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In ongoing dealings with performance art and its modes of production,  PPL release the Summer 2014 Open Call.



Can performance artists “emerge”? Are we looking to “establish” and “become visible?” (if so, what do we mean by this?) Are we trying to become famous? Is your cause an emergency? Do you need something? Do you have something you want seen? We coin a term, “EV” (“Emergency Visibility”) to describe, in general and in specificity, the ways in which live performance art problematizes these concerns and often subverts conceptual, economic, and other formal paradigms.

PERFORMANCY FORUM is a platform, it holds you up, but only so that you can be seen as part of an immediate situation by a living witnesses, who exist with you in the here and now. There is no visibility beyond the present tense, no life to the work beyond it’s liveness. There may be taken photographs or video. There may be post-performance discussion. But there will be only subjective schemas by which you may measure whether or not the performance you made became visible.

Please make proposals (ideally in debate with the above) for performances to occur on SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014 at Panoply Performance Laboratory in Brooklyn, NY.


tech needs
links to past work

in an email to: PANOPLYLAB@GMAIL.COM

FIVE ARTISTS will be selected to create performance works for the evening at PPL.
Preference is given to artists who have not performed here before (NEW BLOOD).

Artists receive all donations from the door and free beer all night + a souvenir screenshot of the Facebook event page*


*Unfortunately we do not have funds to support travel to or housing in NYC, we are a studio space run by artists, not an institution.

We (Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle) are recently returned to US soil after a harrowing durational airport performance in which we waited in line for 3 days and complained with the other people also waiting. This performance happened in addition to more specifically framed-as-art and scheduled performances in Berlin, Copenhagen, and Dortmund.

First, Teena Lange had us at Grüntaler9‎ for 4 days as part of her durational series “The Image or the Act?”  as part of MPA-B. Esther, Brian, Valerie Kuehne, and Ivy Castellanos performed 9am-9pm, operating a diner called You’re a Big Boy Now *OR* Rauschenberg Ist Tödlich, during which participants could order food (including cast chocolate body parts made by Ivy, burgers, eggs over easy, and various specials of the day), and actions/interactions involving psychoanalysis, plaster heads containing ketchup, more ketchup and mustard, food coloring, paper plates, and instruments of torture and noise including cello, meat grinders, electronic sound, keyboard, and piano horn. Video to come…

Ivy Castellanos, Hector Canonge, and Guru Rugu (Adam Overton) performed solos on three of the evenings as curated by PPL:

We also performed at the MPA-B Open, Loophole, and had some meetings about BIPAF…PPL then took a ferry ride across the Baltic Sea to be a part of Hitparaden at the Pumpehuset, where we met some fascinating folks and threw kroner into the river.  HERE IS A VIDEO OF THAT PEFORMANCE:

Back in Berlin, we participated in (CON)TEMPORARY SPACE-TIME  at AquaBit, performing solos…

We also talked to Verb Frau (a.k.a Margaret Dragu) on camera:…Then we took the bus to Dortmund to perform at the Shauspeilhaus as part of SMALL BEAST:

Then we went back to Berlin for more (CON)TEMPORARY SPACE-TIME at Leibig12:

All complex arguments about the “nature” of performance art (visual arts performance, theatre, music performance, etc) aside for the moment, here are some contexts into which you might be interested in locating your practice as a performance artist (cough).

Flux Projects
Deadline for Submission: February 29, 2012
Notification: April 30, 2012
The one-night only event takes place in Castleberry (Atlanta) Georgia, on Saturday, October 6, from 8:00 p.m. until midnight.

“Proposed projects can focus on any form of visual art or performance, broadly conceived, including sound installations.  Projects should be appropriate to a one-night event. ”

Very exciting, GES has released a formal call for work!

Grace Exhibition Space
Brooklyn, call for work, deadline Jan. 20, 2012

Grace Exhibition Space [GES] presents over 30 curated live performance art exhibitions each year, between February-May and September-November. Since opening in 2006, GES offers an opportunity to experience visceral and challenging works by the best of the current generation of international performance artists. Through discussions, workshops and live art, GES establishes an environment that supports exchange and collaboration among artists and audiences from diverse cultures and artistic backgrounds.

