Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Five Works of Art Discovered/Experienced in 2017.

I love writing this every year, trying to recall every piece of art I encountered in the last twelve months. This year, because of the Edinburgh Fringe, I saw a lot more theatre than usual and so there are a lot more contenders to choose from, though not one single Broadway show or David Bowie album (sadly). I think this may actually be the first time that all five actually came from the current year - no books, movies, or albums that I was just discovering for the first time.

1. Andrew Schneider, YOUARENOWHERE

Without a doubt, this has to be number one. I called that way back in January when I saw it. This might be the best theatre I have EVER seen, not just the best this year. Nothing has come close to affecting me the way this did. Of course the recent circumstances (Travis's heart attack) helped tremendously, as well as my love for performance that incorporates technology, David Lynch, and anything that reminds me strongly of Synecdoche, NY. But, god, theatre has never fooled me like that before, never made me feel as though actual physical magic had taken place and I was unaware of it. The best word I have for it is "transcendent," and the best way I can describe my reaction to it is that it wrecked me for days after. You need to go into this show knowing nothing. Not one damn thing about it. I am dying to see his new show, AFTER, at Under the Radar in January but unfortunately can't afford a plane ticket to NYC at the moment. Hopefully it will be at the Walker in January, or somewhere else in NYC when I have more time and money, or maybe in Los Angeles on one of my 97 trips there.

2. Theatre Conspiracy, Foreign Radical

My first show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, I saw this before anyone else in my company did and spent the rest of our time there nagging everyone to go see it. This was a perfect blending of immersive and political theatre, bringing a subject that affects not-me to an intensely personal level and forcing me to relate directly to it. It's one thing to hear about how the terror watchlist in the United States is used but it's another to have the same tactics applied to you, someone who would (likely) never have to worry about being targeted. One of the brilliant things about immersive theatre, when done right, is how effectively personal it can make any story. Foreign Radical did exactly that because after being introduced to the overall theme, that theme seemingly went out the window to be replaced by a game. By the time it came back around to being serious at the end, I was caught completely off guard and I will never forget that moment. This show wasn't about learning about myself as much as it was learning about others and about my lack of knowledge and empathy, and how I had to change.

3. Darren Lynn Bousman & Clint Sears, The Lust Experience

This feels a bit premature because it is still ongoing, but the damn thing has been ongoing since February and has taken up not only most of my year but most of Travis's as well, by proxy, and has had a massive impact on me. Last year's The Tension Experience was one of the best experiences I've ever had, but it pales in comparison in just about every aspect to what they are doing with Lust. The narrative is stronger, has more complexity, there is a deeper sense of world building and a feeling that we are an intrinsic part of that world (some of us to a greater, more disturbing, less trustworthy extent than others). I am not normally this affected by a piece of art, I am not a paranoid person, I'm incredibly logical and reasonable - but they got me, with a frightening amount of precision. At the recent "Mid-Season Event," Anointment, there was a special invite-only final show in which the performance operated like a giant sandbox: we were allowed to go wherever we wanted, interact with anyone we wanted, and the number of narratives that were taking place simultaneously was astounding. Seeing people piece together their experiences a week later from an event that only ran for four days - with one special performance lasting only one night - has been incredible. And this is a piece of immersive theatre where I am learning about myself, though not exactly pleasant things. It's making me work through things I didn't want to work through, which is not entirely what I signed up for.

4. The Theatre Practice, Blank Run

I saw this performed at World Stage Design in Taipei this past summer, as part of Scenofest. Short, simple, stunning, it's performed in Mandarin (there isn't very much language used at all) without subtitles, and it's largely a movement/video piece in which one performer is literally piecing together fragments of a memory of what happened to her. The brilliance of it to me was the structure used for projection, which allowed the projector to be mounted on a moveable frame (on castors) on which she could hang white articles of clothing. The projector served as a rear projector on these, but the entire structure could be moved without moving the image, because the projector would move with the frame. Put three of these frames together, three projectors, and you have endless combinations of "puzzle pieces" to assemble. The overall piece was haunting, the imagery was stunning, and even though "what happened" was predictable from the start, the way she discovered it was anything but.

5. Penumbra Theatre, Wedding Band

Oh look - an actual traditional play with an actual script on my list! I took my first year students to see this in the fall semester and it was beautiful. I ended up seeing it twice, taking Travis and sitting almost in the front row, which put us smack dab in the middle of the full-on rage scene between Julia and Herman's mother. I loved the discussions my students had about this play, too, and how much I learned from them, because they were so astute when it came to picking up cues from staging and design choices. The acting was phenomenal and the designs were all beautiful, and of course, because I loved it it must have morally grey areas, which of course led to all sorts of lengthy discussions in class. I'm still reading papers the students wrote on it. Of all the plays I took them to this semester this was the one I was looking forward to least, and it ended up being my favorite.

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