They're the friendliest cultists you're likely to meet. The New Settlers have invited us into their compound to get to know them, their beliefs, and practices before an event that they call the Rift or the Shift occurs, which they believe is any minute now. A new plane of existence will split off from the one we know, where they plan to build a New America, one that keeps the promises that they feel the existing America has made and broken.
The New Settlers are a creation of the San Francisco experimental theater ensemble Mugwumpin. The group's latest collectively-devised performance piece, The Great Big Also, is an immersive experience that requires a bit of audience participation. Identifiable by their matching glasses and the symbols patched onto their vests, the cultists chat up the visitors before the show in Z Space's lobby, accentuated with homey furnishings to make it look more like a group dwelling. There are bookshelves and comfy chairs, a chore wheel listing labors both domestic and spiritual ("chaos semantics," "stillness/vibration") and photos of American visionaries from Ben Franklin to Walt Whitman and Malcolm X.
Each Settler takes a group of visitors into a different side of the theater space, which has been transformed into a large boxlike maze of rooms with walls of white fabric. The friendly hosts ask the visitors to gauge their willingness to fight and maybe die for the possibility of this New America, and then each group is split up into different rooms. As the only person in my tour group to report absolute unwillingness to sacrifice for the cause, I was placed in a room by myself, expecting to be grouped with other "no"s, but my first cellmate was a definite maybe, followed by a couple people who got really into actively questioning the characters around them.
Although uniformly upbeat and zealous, the eight sect members have distinct personalities. Ann (Natalie Greene) and Emma (Stephanie DeMott) have a guarded sweetness about them, while Victoria (Madeline H.D. Brown), Walter (Joe Estlack) and Benjy (Michelle Talgarow) are intense, take-charge Type A personalities. There's a hint of doubt and fretfulness in Susannah Martin's Rachel, Frederick (Wiley Naman Strasser) has a wild-eyed intensity, and Little Peace (Michael Mohammed) is more blissed-out.