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ASU Gammage presents interactive digital theater experience 'American Dreams'

The cast of AMERICAN DREAMS during a performance.

A free, digital performance of "American Dreams" is being offered by ASU Gammage at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26.

September 08, 2020

Imagine a world in which the only way to earn citizenship to the United States of America was through a game show decided by audience input. How would you decide who was worthy of becoming a citizen, or what that worthiness even means?

This is the concept of "American Dreams," an interactive theater experience presented as a game show in which three contestants are competing for citizenship to “the greatest nation on Earth.”

A free, digital performance of the show is being offered by ASU Gammage on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m.

Leila Buck, the show’s creator who also stars as one of the two game show hosts, wrote "American Dreams" in hopes of encouraging those with U.S. citizenship to think about topics like immigration and what it means to be a citizen.

“I wanted to ask people who have opinions one way or the other, or maybe don't have opinions or think they don't, to put themselves in the shoes of the person who actually has to decide … whether or not they trust them to come to this country,” Buck said. “What would we do if we were actually the people that had to face another human being and decide whether or not we felt they deserved to come to this country and to be a fellow citizen? And how does that make us reflect on what it means to us to be a citizen, for those of us that have that privilege?”

The interactive audience element is unique from other plays in that audience members influence the outcome of the show, and ultimately, decide which of the three contestants they believe should win U.S. citizenship. This engagement, Buck said, leaves audience members contemplating their own choices throughout the play.

“Along the way the desire is for the journey to really take place, regardless of who everyone ends up voting for,” Buck said. “What happens when you respond positively to a contestant’s response to something, but your neighbor responds negatively? Maybe that neighbor is your family member or friend, and you go, ‘Wait a minute, we have a different response to that same thing.’ What kind of dialogue does that spark? And how can that help us engage around these issues that can be so polarizing, and are in some ways simple and in some ways, complex, and deeply personal in ways we may not even realize?”

Despite the transition to a digital format due to the coronavirus pandemic, Buck said, “there are ways that people can engage almost more intimately.”

"As we all know, those of us who've been doing calls on Zoom and these kinds of things, there's an odd way that it can feel more intimate, even though there's a distance,” Buck said. “We're excited to explore how this new format can actually deepen and enrich the experience for those who are engaged with us.”

Even in a remote setting with participants joining from across the country, Buck said the show’s interactive element allows the audience “to engage with what’s unfolding in a way that is not typical of even live theater always.”

“That is what I think is what’s unique about it, is that you’re not just sitting and passively watching something, you’re actually engaging in it and you’re excited to do it at various levels of engagement in different ways,” Buck said. “The idea is not to tell people how they should feel about this or what they should think or who they should choose. But to invite them to engage with themselves, really.”

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