charmaine Baldt dazzles with sizzling dance moves that make even the spectators sweat.
The bulk of the show consists of four stories read by a respective performer, along with some brief scenes that supplement the spoken word. Tal Kroser kicks things off with frighteningly fabulistic “I Stole a Sheep from Baba Yaga. I Have Been Punished Accordingly,” by Mike Langer.
Sydney Dubose goes up next, delivering an unsettling meditation on ghosts and relationships with her rendition of “The Unhaunting” by Kevin Nguyen.
“Are You Thirsty,” a bizarre take on a beloved beverage mascot, by Nicole Brady, is fantastically told by Elizabeth Glyptis.
Completing the quartet is gruff yet vulnerable Brett Sullivan Santry, whose gradually maddening recitation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe closes the show.
All of the performers involved do a spectacular job of delighting and/or terrifying the audience. Each storyteller is able to inject elements of their own personality and artistry into the tales. They allow the familiar to be reexamined and enjoyed in a new way while also allowing the alien and foreign to seem familiar. The dancing is both incredibly theatrical and wonderfully fits in to Vigilance’s “season of fire.” And what would a campfire be without someone with an acoustic guitar strumming some “Boomer Bangers” and a bit of more modern stuff?
This production’s conceit, although simplistic, is brilliant as an immersive piece of theatre. Not only are there the performances to enjoy, but there’s also the olfactory nirvana from the marriage of seemingly boundless nature and a controlled blaze, the delicious taste of toasty treats, the occasional water droplet from the branches above, all soundtracked by crackling of firewood and the dulled chatter of animals heckling from the shadows. It is a combination of artistic forms and styles that simultaneously innovates and harkens back to tradition.
Campfire Stories runs September 9 & 10 at Camp Guyasuta in Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here.