Shakespeare's story, a smartphone's eyes, your experience

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 "Since I Suppose" by One Step at a Time Like This.

"Since I Suppose" by One Step at a Time Like This. (One Step at a Time Like This / November 18, 2013)

High on my list of the top Chicago shows of 2011 was "En Route," a remarkable show created by a boutique Australian theater company called One Step at a Time Like This. Due in part to its very limited capacity — the Melbourne-based company specializes in kinetic theater that plays to one moving person at a time — the show sold out fast. There were stories of politicos, donors and the like trying to clout their way into reservations, remarkable, given the reflective, avant-garde nature of the work. "En Route" was not exactly "Jersey Boys."

Unless you were one of roughly 300 people, it's unlikely you saw "En Route," so here is what happened.

You showed up at the Michigan Avenue bridge and were given an MP3 player. You then went on a solo journey through downtown Chicago, guided by instructions on the recording, and by other messages that winged their way to you in strange and often wonderful ways. This urban excursion and aesthetic treasure hunt took you through alleys and into a mysterious room inside the Hotel Burnham. You were forced to look where you had never looked before.

"For someone like me who has worked on Michigan Avenue for years, what is more familiar than the city of Chicago?" I wrote back then. "A city one thinks one knows, having lived most of one's life amid its streets, commuted along its sidewalks, cursed its flaws, dodged its terrors, pointed out its gorgeous summer sights to countless out-of-town friends. There's a good chance you feel the same. But if you take my fervent recommendation and go see 'En Route' … I guarantee you'll see this city in a way you have never seen it before."

That was 2011. Next week, One Step at a Time Like This will be back with an entirely new piece, albeit with the same one-person-at-once rules and thus roughly the same total capacity. It is called "Since I Suppose." And if Chicago was the star of "En Route," a template that has been adapted to many cities around the globe, the star of "Since I Suppose" is a play — William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure."

So how will that work?

"It is an experiment as to the relationship between the fictional and the real," said Suzanne Kersten, the co-creator of the piece, along with her partner, Julian Rickert. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is the presenter of One Step, so there is a thematic tie there.

Over coffee in the Loop this week, Kersten and Rickert were wistful about their experience here two years ago.

"We found that the people in Chicago tend to really love their city," Kersten said, noting that this had been far from the case in, say, Stratford East during the London Olympics or in Seoul, South Korea, which is perceived as a collection of different communities. "In other words in Chicago, we were mostly just giving people some time and space to spend some time with a relationship they already had."

That was most assuredly how I viewed the show. I suppose I have a relationship with "Measure for Measure" (I've seen it many times, and it is among Shakespeare's most interesting and politically pliable plays). But this will certainly be a different challenge, although, as Kersten noted, "Measure" is very much an urban play.

"En Route" was not new when it came to Chicago; "Since I Suppose" had not been seen previously in any form, although it will travel to Melbourne after Chicago. So Kersten and Rickert, who are compelled not by the trajectory of their own careers but by aesthetic and other challenges, have been holed up in and around the Loop, figuring out their show.

I managed to review "En Route" without spoilers (I think), so I have no plans to give away much about "Since I Suppose," not that I was told much. It is true that the technology is updated (this being 2014 rather than 2011) and that the new piece employs film as well as music and other stuff on the smartphone you will be handed at the start. Kersten points out, though, that most of the time we bury our heads in technology and become less aware of the environment; the idea behind this work is that you become more aware of the environment as you use technology, which is far more radical than you might first realize.

Rickert says he is newly fascinated by the implications of GPS technology for his work — the possibility, for example, of having a message that will only play after a phone arrives at a certain pre-determined spot, but he also said that the technology remains "not quite precise enough yet for us." Next time, I suppose, there will be more satellites in the sky.

Kersten and Rickert use technology but they are, by their own admission, deeply paranoid about making sure that it cannot break down (and thus ruin someone's experience) and yet more paranoid about making sure no user can hit the wrong button and blow up their own show, so to speak.

"Technology is a dangerous thing to have as a partner," Kersten said. "We are well aware of that."

And thus they are testing obsessively to make that everyone stays, well, en route to "Since I Suppose," you might say.

"Since I Suppose" plays Aug. 28 to Sept. 21, hosted by Chicago Shakespeare Theater; more information and tickets (phone sales only) at 312-595-5600.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter @ChrisJonesTrib

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