What does it mean to belong to a group? The Maryland Ensemble Theatre's latest original piece, Something Brilliant Will Come to Us, explores the social dynamics that drive people to passionate and sometimes fanatical involvement.
Something Brilliant shows the improvisational roots of the Frederick-based theater, which began in 1993 as an improv comedy troupe. Associate artistic director Gene Fouche called the play an interactive theater experience.
She said the point is not to make the audience laugh but to cross audience-performer boundaries and turn the audience into participants.
"I would equate it to an interactive museum exhibit," said Fouche.
She said audience members wouldn't be pulled on stage or forced to do anything they didn't want to do. They would, however, move from room to room in the ensemble's performance space at Frederick's FSK Hotel to see exhibits on each character before the "show part" of the evening.
The show examines all kinds of group dynamics: What drives people to join? What makes some want to lead and others follow?
"We started exploring cults, group dynamics, crowd theory," said Fouche. "That's when we pretty much came up with the concept for the play as it is."
The play's premise is a monthly membership meeting where characters try to recruit new members. Audience members are introduced to each character in the pre-show exhibits, Fouche said, "but through the show you see what's happening beyond the facade."
While Fouche is the play's director, she said the actors created their own characters, made their own choices and put the show together through improvisation.
"I see myself as more of an editor than anything else in this show," she said. "I send [the actors] out on little journeys, little treasure hunts to bring back source materials."
One actor, Denny Grizzle, also composed original music for Something Brilliant, which Fouche said he wrote for a group service held during the show.
Fouche said that the idea for Something Brilliant was born out of the controversy surrounding Danish political cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Islam considers images of the Prophet to be idolatrous. At the same time, theater members found Christian groups in Frederick handing out comic-book tracts by evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick.
They questioned what inspired such devotion and, eventually, the nature of group membership.
"I will warn you, it sounds much more controversial than it's actually going to end up being," said Fouche. "We hope that it will be thought-provoking, but I would be surprised if it's controversial."
Showtimes for "Something Brilliant Will Come to Us" at Maryland Ensemble Theatre, the FSK Hotel, 31 W. Patrick St., Frederick, are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays tomorrow through June 23. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 301-694-4744 or go to marylandensemble.org.