A woman talks to her dead partner, and a man takes an LSD trip that borders on insanity and self-awakening; both of which are a part of the shared experience of Temporary Occupancy, an intimate outlook presented as exploring “isolation during a time of isolation.” It’s a piece that navigates the boundaries of transient living at a time where we all long for something that is more concrete. Based on its claims to “offer us an escape from the confines of our own mind,” I truly expected to be transported to a nether dimension somewhere on my computer screen. Because of the unsettling revelations about loneliness and loss, paired with how the characters interact with the hotel space, I certainly was. As the ensemble acts out the raw, realistic silhouettes of everyday people in a hotel room, you can truly see why this show of pandemic-era theater excels.
Originally intended to be performed live in a Miami Beach Hotel, Temporary Occupancy has been adapted by Philadelphia immersive theater company Die-Cast, in partnership with ArtsWest, to adhere to a more relevant, COVID-centered experience. With the utilization of cameras and technology to convey personal and heart-wrenching experiences to the audience, viewers can engross themselves in the at-home experience by taking an intake questionnaire with the front desk or messaging with an ominous man named Jude. These technical tools are part of the Vicurious Boutique, a special boutique that is the central idea of Temporary Occupancy. It is a simulation-centered, RPG-like interface that allows you to reach within yourself without feeling the negative effects of it on your mental psyche. By offering things like soothing background music to calm you while you take your intake exam and frequent consultation with the front desk, Temporary Occupancy effectively simulates a hotel room without the in-person experience.
The website elements of Temporary Occupancy make you more drawn to this boutique because it lacks the connection that you would normally have at a real hotel—human to human contact. Coupled with this and the hacking subplot that happens in the background as you navigate the room previews, your journey through Vicurious seems real and immersive. I was originally confused about how I would know where to go for each step of the experience, but because of the website’s organized layout, the steps for which you carry out your journey are very simple and straightforward. The website also has a clean, yet colorfully vivid design which makes the experience more eye-catching and present.
The filming is seemingly taking place through laptop or phone cameras depending on the context. Zoom calls, FaceTime-ing, vlogging, and mirrors act as a window for us to view the characters’ experiences. This type of context in which these cameras are employed makes these moments flow more naturally and adds more of an impact. Being up close to these people’s lives, we are right next to their faces and on the receiving end of their calls or conversations.
Where this may not seem unsettling in a stage setting, it most definitely is through a computer screen. It is almost as if you are intruding on these personal moments and confidential experiences, whereas in a real hotel room, you would have no right to violate them. Yet the reason why they feel so encroaching is because of the brief normality of their situations. These people are going through the COVID motions just like we are—quarantining just to see each other or leaving for a job. This COVID-normal reality feels chafing when faced with its raw blatancy in Temporary Occupancy. Yet because we are viewing this art in our rooms, on a screen where others’ personal information could be hacked, or an invasion of privacy is a probable outcome, it makes us feel more ashamed for eavesdropping into these characters' lives.
At the end of the day, the intimacy of Temporary Occupancy proves to be a very exciting viewing experience. This hotel room and the lives of these characters reflect the unsettling truth of our own seclusion during these times, as well as the fact that a hotel room does not do justice to the permanence and routine that we need during COVID. It is not this singular, physical hotel room that connects these characters together, but the sheer isolation and hopelessness that each character experiences in connection to each other. Sitting in my room in isolation along with the people in this hotel made me feel even more connected to their heartbreak as we all pondered the same question: When will this temporary occupancy end?
Temporary Occupancy is now streaming via ArtsWest and Die-Cast Philly. For more information see here.