SUBMISSIONS – Deadline: January 20 for Spring, 2012
Submissions any time after will still be reviewedGUIDELINES:
Works of performance art that explores themes of the body and politics,
whether personal or social and beyond.
– CV
– Short Bio (One Paragraph, no more than 150 words)
– Short description of proposed work
– Description of past works
– Any relevant links
Images: – Up to 10 digital images no larger than 1280 pixels in any
direction and at 72 dpi. – Digital images should be named with applicant’s
full name and image # – In your email include title, medium, date, and a
brief description of the work(s) * Videos: – In your email, include the link
to your video on YouTube or Vimeo. – Also include the title, and a one
paragraph description of each video submitted.We expect you to be available to make a presentation about your work and to
teach and/or participate in a performance art-related workshop. Our schedule
is: Monday – Artist Presentations, Thursday – Artist Workshops, Friday –
Live Art Event. We can provide one week of housing, studio space and one-meal/day for
accepted artists. We are not able to provide travel funding, but will provide transportation
when you are arriving and leaving.Please send all submissions to:
Grace Exhibition Space
Directors, Jill McDermid-Hokanson and Erik Hokanson


April-June season deadline for Performance Works-in-Progress and other programming at Dixon Place is  January 1.

Visit for the submission guidelines and to see all of their performance programs.


Finally, PPL has a little call out of its own. We will be curating at Vaudeville Park as part of their resident curator program and elsewhere throughout 2012.

Thus, we are currently accepting proposals in three areas (below.)

In all three areas, appropriate work includes visual arts performance pieces, interdisciplinary performance art and theatre, experimental text for performance,  participatory and social arts practices projects,  sound art and performative and/or participatory experimental music and new opera.  We rarely consider work outside of these areas.

1.) 5-30 minute pieces/sets/actions/works to be performed as part of multiple-artist one-night events, during our monthly PERFORMANCY FORUM, or as part of conceptually-formed inter-disciplinary 1-night exhibitions. PF artists receive a cut of the door, full technical support, and are asked to engage with the “forum” aspects of this series, which vary in form in relationship with the exhibition’s conceptual framework.  Send description of pre-conceived piece, an inchoate idea for a piece, or simply introduce yourself and your work to us (as many PFs invite artists to create a new work for a specific forum) by sending description of specific work or artist statement, artist bio or CV and relevant work samples to, ATTN: Esther Neff.

2.) Evening-length pieces or full-evening shows with multiple artists. If you’re doing experimental theatre, please send an artist or mission statement. Send description of work or show, list of artists and links to their websites or work samples, technical needs, proposed financial arrangement (will you charge at the door? etc) and any relevant work samples to, ATTN: Esther Neff.

3.) Social Arts Practices and alternative forms of engaged performance: artist projects, seminars, panel discussions, workshops, and other process-based work.  Send description of what you intend to do and why + what you need to do it to, ATTN: Esther Neff.

Looking forward to hearing from you! E-mail me with any questions!


I have been reminding many of you to send performance documentation to Emergency INDEX, here’s another reminder: SUBMIT A DESCRIPTION OF YOUR PERFORMANCE TO EMERGENCY INDEX!!! (by January 3)

hope to see you at two panels/talks in which PPL co-directors will soon be participating:

Publishing Performance in the 21st Century: Ugly Duckling Presse / Emergency INDEX

Wednesday, November 30, 2011, from 6:30pm -9:30pm at

365 5th Avenue, New York, NY

This evening’s performance-infused forum will address performance criticism, documentation, and the relationship between writing and performance. A panel discussion with performance publishers, critics, and curators will be followed by performances by artists and playwrights based on critical writing about their own work; and open discussion between the panelists, artists, and audience members.


