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The Camino Project, an experiment in travel
by Amelia Orozco
2019-08-20

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Far removed from the constructs of your typical theater experience, Theatre Y evokes participation, both physical and emotional. The Camino Project is an experimental experience birthed from its writer, Evan Hill's and its director, his wife, Melissa Lorraine's personal experience on their own journey two years ago.

They, along with members of Theatre Y's ensemble, participated in a thousand-year-old tradition in Spain, El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage, from the French border to Finisterre, which involves walking fifteen miles a day for thirty-three days. In Roman times, Finisterre was believed to be the end of the known world. Perhaps today as pilgrims walk the path, they too come to the end of their world, riddled with routine and social constructs.

The Camino tradition is interwoven into Spanish culture in such a way that locals expect and gladly receive pilgrims in albergues, resting places, where they can sleep and get a meal. The path is marked with yellow arrows along the way, requiring little to no assistance from a GPS device. The once bone-riddled road from travelers-past is now both a tourist attraction and self-imposed pilgrimage for people from around the world, of all physical capacities and crossroads in life.

Evan Hill shared that after participating in Camino two years ago, the seed was planted, and he and Melissa set out to explore the concept. Together with two friends, Serbian choreographers, Heni Varga and Denes Dobrei, who also walked with them, the idea of presenting it as a theater experience in Chicago started to take shape.

Initially, they wanted to give theatergoers the Camino experience by re-creating the walk in a twelve-hour experience. "A strange improvised community forms along the path," says Melissa. "It's hard to talk about walking without walking," she adds. When the word theater means a "place to see," Theatre Y turns that on its head and revolutionizes the entire theater experience by making the audience part of the production.

In anticipation of The Camino Project's walking experience, WBEZ/Worldview's Jerome McDonnell and Nari Safavi hosted a "Town Hall" with Greek, Israeli, Ethiopian, Syrian, Iranian, Subsaharan, Haitian, Irish, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Rohingyan, South and West Side community leaders. As a way of connecting to travelers in The Camino Project, refugees were invited to share their experiences on how travel creates and changes the structure of community.

Each Saturday and Sunday, 3-9 p.m., the cast of The Camino Project will lead mobile theatergoers on a trek 3.5 hours long through Bucktown and Humboldt Park, and then all will enjoy a celebratory dinner together in a recreated albergue for about one-and-a-half hours. The production team includes experimental sound artist and composer Kimberly Sutton, lighting designer Rachel Levy, set designer Henry Wilkinson, and costume designer Rebecca Hinsdale—-all working together to recreate an unforgettable adventure in self-discovery through theater, dance and performance art.

Recalling his injury two days into their pilgrimage and how one actor in their company was lost for five days, Evan and Melissa ponder the reasons such risks are worth taking in an endeavor such as the Camino pilgrimage. Historically, pilgrims walked the path without shoes. It was built as punishment where they found meaning and atonement. In today's post-religious society there is thirst for meaning, but there may be some who just don't know where to find it. "There is something of 'zenitude' that permeates the path," says Melissa.

She admits that during the first week or so of her walk, she did not understand the walking. A vehicle would get to their destination in ten minutes and it might take them all day. She soon realized that, "the biggest reason for the walking was that it shatters the regime. You will not return to a 9 to 5 lifestyle in the same way. You enjoy a different pace as it shakes the foundation of the American capitalist model," she says.

Also built into the program is the understanding that it is really difficult to change. You are confronted with the gap of who you are or wish you were. In this environment, you must bring yourself there. You may have the desire to change, to emerge and grow or you may realize you do not want to change, and that is fine too. The realization itself is an accomplishment.

As Evan related, early on during the first couple of days on the French and Spanish border, a man on a wheelchair was assisted by others. They would push him over mountain ranges. This early image for him revealed pilgrims of all kinds, walking with injuries and disabilities but who continued and persevered. "In a pilgrimage you see the alternative of society, the fragility of the body, working through it. It creates a type of empathy for others as we navigate trials. There is just a greater compassion," he adds.

Evan and Melissa are interested in making an experience that would be deeply as challenging and rewarding in equal measure. "We are often cast as spectators and consumers," says Evan. This activity means involving the body in a semi-rigorous way. Your body is moving through space and exploring," says Evan. "But we will take care of the audience," assures Evan.

As one of Theater Y's enthusiasts recently shared, "What kind of audience member do I want to be today?" Participating in a walk with actors for a five-mile walk is sure to give him and others the option to choose.

In The Camino Project, the audience is mobile. "This puts their mind in a different sphere," shares Melissa. "They are presented options, invited to do this or not," she adds. As part of The Camino Project, a fictional "Bureau of Transient Affairs" corresponds with participants before the upcoming performance. There will be information exchanged as to their physical and dietary needs. They will also have instructions on how to prepare for the five-mile walk, what to wear, location of bathrooms and such. ( Melissa is quick to add how a day at Disney World is easily 10 miles of walking. ) There will also be information on when the food will be provided ( snacks and the main meal ). Melissa noted there will be light, non-invasive touching by actors. All this information is provided to prepare participants for a totally immersive experience. But, as Melissa pointed out, "each person chooses how much they want to participate or not."

Ultimately, each participant is encouraged to really take ownership of theirs and other's experience, to explore their own will, appetite, discomfort and weaknesses. "You will learn about yourself, not for judgment but awareness," adds Melissa.

Theatre Y's The Camino Project ( a free experience ) will continue through Sunday, Sept. 22, beginning and ending at Ipsento 606, 1813 N. Milwaukee Ave., Visit www.theatre-y.com .


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