The premise is simple: The audience of Single Carrot Theatre’s new “Promenade: Baltimore” has been specially selected to participate in the resurrection of an old city bus route. Why they’ve been selected is uncertain, a process as mythic as the ghost-town of a course they’re to embark upon.
As the faux-WYPR announcement about the inaugural trip played in the Theater’s lobby, I found myself looking around at my fellow “riders,” smiling and giddy at the murder-mystery air. The sense of rowdy anticipation was only aided by our embarkation onto the designated Hopkins bus that would serve as seating and stage, each of us settling into the air-conditioned coach with padded headphones secured around eager ears.
What followed was less dinner theater than food for thought—and lots of it. As the bus rolled through the streets of Baltimore, a series of silent scenes played out, introducing us to the on-location cast: a Hopkins doc, a frat boy, a working-class “Hon,” a windshield-washer and others. Our bus would stop, allowing us to watch as the characters’ lives intertwined in unexpected ways, often in front of unsuspecting “real people.” The Baltimoreans’ reactions were telling, and touching—in one instance, a carful of passers-by stopped to intervene in the sidewalk stage fight unfolding before them, only to be (presumably) reassured of its fiction by one of the players; in another, several folks slowed to offer help to the actors miming a broken-down car. It took a while, too, to determine who were the actors and who were simply citizens—perhaps an obvious ploy to force us to pay attention to people, to the destitute man on the corner and the harried businesswoman on her iPhone, but effective nonetheless.
All the while, our headphones played a series of interviews about Baltimore, the real star of the show. Current and former residents spoke of inequality and the “city of neighborhoods” as our bus slithered from decadent Guilford to decaying York Road, of Freddie Gray and latent racism as we passed by boarded-up buildings in the dozens. They spoke, too, of blessed childhoods and bricks and stoop culture and hatred and hope, painting a portrait of the city that felt as complex as it did correct. By the trip’s end, I was close to tears, inspired to really see the city around me. But the spell was quickly broken—before long, the people I passed faded into the background, losing their stories and inherent interest, the possibility of being a character in my story. I can only hope that every once in a while I’ll remember to “look left, then right, then left again.”
Promenade: Baltimore is presented by Single Carrot Theatre and Stereo AKT. It is running June 2-25. There will be a post-show roundtable on June 22 and a Block Party on June 25. Learn more here.