What is the Without Walls Festival and how do I do it?

La Jolla Playhouse’s celebration of immersive and site-specific performance opens Thursday and unfolds through the weekend at new location


If you have any trepidation about leaping feet-first into the gleeful riot of unpredictable, unconventional performance that is the La Jolla Playhouse WOW Festival, rest assured: The artists are right there with you.

“The WOW Festival is meant to explore what the boundaries of theater are, and I think part of it is embracing the frayed edges that come with it,” says the artist David Israel Reynoso, speaking of the spirit of experimentation that animates this biennial centerpiece of the Playhouse’s Without Walls program.

“This is something we’re trying out, and if you’re willing to play along, you’ll have a great time. We’re assembling this festival, but then we’re all going to jump off a cliff — and hope we take flight!”

Reynoso’s immersive piece “Las Quinceañeras” (created with Optika Moderna) is one of about two dozen works in this fourth edition of the fest, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

And speaking of taking a leap: The event unfolds in an entirely new location this year, the Arts District Liberty Station.

Playhouse artistic chief Christopher Ashley says the fact so many artists already make their homes at the onetime military facility was a big factor in choosing to move WOW there.

Another was its capacity to house the whole fest in one concentrated place: “One of the things we’ve learned is there’s a lot of value in having things close enough together to have a critical mass” of activity, which Ashley says helps make the experience “improvisatory and impulsive” for an audience. “I find that incredibly exciting.”

(Key tip: The Show Imaging Festival Stage will serve as festival headquarters, offering live music as well as food and drink.)

“And once we made the decision to put (the festival) at the old Naval Training Center,” Ashley adds, “so many of the artists got inspired by the nautical history and the Navy history.”

Teresa Sapien, the Playhouse associate producer who is curating and producing the event for the first time, has worked on past editions of the fest and says there are now Playhouse patrons “who seek out WOW programming as their preferred art form.”

She touts the broad mix of family-friendly and more adventurous fare at the festival (with many free events) and notes that while “there are definitely people who say, ‘We want to see everything!,’ not all the experiences are going to be for everyone.”

The key thing to remember: “There’s no wrong way to experience WOW.”

Without Walls Festival

When: Today through Sunday (check with theater for specific performance dates/times and locations)

Where: Arts District Liberty Station, Point Loma

Tickets: Free to $20

Phone: (858) 550-1010


The WOW Lineup

(Note: Some shows with limited capacity are already sold out.)

“Allegory,” by Sammi Cannold and Emily Maltby, with music by Ari Afsar (New York), based on “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life,” by Hazel MacKaye: A reimagining of a women’s suffrage pageant originally performed in 1913 on the steps of the U.S. Treasury building.

“As Far As My Fingertips Take Me,” by Tania El Khoury (Beirut/London): An audience member encounters a refugee through a gallery wall in this interactive work.

“Boats,” by Polyglot Theatre (Australia): Kids power lightweight boats with their feet and serve as “crew” on a high-seas adventure.

“Calafia at Liberty,” by Wetsuit Collective (San Diego): This exploration of the myth surrounding Queen Calafia unfolds around the land-locked vessel USS Recruit.

“The Golem of La Jolla — Excerpts in Concert: a modern parable spoken and sung,” music by Michael Roth, libretto by Allan Havis (San Diego): Amid unrest on the verge of the 2020 election, conflict erupts over employing a golem — “the ultimate bouncer” — to protect threatened mosques and synagogues.

“Hall Pass,” by Blindspot Collective (San Diego): Participants choose their own adventures in this series of short plays and musicals that delve into the highs and lows of high school courtesy of the Class of 2022.

“Hidden Stories,” by Begat Theater (France): In this site-specific “invisible performance,” audience members (wearing headphones) “eavesdrop” on the thoughts of passersby while on a roving odyssey.

“How High the Moon,” by Mike Sears (San Diego): The local playwright’s modern folk tale explores, through live music, puppetry and more, the story of blue-collar Buck and Erma and their quest to retrieve the moon.

“Ikaros,” by Third Rail Projects (New York): This audience-centered walking tour, commissioned by the Playhouse, draws on the sights, sounds and scents of a desert garden path as well as the roar of jets from the nearby airport and the mythic imagery of Icarus.

“Inclusion,” by San Diego Circus Center (San Diego): A celebration and exploration of difference in its myriad forms, as expressed through the boundary-crossing, inclusive art of the circus.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by San Diego Ballet (San Diego — Liberty Station): Shakespeare takes wing under the stars in the Bard-based ballet, unfolding amid real gardens in a 360-degree experience.

“Pandora and the Jar of Hope,” by Theatre Arts School of San Diego (San Diego — Liberty Station): Employing puppetry, dance, music and more, this project explores what happens when Pandora unwittingly sets a litany of woes loose upon the world, leaving only hope to hang onto. Directed and written by Courtney Corey and Wendy Maples; music by Matthew Armstrong.

“PDA,” by People of Interest (San Diego): The documentary dance-theater piece features real-life performer couples, and examines the history and public boundaries of their relationships.

“Peregrinus,” by Teatr KTO (Poland): The poetry of T.S. Eliot informs this “wildly kinetic,” 45-minute roving spectacle that depicts a day in the lives of “people whose existence is summed up by the journey between home and work.”

“Portals: Interactive Connected Trees,” by Matan Berkowitz (Israel): An interactive art installation that “turns trees into portals of nonverbal communication,” as they trigger each other to light up and reach a state of nirvana together.

“Las Quinceañeras,” by David Israel Reynoso/Optika Moderna (San Diego — Liberty Station): The creators of “Waking La Llorona” return with this Playhouse-commissioned, multisensory exploration of the famed rite of passage for teenage Latinas; “paranormal opticians” guide the participant through multiple quinceañeras in a “hallucinogenic journey into the early 1990s.”

“Senior Prom,” by San Diego Dance Theater (San Diego — Liberty Station): Some 40 senior-citizen dancers perform in a wide variety of “prom-like activities,” including a crowning of a king and queen.

“She Buried the Pistol,” by Lydia Blaisdell and the Hearth Theater (New York): This one-woman show explores the difficult hidden history of Blaisdell’s own great-grandmother, and “how to tell the story of someone erased from the records of polite society.”

“Tall Tales of the High Seas,” by Australia’s Strange Fruit (Australia): Three eccentric “mariners” perform this piece atop 16-foot “sway poles,” displaying “an arsenal of spectacular physical feats.”

“Theater on the Move,” by Oracle Performing Arts (San Diego): A pop-up venue for 12 audience members will host 10 separate five-minute plays in repertory throughout the fest.

“¡Vuela!,” by Inmigrantes Teatro (Mexico): Four battered birds attempt to reunite with their flock as a hurricane approaches in this “play about solidarity, teamwork and the ability to adapt and put on a brave face despite life’s difficulties.”

“Without a Net,” by Malashock Dance (San Diego — Liberty Station): This “multidimensional, immersive and participatory experience” draws on the theme of a down-at-the-heels traveling circus, and features an interactive photo booth, sideshow acts and more.

“Written in Stone,” by Backyard Renaissance Theatre (San Diego): “Hidden corners” of Stone Brewing’s Liberty Station Bistro & Gardens host performances of five new 10-minute plays commissioned by the Playhouse from the local troupe, the La Jolla theater’s most recent company-in-residence. The playwrights are: Mashuq Deen, Shairi Engle, Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, Daria Miyeko Marinelli and Marisela Treviño Orta.