He is speaking behind you. No, he is right next to you, whispering into your ear. No, he is standing directly in front of you, just a few inches away.
This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, UMS will present “The Encounter” at the Power Center, a show performed by Complicite company. The show is a unique performance that relies solely on audio.
Simon McBurney, the director and performer of the one-man show, uses a binaural microphone, which is a 3D audio technology that recreates audio as it is heard by the human ear instead of artificially splitting sound into right and left channels. The audience wears headphones during the entirety of the performance, and Simon speaking into the microphone is the only theatrical component to the show.
“The microphone projects the direction of the sound, so to the audience, it could sound like he’s right behind them … or they could hear twigs in the jungle,” said Mallory Shea, UMS Marketing and Media Relations coordinator. “It really transports the audience into a different space and time.”
The performance follows the true story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre in 1969. Loren got lost in a rainforest in Brazil and ended up spending time with the people of Javari Valley. Simon recreates Loren’s experience using the binaural microphone, delving deep into the limits of human consciousness.
“You don’t really feel like you’re in reality anymore,” Shea said. “Dreams and reality are going back and forth and in-between to the audience … it’s about the power of sound in forming imagination.”
The show is inspired by the book “Amazon Beaming” by Petru Popescu, which features McIntyre’s journey. From this starting point, Simon began brainstorming ideas to piece together the show. As part of this process, he traveled to Brazil, where he met descendants of the Mayoruna people, documenting his trip through a video diary. After this journey, Simon used his experiences to finish his work.
“The Encounter” ran for three months on Broadway, and it is set for its California debut in April and May after being performed in Ann Arbor. This is not the first performance Ann Arbor has experienced by McBurney, who has performed three other shows in the city since 2004.
“Simon loves coming back to Ann Arbor because he really believes in our audience’s ability to understand and grasp his work,” Shea said. “Our audiences have forward-thinking people who are open to things that are different, and he really appreciates that about our audience. We still hear from people about how much they really loved the experience, more than 10 years later.”
Simon co-founded the show’s company, Complicite, in 1983. The company is based in London, and has played in over 40 countries across the world, winning over 50 awards for its productions.
Complicite is well-known for the extensive research and development that goes behind its productions. The company has also become famous for its distinctive stage language, which they develop using a combination of creativity with sound, lighting and video design. Complicite continues to experiment with new technology to bring compelling ideas to the stage.
“The Encounter” itself has won several awards since its debut in 2015, including the Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival, The Evening Standard Award for Best Design, The Knights Illumination Award for Best Production and most recently, The Stage Award for Innovation.