Antje Oegel (53rd State Press)
Esther Neff (Panoply Performance Laboratory)
Claudia La Rocco (Brooklyn Rail; New York Times)
Sylvan Oswald (Play A Journal of Plays)
Lana Wilson (Performa)
Moderated by Matvei Yankelevich (UDP)

THE PERFORMERS: Aki Sasamoto, Jim Findlay, Julia Jarcho

ABOUT Ugly Duckling Presse/ Emergency Ugly Duckling Presse, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit run by a volunteer editorial collective, is the home of the “Emergency” series: the former Emergency Gazette; Emergency Playscripts; and Emergency INDEX — a forthcoming annual publication, in which artists reflect on the work they created in the past year. More info at


Performers Forum
at Exapno, 33 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217

Sunday, December 4, from 3:00pm to 6:00pm

On Nov. 6, Performa 11 presented Perfect Lives Manhattan, a day-long, site-specific celebration of Robert Ashley’s seminal opera for television, arranged and performed by the burgeoning art collective, Varispeed. Please join Varispeed at the monthly Performers Forum where members Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto, Brian McCorkle and Gelsey Bell will be presenting a performative “live documentary” and public forum on the process, practice and production of Perfect Lives Manhattan. Site-specificity, arrangement, ownership and questions of what contemporary opera is will be discussed through live excerpts, new musical compositions, video and dialogue with attendees.

“Less an act of rescuing a work from oblivion than one of repurposing its materials to unleash latent potential…. That Varispeed’s members could express themselves so readily through Mr. Ashley’s work while remaining faithful to it was impressive.”
-Steve Smith, The New York Times

Varispeed is a newly formed collective of composer-performers from music and theatre groups Panoply Performance Laboratory, thingNY, and Why Lie? that creates site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events.

Performers Forum is anything you want it to be.  Curated by Corey Bracken. Suggested donation – Beers for $$$ – Awesome Vibes Gratis. Visit Performers Forum on the web for more details!

Facebook event

(Performers Forum is not to be confused with PERFORMANCY FORUM, though the latter welcomes any association with the former…)

Turkeys on Theory: Thursday November 24

After the Conference of Works at University of the Streets this past weekend I feel the need to write some kind of “assessment,” so here it is.  During the Conference, Ben Spatz (Urban Research Theater) used this term, “assessment” in his discussion of technique and transmission/education, as did Dave Thrasher in his discussion of his situational, interactive project, and I think it’s a very interesting word/concept in terms of live performance. Yes, much has been made of performance’s “liveness,” its transient, temporary state and the impossibility of concrete or “scientific” assessment.  Having dissipated several days ago now, how can this Conference of Works, which included around 60 participants (most of us played multiple roles of participant/audience/performer/presenter) over the course of the two days and amassed a multiplicity of concepts and concerns, be assessed? How can its effect be charted or analyzed?

Many artists over the course of the weekend (especially those who hope for socio-political operation in some way) said that they can’t assess how their work is operating, how it’s taken by an audience, assess whether or not it’s been “effective,” and if their choices in terms of Mode, Method, and Medium have been the “right” ones.  Carrie Dashow expressed a desire for documentation and review after a participatory process, notarizing material forms as Yesiree The Notary for the Conference attendees that swore to their self-assigned artistic identities.  Towards additional permanence, Amapola Prada makes haunting videos of her staged actions, which allow the works to travel internationally and last beyond the sunny Lima days on which they are shot. Other artists participating in the Conference expressed a rejection of assessing their work and practices at all, choosing to “feel through” audiences and their reactions in order to determine if and how performance modes are effective. Chance and Melanie of The Nerve Tank said they sometimes measure the success of their work by “walk outs,” knowing that it’s literally affective when individuals can’t handle it in some way. The project Nate Hill shared often produces active responses of offense, as his website selling milk gargled by “pretty white girls” rubs salt into more than one exposed cultural wound.

