- Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin by Lisa Dring and Chelsea Sutton
Performed in late October, the immersive theatre experience Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin at first glance appeared to be a show reflective of the Halloween season. Billed as a retelling of Japanese ghost stories—“kaidan” is ghost story in Japanese—I expected a night of disturbing images of evil ghosts and mutilated bodies, perhaps integrating kabuki imagery. While kabuki makeup and Japanese-inspired costuming appeared frequently, Kaidan most strikingly utilized Japanese ghost stories as dramaturgy, employing themes of spirit revenge and Buddhist warnings against earthly obsessions. The performance, which took place in a storage facility in an industrial area of Los Angeles, ended up easing the boundaries between this world and the next, and contemplating our worldly connections to things and one another.
The performance began before we even set foot in the door. In the days preceding, Kaidan pressed us into action. I received a letter from Mori Storage employees asking for help finding their missing boss, Kana Mori. When the audience, a group of twelve, entered Mori Storage, employees led us to Kana’s office to peruse what she left behind. There, the phone rang. Kana, on the other line, directed our attention to the elevator that guided us to the maze of storage units above. In the scenes and installations [End Page 542] that followed, the otherworldly intersected ours through everyday material. Following Robin Bernstein’s idea of the “scriptive thing,” quotidian items, strewn about the storage facility, connected us to ghosts and pressed us into action. When we met up with Kana, she told us that the spirit “kitsune” (fox in Japanese) trapped her there. To be free of kitsune, Kana asked us to gather important items and carry them with us. Kana served as our unreliable tour guide, frantically leading us from room to room and occasionally leaving us to find our own way through the facility.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Things filled the storage units. Ghosts, when living, discarded them; now, they obsessed over these past links to their former lives. Sometimes we picked up things that the ghosts left behind; sometimes, on Kana’s instructions, we had to take them. In more participatory moments, we interacted with installations. Halfway through the performance, Kana led us to a corridor of six small rooms, each a meditation on our concerns. In one, an actor invited us to write a worry on a piece of paper; we then tied it to a string to leave behind. Another was Kana’s childhood room, where her things revealed her past with kitsune: when her father got into a car accident with a fox, Kana changed from a happy child to a sullen, troubled one.
In Kaidan, these things linked us to one another. The performance charged our small group to work to free Kana. Rogue Artists designed this effect by staggering performance start times, so that it felt like each of us occupied the storage facility alone. We briefly split up once or twice, but those were exceptions. Kana frequently warned us to stay together and I became acutely aware of our group, looking behind to ensure that we did not lose anyone. We encouraged one another when, for instance, a young audience member volunteered to steal a ghost’s tea canister.
Things were not all good, however. Kaidan made its pointed critique of materialism when we entered a room transformed into a commercial set for a fictional energy drink. The commercial was spectacular: in a sports car, Kana starred in an action chase. Over multiple takes the scene built to exhausted, violent excess. As Kana gulped down more of the energy drink, she and her co-stars, in ghoulish white makeup, became more manic and began to violently thrash about in the car. When actors involved us as crew, holding up...