Alone together

Square Product Theatre brings new staging of experimental ‘Celebration, Florida’ to Dairy Arts Center

Rotating pairs of unrehearsed actors perform together for the first time in Greg Wohead’s avant-garde play "Celebration, Florida." Photo courtesy Square Product Theater.

The journey from Celebration, Florida to Boulder, Colorado, began across the pond. Emily K. Harrison, producing artistic director for the local Square Product Theatre, stumbled upon a Soho Theatre production of Greg Wohead’s strange and cerebral play while teaching at Brunel University London in 2018. She had been researching shows to attend with her visiting partner, and this one stuck out. 

“It sounded like something different and right up my alley,” Harrison says. “I didn’t know the playwright before seeing the show but approached him in the bar after the performance. I told him that I ran this theater company in Colorado and that I was very interested in doing this show.” 

Harrison and Wohead stayed in touch following their introduction, collaborating the following year on the first Colorado production of the piece at Denver’s Buntport Theater and the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. This staging was the first time Wohead wasn’t involved in running the play’s intricate technical components live from the booth himself. 

Those technical concerns are essential to Celebration, Florida, a surrealist show that asks two unrehearsed actors who have never met to perform together. They know nothing other than where to start the performance before donning headsets that allow Wohead to feed individualized instructions to each actor through pre-recorded audio tracks. 

“It’s a play about isolation and loneliness, but also connection,” Harrison says. “There is isolation because of the headsets, but they have all these cool moments of engagement. Itdances around these ideas of what’s real as the performers serve as surrogates for Greg to explore authenticity.” 

‘A life of its own’

The play was inspired by Wohead’s experience of living two different lives while traveling back and forth between the United States and England. 

“No matter where I was, I felt as though I was always missing out on something,” Wohead says. “I was going through life trying to grab onto things to fill the feeling of missing people or places. I had seen a few other shows use headsets, and I was interested in using this device to create an autobiographical show that I wouldn’t have to perform.” 

Although the show is very personal to Wohead, Celebration, Florida, has since taken on a life of its own. That’s a welcome development for the playwright, who performs in most of his plays, since it’s one of the few shows that can happen without him in the room. 

“I love the idea that it is now off and doing its own thing,” Wohead says. “Emily has a good idea of how it works from a production she did a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to Colorado audiences and performers experiencing the show’s vulnerability and openness.”  

Celebration, Florida fits with Square Product Theatre’s mission to produce radical plays that leave audiences with just as many questions as answers. Along with allowing the company to experiment with different modes of performance, it also provides them with the unique opportunity to build community among a diverse group of artists who have never met. 

Deeper dialogue

Finding performers who didn’t know each other proved more challenging for Harrison than it was when she first staged the piece in 2019. However, through a community-wide casting call, she was able to find a mix of Colorado theater legends and newcomers alike. 

The show’s five rotating cast members include rita maria aires and Alexander Watson on March 15, GerRee Hinshaw and Elle Hong on March 16, Matthew Austin Combs and Nina Rolle on March 17, Dia Kline and Haley Johnson at the matinée on March 18 and James Brunt and Heather Kelley at the final performance that evening. 

“What I do in dance is very improvisational, so I’m curious to see how this plays out,” Hong says. “Emily told me not to rehearse the play [with] the person I am paired with; I’ll just work my normal nine-to-five and then go make a show happen.” 

Similarly to Hong, Combs, a newcomer to Colorado, said yes to the show because of his curiosity about the project. 

“I don’t know anything about it other than the casting requirements,” Combs says. “Maybe it has something to do with a town; it’s like Almost Maine, but instead it’s Celebration, Florida? I’m not entirely certain, but I am trying this thing where I say yes to different opportunities the universe presents me, to meet new people and get connected to the Colorado theater community.” 

Even though there is no rehearsal process, Harrison has been busy before the show’s opening finalizing the cast, promoting the play and ensuring the technical elements are up to speed. But however the final performances shake out, she hopes the show will bring the Boulder community into a deeper dialogue through experimental stagecraft.

“It brings these two humans together for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s funny and touching,” Harrison says. “During the last run, people were very moved. And I think bringing people together for unique experiences in a room is what live theater is all about.” 

ON STAGE: Celebration, Florida by Greg Wohead. 8 p.m. through March 18 (3 p.m. matinée on final day), Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets here.


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