But do reactions to our work control our practical experiments in the “scientific” sense, or assist any direct cause-and-effect assessment? “Science,” they say, relies on an index, something left behind where there was once the thing, while offense, or amusement, or trains of thought, quickly dissolve into life itself and can’t be indexed at all, other than by the individual to which they belong.   How can we follow through on the research aspects of our practices and put performance research towards the development of our modes and methods?  During the course of the Conference, we experienced Martín Lanz Landázuri, William Bilwa Costa, and dancers researching resonance, embodying the concept and examining  how resonance can be used in performance and performed as such.  We also experienced part 2 of Handan Ozbilgin’s 3-part Maids project,  which jumps off from the “research” text of Jean Genet’s Maids, Hyatt Michael’s  Syb’L Vane piece, drawn from The Picture of Dorian Gray, and  Hector Canonge‘s Immigrant 101, a performance-context lecture on immigration, incorporating found research images and statistics. The idea of “scientific” exploration, research, and “problems” (especially in Lindsey Drury’s intense, improvisational and site-specific dance work and Angela Washko‘s performance in which she attempted to disrupt two men building cardboard boxes), and the place where these intersect with participation and collaboration kept coming up, at times fusing into related concerns, and other times breaking apart into concrete statements about reasons for working in a certain way.

Several artists expressed during the conference that they consider the analysis and assessment of our work, and the choices we make during the process of creating work, a completely subjective task, which can’t be performed in a scientific or even articulable manner, as no unified or communicable, objective analysis or set of decision-making criteria can be constructed.  On this note but in a different key, J.J. Lind of Immediate Medium spoke during the Sunday round-table about how his collaborators, coming from varying mediums, backgrounds, and fields, working immediately and in the moment together, can build a stronger aesthetic and conduct powerful experiments. This idea perhaps suggests that collaboration is inherently a form of constant analysis that negates the need for formal assessment. Collaboration across disciplines seems to provide an anodyne in this way to the “problem” of subjective analysis, as multiple artists can walk away from a collaborative with something subjective learned or explored, or they can create a kind of “meme-plexic” index, that pools subjective responses outside of the individual selves involved. Jason Andrew, founder of NORTE MAAR for Collaborative Projects in the Arts has found that co-creation between artists from different disciplines produces new modes of expression and experiment, as have experimental music ensemble thingNY’s Paul Pinto and Gelsey Bell. With collaborative and participatory processes in mind, I believe that the inherent “subjectivity” of an analytic process does not make such a process of assessment or analysis less useful; “subjective” sometimes becomes a buzz-word that means we don’t have to talk about it in public, but perhaps it means that when something is seen as subjective, we simply must perceive it in a different way, through the convergence  of a wide range of subjective perspectives.  Perhaps we need to collaborate on experimenting with analysis itself.  In my mind, this was the task of the Conference, to get a multiplicity of subjectivities out of a private sphere and into an analytic public one.  In the organization of the conference, the attempt to combine a number of subjective perspectives and analyses wasn’t about getting closer to “objectivity” by finding the similarities/common denominators between subjective perceptions, rather it was about gathering and being able to see more than one perception at a time, gathering perceptions outside one’s own, and considering them as a range of assessments.  Perhaps one could also say that this goal (of seeing more than one subjective perspective) is one of the primary operations of performance arts, performance research, and the subsequent experimentation that these modes catalyze.

I can only say for certain that the experience overall with this conference, for me, was consuming, overwhelming, at times confusing, and powerfully moving, and that the plethora of subjective goals, assessments, tasks, and conclusions took me closer to knowing how to research, through my own practice, the multi-dimensional reality that we all experience from such difference angles. I am incredibly grateful to all who participated, for their generosity, articulation, expression, communication, recognition, organization.  Thank you to those I mentioned here, and to the many others who came, participated, performed, perceived, and practiced (esp. Paul Pierog, who was the only person other than Brian and I who attended the entire conference, both days, first to last).  I hope we do it all again soon!

Institute_Institut is the last piece in a trilogy called the Transformational Grammar of the Institutional Glorybowl. Here is background, definition, and context for those who are interested.

