Attending a play during a pandemic looks something like this: sitting alone on a yoga mat in your living room/office/home gym at 10 p.m., a tiny MP3 player plugged into your ears, the room lit solely by a small plastic reading lamp clamped to a nearby bookshelf. You think of the time when, as a young child, you read picture books by the hall nightlight while the rest of the household slept. You are the only member of the audience, a moment of both liberty and exile.
The Acme Corporation’s newest production, The Institute for Counterfeit Memory, is a play that arrives in a cardboard box by mail. The contents of the box—including that MP3 player, that clip-on reading lamp/stage light, cue card diagrams, a compact mirror, a personalized letter, a glass jar, a 35mm Kodachrome transparency, a music box, and more—are carefully layered and arranged, allowing the audience to unpack the box/play according to the directions/script.
An instruction card reads: “You will need 30 minutes and a room that can get relatively dark and quiet. We recommend 8pm, but any time after dusk is suitable. When you are ready to begin please clip the reading light somewhere convenient and turn it on, then put the headphones in your ears, then turn on the device.” The audience member is a necessary participant in the production; nothing happens without them. They set the stage, move the props, and press the play button.