Review: The Homes We Build by Twin Alchemy Collective
by Justin M. West
(. . . a fiction created by Twin Alchemy. . .)
“I want to get out of the house more,” I told her, trying in vain to move my arms. “I’m feeling claustrophobic. Cabin fever...”
Lauren smiled, nodding gently. “We will,” she said, touching my arm in that soft way that she knew still gave me goosebumps. My arms were too numb to feel them, though, and I couldn’t strain my neck to see. The physical therapy was helping, but not much. Not yet, anyway. At least I could still talk.
She fed me, took off my shoes for me. Asked if I was comfortable. In this moment we didn’t speak of what we knew was to come, that this was the new normal. We filled the moment instead with inside jokes and plans that we knew wouldn’t come to pass. We didn’t say that time was running out, almost as if leaving that unsaid would give us more of it.
I told her I was sorry. Lauren told me I didn’t have to be, but I saw the strain behind her eyes as she said it. Sixty years together meant that even her smallest movement could tell a story in a language that only wecould understand.
She moved me to the window, chuckling at my feigned grumpiness, and my mind began to wander backward in time. Back to the first night we met, abandoned by mutual friends who’d promised to play wing on our blind date. Back to the day I proposed and she miraculously said yes. A trip to Jamaica that ended in intestinal disaster. Our son. Our first dance with her as my wife and I her husband and the way her head felt against my shoulder. And - though I didn’t dare speak of it - to now… to no more dancing.
Despite all of it, all I could do was smile. Because it was all a fiction. Lauren and I had in fact never met before today, and might never meet again; the entire span of our relationship was a fiction devised in three hours within the rubric of Twin Alchemy’s latest project, The Homes We Build.
To call The Homes We Build an “experiential theatre project,” as its creators have dubbed it, is a profound reduction of the depth and poignancy of this experience. In Homes, Katie Green, Michael Rau, and Sean Moran have created a towering piece of participatory art that elicits the full spectrum of human emotion.
The mechanics of Homes are unique. Difficult to describe. After an introduction, participants are split into couples, with each duo retiring to their own literal tiny home. There, hints and prompts inspire improvised vignettes that track the milestones that punctuate any enduring love. There is no script, only the imagination of the participants, the stories they bring on their own, and the history they create together.
There are no beats missed within the narrative that ensues, nor are any wasted. Key turning points arrive without warning, each more powerful than the last and forcing difficult conversations and decisions that will affect how the story unfolds.
Couples may find themselves surprised at how quickly a sense of being “home” develops. By the end of our experience together, Lauren and I had even established something of a routine together. It developed naturally, and it felt comfortable to us. “It felt like we had everyone coming over to our place!” Lauren remarked at the end of the experience as the participants gathered in our living room for a debrief.
As with all of Twin Alchemy’s works, Homes challenges its participants to leave their comfort zones but does so on a foundation of trust. An initial feeling of vulnerability eventually gives way to that initial trust. The stories become easier to tell. A common language of inside jokes develops. A mutual history is there to draw upon, inspiring empathy and comfort. Painful events occur, and they resonate and inspire introspection and discovery that is experienced together.
As the milestones come and go, as the years tick by seemingly faster and faster, it becomes clear that your time together is growing short. This life that you’ve built, just like the life you’ll go back to when it’s over, is transient. Fleeting. Worthy of savoring. Or even questioning. Was it all worth it? We did okay, didn’t we?
Each couple will have their own unique experience. Homes provides context, but its true content is both devised and subjective. And in that subjectivity lies Homes’ true brilliance, for that tiny slice of life that germinates is but a perfect microcosm of the world one returns to afterwards. Our real lives may be different, and we may be different than the characters we play, but the human condition is shared by us all. Describing that condition, guiding us to explore it and to feel it is something that Homes does with wisdom and grace.
This is a deeply personal experience that will be unique to each person. For me, after ruminating on themes and events both invented and prescient, after experiences both captivating and excitingly tangible, real life feels almost... heavier. As if I haven’t been taking it seriously enough, maybe sweeping a few things under the rug here and there. Coasting. After all, the mortality one is faced with in Homes is no theatrical invention, it is real, and the meditation upon it here sinks in deep.
Driving home after the experience, I thought of that little slice of life I’d just created with Lauren. Things that hadn’t even existed in the morning became things I looked forward to in the afternoon. Our “trips to the porch” to decide some important thing or another. Lauren’s wry wit that peppered every conversation. My ineptitude at consoling her after a terrible haircut. I regretted that we didn’t talk about our son more. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
Alongside the melancholy was a feeling of contentment that I’d just experienced something entirely unique. I felt a renewed openness both to ideas and people. The person who had arrived at this experience - anxious, unsure, even nervous - wasn’t the same person who left. Instead I felt as though I’d made a new friend and played the antsy early parts of any relationship on fast forward for a while. Homes was a hand at my back pushing me through my own insecurities, helping me to emerge on the other side to find a radiant sense of belonging.
There’s a little slice of me left in that tiny house back in Luling, and something is a part of me now that wasn’t there yesterday.
For now, The Homes We Buildwas a standalone, one-day-only event. If you’ve read this far, I can only assume it seems interesting enough that such news should disappoint you. The good news is that Twin Alchemy tells me they are planning a repeat experience, possibly as early as next year, and that an “at home” version is in the works. That’s great news, as being one of only a handful of people to experience this has left me with survivors’ guilt.
September 14, 2019
Somewhere, TX, 00000
It’s happening next Saturday, September 14 from 12-9 pm in a tiny home community in Luling, TX (one hour outside Austin). Limited car seats are available if transportation is a barrier for you.
There’s a $30 suggested donation, but if you’re unable to pay the full amount, we strongly encourage you to still apply and pay what you can (your application won't be affected by your ability to pay). This suggested donation includes a one-night stay in a shared tiny home (should you choose, though the experience will end by 9pm and you may return home).