In 2008, PPL created and produced the first work in this trilogy, Schooled and Unschooled, the first piece that PPL really considers a part of our own mode and aesthetic. I was teaching creative movement and acting when it began, both playing with 5 year olds and devising work with teenagers. On the same day, a six year old boy told me that his teacher told him he was a “Bad Kid” AND a sophomore in HS shared a scene in which a team of girls burned down their school. Likewise, I was struggling to use their ingrained physical patterns from school in my classes (hand raising for example, made me very uncomfortable as a teacher) and fully help them explore their experience through performance, but I was sensing a lake of rage and experience that I couldn’t possibly fully understand (having been unschooled K-12 myself). I was also conscious of my strong political and ideological opinions about education in this country (and how unqualified I was to be conclusive about any of these without any concrete experiences).

I wanted to test my subjective values, prejudices, and concerns about institutionalized education, and satisfy my curiosities about school at the same time. I was most curious about how it felt to be in grade school in the U.S, and how individual experiences with school formed worldviews, psychological and emotional patterns, and political perspectives. I ended up interviewing around 50 people, most of them teachers, children, and education “experts” of various sorts. I then combined/contrasted their statements, stories, and opinions with my own, and with the writings and theories of Piaget, Dewey, Adler, Bagley, Gardner, Foucault (and works using his theories), and many others. I was very nervous about the form of the piece, a class lead by a teacher with Brian’s songs performed live at intervals. The work was performed at Dixon Place (the old space) and the West End Theater on a budget of $135 by a mixed group of actors and “real people” who were school teachers, students, and individuals who had particular interest in the subject. The performances turned out of the pan in rather messy clumps of strong rhetoric, propaganda, and raw emotion. In retrospect, the piece seems very inchoate, the work of young artists throwing pieces of dough at the wall in hopes of creating dinner. During one of the performances, an audience member (a middle school teacher I found out later) stood up and shouted Boooo! and walked out. An excerpt from (rather poor quality) video documentation of Schooled and Unschooled can be found HERE.

The strong reactions to Schooled and Unschooled helped us form the next piece in the trilogy, Workforce/Forced Work. By this time, we had done a lot more research on documentary and post-dramatic performance post-Tectonic. It’s always useful to align one’s own theories with those of others. We also saw pieces by other theater artists working in “documentary” and engaged forms, as well as a great deal of performance art. I was also in the middle of collaborating with Dina Keller, a German director whose work is decidedly documentary. Workforce/Forced Work was created in an abandoned bank vault on Wall Street (across from the New York Stock Exchange) thanks to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The economy was collapsing all through the process. Here, for Workforce/Forced Work, the “Focus Workshop” was termed, as interviews became groups of individuals invited into the vault to re-perform their daily work actions, vent, discuss, and sometimes perform sequences of movement for video to be used in performance.  The final piece was comprised of pink rats, the repetitive gestures of workers, processed cheese food, and a dense, sample-driven score made from Brian’s field recordings in power plants, poultry factories, etc. We also did some clay animation, some Flash animation, incorporated a lot of video, and performed the piece in the vault and as a regular run through the Residency @ chashama. HERE is some documentation of this one. I also wrote this article for NYFA Current, which explains the direction that the trilogy was taking under the influence of Ranciere, Badiou, and a lot of other French Marx-influenced philosophers who appeared in NYC to lecture. This time, when an important funder asked loudly after the third show “WAS THAT EVEN THEATER?” we felt slightly less like juvenile delinquents and more like we were getting somewhere.

Finally, we have reached Institute_Institut, which will be less educational post-drama than the first two pieces, as influenced by PPL’s shift into documentary folk opera.  For this piece, the Focus Workshops figure more prominently as part of the project, and will be completely public. They are being advertised in English, Spanish, and French and will begin with a round-table discussion a la product-centered Focus Groups, with the consideration of “Institutions” and their suitability as frameworks for daily life. They will then “focus” into a group-psychology session, much like those made popular in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s regarding experience with gender, sexuality, and life path. Finally, we will enact institutional experiences and engage in explorations of institutions, using post-it notes, theater games, and other forms of physical analysis. I am using the workshops held by the Anti-Racist Alliance and permaculture guru Bill Mollison (among many others) as templates for this exploration.

