The Evolve Experience is stressful. That was the one-word description a member of the audience voiced, at a preview dress rehearsal for the show—which plays four times at the Winningstad Theatre this weekend. The dozen or so community and media members assembled all nodded in agreement.

Other words that might describe the ongoing work of the Red Door Project, an organization that uses primarily theater arts to explore the relationship between law enforcement and the greater public?



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Red Door Project has been turning heads with their boundary pushing plays since at least 2016, when Hands Up, a series of monologues about racial profiling, exploded into art world discourse. To say that the show was successful is an understatement. They followed it up with 2018's Cop Out, monologues about police experience, drawn from conversations with predominantly African American officers. Eventually Red Door combined the two shows into the Evolve Experience, which was less of an exercise in equivalency than it was a multidimensional chart of perspective. 

I saw Evolve Experience in 2019, and it was both illuminating and overwhelming. The form Evolve Experience takes currently is less awe-inspiring, but also easier to understand—which is the whole point of the performance.


Opening with a series of broadcast clips, displayed on a video screen raised high on the stage wall, the preview began with a jumble of footage from recognizable, chaotic moments in recent history. It built to a moment of implied overload. Then the video visage of Red Door's co-founder Kevin Jones appeared to the impart the purpose of the show. Evolve wants to traverse such images / instances and the feelings they create and introduce a recommended three stage flow to their audience: Notice when you feel protective of yourself, work to expand by listening to others, and evolve into a more understanding mindset. In brief, protect, expand, evolve.

The flow is a work in progress itself. It reminded me of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, however you feel about that. I am in favor.

Following the video intro, we were finally treated to some theater. A smartly-dressed La’Tevin Alexander launched into a monologue that filled the nearly empty stage—on the stifling and existential threat of racial profiling. In the pin drop silent theater, the heavy boots of Joseph Perez Bertòt, wearing a police vest, uniform, and gear, interrupted Alexander's rage, and then became the target of it. The two faced off, with charged phrases piling high the philosophical weight of their discourse.

And then we watched another video. The video wasn't bad—it was based on a monologue from the 2019 performance. The video's format heightened some aspects of the piece, but lost something in the jarring transition between the warmth of stage acting and a recording—even a well done recording.

The rest of the show unfolded in a similar fashion. Alexander and Bertòt raised the blood pounding energy of the room, and then another prerecorded segment cut in. The filmed actors conveyed the monologues well, and the stories chosen were some of the best from what we saw in 2019. But those transitions was where the show began to feel like a school assembly.


"This is not a show, at least not in the traditional sense," Jones had explained in the intro. Evolve Experience's goal is "not to entertain," he said. So while I wanted more actors—and the chaos of those powerful, dramatic monologues that I remembered—I could also admit that the new format streamlined it to fit the Red Door's purpose nicely. 

Red Door Project co-founder Lesli Mones agreed with my guess during a brief audience talkback portion, after the preview. Evolve Experience has been slimmed down for travel—after its Portland dates it will show in Salinas, California. Mones noted that it's much easier to travel with just two actors than eight. 

So while I'm nostalgic for the emotional chaos of the previous Evolve Experience, I respect what Red Door has done here. It is art made to educate and be easily understood, and things that are easy to understand often, necessarily so, lose a little of their complexity.

I wouldn't want to see Evolve winnowed down to an entirely video format—the live stage portions are the heart of the production. There's still something unknowable and alchemical about an actor onstage that simply cannot make it through a video screen. Red Door were smart to keep live actor tension their cornerstone.

The Evolve Experience plays at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Fri Sept 22 & Sat Sept 23 7:30 pm, Sat Sept 23 & Sun Sept 24 2 pm, $24, tickets here, age recommendation of 13+