Step inside the ‘Outsider Room’

In stripping apart L’Étranger, a 1942 absurdist novel by French philosopher Albert Camus, and reassessing its relevance in the modern day, Harry Ross has set out to reroute our generation’s divided attention towards such pressing questions as: “What if? What for? What’s it all about?”

“My job is to produce those questions,” explains Ross, co-director of the experimental artist collective known as Fruit for the Apocalypse. His contribution to the British portion of the Beersheba Fringe Festival – an initiative designed to foster closer ties between Israel and the UK in the fields of art, education, and science – is an interactive escape room based on Camus’s dramatic novel. Actors from Israel’s progressive Clipa Theater will join him and his partner, Helen Scarlett O’Neill, to play different characters from L’Étranger. Each character will guide the audience through “personality tests, match tests, and quizzical games” that put gentrification and property development at their core.

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Ross shares, “We’re applying the techniques of the escape room to unlock the narrative of the book. At the same time, we are looking at how we are all hostages to our own sense of self. Are we living in bad faith or good faith?” He poses this question to the audience through the context of building a shiny, luxury property development – inhabitable by artists and the general public – smack dab in the middle of his set: Sha’ar Lanegev Visitor Center.

Neither Ross, O’Neill, nor Ariel Bronz and Idit Herman of Clipa Theater are strangers to site-specific work. Ross and O’Neill, for instance, have both independently worked in cultural centers in the past (for the national heritage organization, the national trust, the national archives, etc.), unlocking hidden history along the way.

Rather than using his performance space as a mere backdrop, Ross has practically turned the Negev Visiting Center into the experiential work’s protagonist.

“We based The Outsider Room off Camus’s novel because of the desert landscape,” he says, “but were equally drawn to the context of it being a visitor’s center, or an attraction if you will, as it makes [the performance] quite replicable.”

This avant-garde genre of experiential performance is currently trending in the UK – previously demonstrated in British contemporary choreographer Tom Dale’s interactive dance piece, I Infinite, which invited spectators to stand, sit and roam about freely during Tel Aviv’s Fresh Paint Festival in April. While equally committed to the main goal of Christian Duncumb, director of the British Council in Israel, to “show and celebrate a side of the UK that Israelis may not have been exposed to before,” Ross’ intentions for The Outsider Room extend far beyond its inaugural four shows in Beersheba. The British producer believes that the concept has a universal appeal.

“I’ve already been in touch with a few other places willing to host our show in the UK. That’s the interesting part – being able to make works with people who live so far away proves that we are all pretty similar at the end of the day. If we can make that work, we can go anywhere.”

Plus, if Ross can work around the language barriers of performing in a Hebrew show, then anything is possible.
Despite his dense, daring take on Fringe Theater, Ross leaves us on a strong note about the craft itself: “It’s just a genre really. It’s very similar to sitting down and watching The Cherry Orchard. The point in theater is to offer people a transcendent experience. In this case, we’re offering a transcendent experience by having them do something rather than watch something. At the end of the day, the craft is still the same.”

Whether you’re a scholar of Camus or just a fan of escape rooms, The Outsider Room is a multi-layered experience unlike any other. Unlock this absurd world on July 26 at the Beersheba Fringe Festival (iffb7).

For more information about SHOW UK, visit . For more information about Harry Ross, go to .

The project is the initiative of the Clore Foundation.