'brain running a mile a minute" Feb 7, 2011
Immensely pleased to see (IN)STABILITY this weekend! I’d been curious how the ideas I had watched develop across short-form performances would translate to an evening-length piece, and left OtB with my brain running a mile a minute. Don’t you love it when artists do that?!
Since last spring (summer?) when I caught the first iteration of Hand 2 Mouth’s Uncanny Valley in Portland, I’ve been fascinated by performance’s ability – or lack thereof – to communicate with the audience. Not just to present a story, of which the audience can later recount who was on stage, what they said and did, and maybe how they felt about that…but rather to take a set of specific ideas or a feeling or connotation or association, and make the audience see THAT. I’ve seen plenty of shows try, and seen so many performances of all styles fail somewhere between a smidge and miserably.
Of course, I’m pretty sure that’s not what that first performance of a year-long (I think) development cycle was about…and that feeling was lost in later versions…but the questions it brought up surrounding performance and connection and communication remain.
Enter Paul Budraitis (with excellent direction and design collaboration), expertly traversing those lines of communication with the audience, making himself not performer, but one of US. Exploring the ways in which vulnerability, humor, physical proximity, and apparent sympathy can make other people let down their guard. The way you sometimes WISH a stranger would be with you. Using movement and timing to pull the audience in and out of the highly visceral or the familiarly performative. Playing through those awkward, antisocial, lonely, desperate moments you’ve likely had, too.
Hell, he used the old-fashioned art of mentioning places you know (see Frasier, Seattle) to make you feel more connected to him.
(IN)STABILITY answers the question of whether it’s possible to make an audience have (even roughly) the same picture in their heads and the same feeling in their hearts that you’ve set out to create, with a pretty damn clear, “Yes!” It certainly doesn’t hurt that in one-man shows (as with early writings, or compositions of other arts), the audience carries the unconscious presumption that the performer is talking about himself.
So here I wonder if anyone sees the problem.
What if a performer – another human being on any front, really – can do this really effectively? Make you sit there in a room with a clear power relationship (not in your favor what with you not being the one on stage) and make you feel like he could be your best friend? Like you and this character are two of a kind…and since you’re clearly OK (or ha ha! OK enough, right?) so is he. I’ve only rarely seen that happen (lucky enough to see Jerk here a few years ago?), and it’s a terrible feeling that only begins to go away as the audience’s laughter becomes more troubled, and slowly fades down to that one last holdout.
More bothersome question: What if your new friend here is a liar? A really good one? And what if you’re complicit in making his instability OK? I’m fairly certain (or at least hope) that under no other circumstance would we consider the story of a guy who follows a girl off a bus just a whimsical anecdote. Anywhere else, I’m pretty sure that would be met with a little more disconcerted tones than “Heh. AWK-WARD!”
I love this piece for pushing the audience into being complicit and maybe realizing it, and on top of that, into questioning how much we should trust this guy on stage…or maybe how much we should be people-pleasers, and convey empathy and agreement with what he says. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a layer of guilt wondering if we’re being walled-off Seattleites. I mean, it’s all talking about how we are afraid and we DON’T connect, right? Plus, if we can be won over by this guy, maybe he’s not that different from the TV commentator, or the politician, or the guy at the pulpit.
The funny thing is…once again, I have no idea whether ANY of this is the intent of the piece. With how much I gained from it, though – how much to talk about and get excited over – I don’t much care if it was. In all, there were a couple of things I’d change, and an audience that never really did stop laughing along with the charismatic character on stage. That audience thing did trouble me. Maybe they weren’t afraid enough this time around?
Beautifully done. My thanks go out to everyone involved!