Written and designed by Myers, directed by Schaal and conceived by both of them, “Cartography” presents a group of fictional young migrants. The play is set partly in a waiting room like so many that migrants pass through, where they fill out forms, whittling the details of intricate lives into facts terse enough to fit in the space provided. Another section takes place in an inflatable raft, the kind that desperate people pile into, trying to reach a new land.
In an interactive interlude, audience members are invited to take out their cellphones and add their families’ migration histories to a map of the world, which lights up onstage with a profusion of far-reaching paths.
Less apparent to spectators but also built into the production is sound-sensor technology that responds to the actors’ voices. Allowing them to control the level of the sea projected on the set, it inverts the experience of migrants who find themselves, perilously, at the mercy of the water they cross.
“Cartography” is the third theatrical collaboration between Schaal, who comes from the world of experimental downtown performance, and Myers, an author and artist from the world of children’s books. The first, “Go Forth,” in 2016, was inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Schaal’s mourning for her father. Then came “Jack &,” a piece about re-entering society after prison. Starring an amateur actor, it was part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
That show, Schaal said, was her take on community theater. “Cartography,” developed in part at the New Victory, is her first foray into children’s theater, and she has not dumbed it down. Sunny and cerebral, Schaal is dismissive of assumptions about what kind of work is for whom.
“Young people can be at the center of a contemporary art conversation,” she said, “and young people can be primary viewers of contemporary performance.”
Wherever they have taken “Cartography,” which so far has toured to Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., with dates in Abu Dhabi and Toronto coming up, Schaal and Myers have worked with student groups.