The Tipping Point is such a memorable and important show.
Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
The Tipping Point has long been in the making. Beth Corning‘s visionary, immersive production of the refugee experience (a Corningworks production in collaboration with Doctors Without Borders) was supposed to premiere in March 2020. Like so many things, The Tipping Point was indefinitely delayed due to the pandemic. In some ways, that’s fitting as it’s a synecdoche of the refugee experience – inexplicable delays without the comfort of known, timebound outcomes and the unstable footing of chronic, prolonged uncertainty.
The show is a series of uncertain confrontations that commence at check-in. After showing proof of vaccination, one is immediately subjected to a series of brusque and invasive questions that go beyond the now familiar “how you been exposed to someone with COVID-19?” They include asking if you have diarrhea, have traveled outside of Pittsburgh, and have traveled to the free southern states. Each answer feels progressively more uncertain and cautious as one fears giving the “wrong” answer without knowing the rules of wrong. For instance, while my address is Pittsburgh, I live in the South Hills, so is that “outside” of Pittsburgh? Is a “free southern state” anything south of the Mason-Dixon line, or does that only mean former Confederate? Questioning the fuzzy, arbitrarily defined nature of boundaries and provoking an atmosphere of uncertainty ‘a la the refugee experience is precisely at the heart of Corning’s immersive theatre/dance production.
The production space is 25 Carrick, a church-turned creative arts center. The multi-level church provides a perfect location for the series of “checkpoints” the audience progresses through. The disorienting experience of being shuttled blindly between spaces is reminiscent of a haunted house, although the ghosts are photos here. Hundreds of family photos are scattered across the floors that remind you of the path of humans who have come before you, memories discarded. Due to the sheer number, you are forced to step on these faces, one of many micro-events that desensitize you and erode one’s sense of humanity.
The production demonstrates the extent to which we lean on social cues in the absence of certainty. At one point, small groups are shuttered into a space where instructions are barked in a foreign language. The gathered instinctually seek eye contact to discern the next steps, engendering both collectivism (looking to see what others are doing and choosing) and protectionism as this shared experience is ultimately highly individual, a mirror for the refugee experience. My companion and I started the production experience together. When we were abruptly separated, neither of us knew when we’d see each other again. The security of a timebound performance ensures a reunion at some point. However, it’s still highly uncomfortable, heightening empathy for refugees who experience the pain of separation without the certainty of reunion.
This immersive performance culminates with recitations of interviews by resettled refugees spoken in Arabic, then translated into English. The production’s Checkpoint Charlies gather to interpret these words and experiences rhythmically. Their movements, beautifully choreographed by Beth Corning, are overlaid with Joe Spinogatti’s haunting projection design and a visual surround of video clips and images documenting the refugee experience. The stories that unfold are fuller versions of what you just experienced in miniature, heightening the resonance as you’re attuned beyond passivity. In today’s continued climate of blatant, often violent, discrimination against refugees and people of color as well as LGBTQ+ communities, this production reminds us of our shared humanity and that we can lighten the high-stakes journey of humanity under duress seeking a better life.
Corningworks’ immersive production of The Tipping Point runs through January 30th at 25 Carrick. To purchase tickets for this transformative show (limit of 20 audience participants per show, plus proof of vaccination required), please visit https://corningworks.ticketspice.com/tipping