Part-theatrical performance and part-immersive experience, The Tipping Point puts audience members in the roles of escaped refugees from the second they walk in the front door of the former church, where a volunteer demands to see their ID and proof of vaccination, asks an assortment of questions, and provides them with a group number, then ushers them into a simulated refugee camp to await further instructions.
The show is clearly meant to educate, rather than entertain, asking the question: "What would it take for you to leave home?"
Beth Corning, Corningworks’ artistic director who directed the performance with co-director Gab Cody, originally planned for the show to premiere in March 2020 right as the coronavirus pandemic hit Pittsburgh, forcing its postponement for nearly two years. But the show, which never tells the audience what they’re running from, feels even more timely than ever after going through a pandemic, something so many people in the U.S. never thought they’d ever see.
The immersive part of the program re-imagines Doctors Without Borders’ global interactive exhibition Forced from Home, which included a 2017 tour stop in Pittsburgh. In this updated version, audience members are led through various rooms and up and down steps (note: this show is not handicapped accessible) to experience some of the challenges refugees face, including being questioned by people who don't speak the same language, and life-or-death situations.
In one instance, audience members are given only a short time to choose five items to take with them on their journey. Cast members shout to quickly make a decision. I see someone grab keys. I grab water bottles, blankets. I also have added stress because they have just given me a new addition to my family. They tell us if we’re traveling with a partner to work together. My friend and I try to collaborate, but with everyone rushing to grab items, the room is chaotic and the stress levels are high. Soon, we’re rushed to another location that makes me regret some of my choices. I put myself in the shoes of real-life refugees with every decision I make, and everything I do wrong.
The actors throughout never break character and are so believable that my friend, visibly uncomfortable after an actress who seemed to be close to tears showed us a photograph of someone whom she said was her missing son, asked me, “Are you sure this is part of the performance?”
The Tipping Point is staged several times each night, and either ending or beginning the show — depending on which one you’re attending — is an intense theatrical performance in the refugee camp involving 12 local dancers and actors and a group of resettled refugees. This includes members of a resettled Kurdish family from Syria who Corning first started working with over five years ago through the Jewish Family and Community Services’ Refugee & Immigrant Services program, and who she interviewed for this performance. Each of these family members’ stories, read aloud by the family and translated by actors in the show, are incredible to bear witness to, and are followed by a powerful dance ensemble backed with a fierce soundtrack that emits heart-stopping chaos, loss, and sadness all at once.
“They’re fuckin’ armchair liberals,” Corning told Pittsburgh City Paper in a March 2020 interview about the upcoming production, referring to people on social media who complain without actually doing anything beyond typing their disgust onto a keyboard. With this show, she aims to get people off the couch to do something.
After experiencing The Tipping Point, I’m questioning how anyone could not.
Corningworks' The Tipping Point. Times vary. Wed., Jan. 19-Sun., Jan. 30. 25 Carrick, 25 Carrick Ave., Carrick. $25-30. Some shows are sold out. corningworks.org