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Photograph: Eric Y. Exiten route

en route by one step at a time like this | Theater review

A deliciously devised, surprise-laden piece of theater-as-walking-tour offers to reacquaint you with your environment.


A day or two before your scheduled expedition en route, you receive a text message telling you where it will start. Arriving there with your fully charged cell phone, so you can continue receiving texts and the occasional call to guide you on your unknown route, you’re given an MP3 player, headphones and a mysterious key, and sent on your way.

To reveal much more about the actual journey would spoil the vital element of surprise; this is, intentionally, an utterly unrepeatable experience, as knowing the next step would remove the throbbing sense of uncertain exhilaration to be found on this wholly unconventional performative-solo-walking-tour.

Created by the Melbourne artists one step at a time like this, first in their hometown, then again for Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe, en route hits Chicago as a guest of Chicago Shakespeare’s World’s Stage series (the creators will devise another version for East London next year, as part of the Cultural Olympiad). The audio text, consisting largely of snippets of poetry and prompts to consider your relationship to your surroundings, contains no specific references to Chicago (though it’s been newly recorded with voiceovers by Chicago actors and scored entirely by local musicians like the Flashbulb and Implodes). But the prods to reexamine Chicago spaces are a delicious jolt to the system.

Treading what I thought was familiar ground, picking up instructions in unexpected ways, I found myself hyperaware of my environment and taking intense pleasure in the sense that I was on an adventure almost no one I passed knew about. Reaching its end, knowing I could never revisit the journey afresh, was almost heartbreaking. But I found myself newly alert to the supposed mundanity of the city; for those who need reminding of the everyday mysteries in which we swim, en route is a bracing reboot.

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