'The Encounter': Simon McBurney Salutes North Dakota Pipeline Protests at Broadway Opening

Simon McBurney Encounter Opening Getty H 2016
Walter McBride/Getty Images

After Simon McBurney finished his opening-night performance of The Encounter — the one-man show which features binaural technology (3D audio) via individual headphones for each theatergoer and follows a National Geographic photographer on a life-changing journey through the remote Javari Valley in Brazil — he addressed the Broadway audience directly and shared his experience meeting the play’s real-life subjects.

“I said, ‘I’m thinking of making a piece of theater,’ and [the tribe leader] said, ‘We hope you do, and when you do, we want you to go to your people and tell them that we, the Mayoruna people, exist.' They do, they work tirelessly, they’re in a constant political struggle,” McBurney asserted to the Golden Theatre attendees on Thursday. “They are fighting for their environment, our environment, just as people are in the North Dakota pipeline today.”

It’s a speech producers have asked the creator-director-star not to make every night, “because they feel it gets too long, but I think it’s very important,” he told The Hollywood Reporter at the opening party at Sardi’s, also attended by Willem Dafoe and Danny Strong. “Listen — now we’ve opened, I think I can do whatever I’d like.”

McBurney — who attributes his physical stamina to yoga and daily rehearsals — was told by attendee Kevin Kline that the performance was the single most transformative theatrical experience he’s ever had. It is high praise that follows the show’s hit London run, which has attracted potential successors. “My friend Damian Lewis, for example, and Benedict Cumberbatch expressed interest in doing it,” said McBurney.

Altogether, he hopes audiences are changed by The Encounter. “I hope they come away with a very powerful sense of place and question what is fictional and what is real and, therefore, what are the stories we’re telling about the world around us, which are affecting this world,” said McBurney. He then looked at his 7-year-old daughter, whom he was holding in his arms, and added, “I hope they’re thinking of the future, and what we’re leaving our little ones.”

The Encounter runs through Jan. 8.