Although the Focus Workshops will be taped, I doubt we will use actual footage from them in the piece (unless something is so amazing that it must be used). Rather, we will synthesize perspectives, opinions, experiences, and statements into “expressive” sequences which can be performed by four choirs. Dramaturgy is a major concern! We want to discover new forms of dramaturgy which do not rely on autonomous, symbolic/mythic/empiric systems. This project is more about the effects of institutional structures on individuals than it is about describing or defining specific institutions, as the concept of “institution” lies only in its enactment/influence. Most concretely, we are beginning with the idea that institutions are any mimetic (reproducing) social constructions which organize behavior, emotion, and so on into that which is perceived (by the institutional structure itself, as an emergent entity) as beneficial for a group of people. We wonder, how can we unpack this type of complex-systems-ese into ideas which can be used by individuals in daily life? How can we gain perspective on the “phenomenon” that is “institutionality”?

For an invitation to participate in the Focus Workshops, see the post below. Hope you can make it! We are also (in June) doing one-on-one interviews. If you are interested in being a one-on-one interviewee, e-mail me (Esther) at

(more on old Agrippa + Baron Münchhausen who pulled himself out of the mud by his own hair.)

thingNY and PPL have been stealing time (natch) with one another for the past few months now, arguing and experimenting and working intensely on two books for TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Partsthe first book is for us to follow onstage, a “book” in the sense of opera, a script with text, music, and stage directions, as per usual performance-creation.

The second book we’re calling the Performance Book, which will  contain the program, the entire 60-page script, references, keys, diagrams, rules for participatory games, the musical score of the work, as well as instructions for durational experiments, photographs, visual pieces, footnotes and a complete bibliography. Each audience member will be loaned a copy during the performance, with the opportunity to take it home afterwards. (P.S. we’re seeking help to print these, check out our IndiGoGo campaign)

The expansion of this project into time, through the pieces in the printed Performance Book is one of the most critical ways in which the expertise, theoretical backgrounds, and experiences of collaborating artists, which in some cases are radically different from my own,  have been pushing me into new areas of pleasurable confusion. In terms of this Performance Book, there are several ideas that have had an epoché-like effect, during which I am forced to focus my conceptions and attitudes surrounding fundamental questions in theater practice, and then attempt to see where I am just being absurdly religious and should really change my mind…

The primary crux of this is the facilitation of audience experience.

Despite my affairs with Hans-Thies Lehmann, I have long been partial to the rather austere mindset that a study of the communication between audience and performance is, necessarily, the study of two engaged bodies of participants, each with the objective of understanding one another or, at least, having a entertaining experience together. This mindset is certainly a part of epic theater and is the pre-conception that underlies the possibility for any verfremdungseffekt (in order for the effect to work, the audience must be expecting -or even conditioned- to engage with characters empathetically, but no “audience” can be affected according to an authorial plan, which isn’t the exact audience considered in the creation of the plan, i.e. if the audience doesn’t have the expectations that the author wants to subvert, what does the V-effect do?). It also forms a baseline for the trajectory of most performance work whose primary mode is a “political” one, which perceives theater (in a sense most spiritual) as a public forum for ideological clarification and organization.

This “political” trajectory, in  many senses (so they say), split from classical Greek intentions regarding reinforcement of moral engagement (as Martin Luther from the Catholic Church) along the seam between theater as an analytic medium (mode of transmission) and theater as an expressive/descriptive medium, but, like Christianity and Catholicism, these trajectories maintain similar (and deeply rooted) core tenets regarding audience engagement: most generally, that audiences have the expectation and ABILITY to engage empathetically with live performance.

I am partial to this general religious pre-conception about audience engagement and expectation maintained by theories of theater as an analytic medium and expressive one alike because it reinforces, in some senses, another important Democratic (in the ancient sense) socio-political belief, that ‘the masses’ are intelligent, engagable, curious, and inherently able to make decisions for themselves and others, and thus, that if they are directly faced (often in work created with this assumption this idea manifests itself literally onstage) they will face forward, ready for engagement (whether or not they are subsequently “permitted” to engage emotionally with characters or subsequently otherwise manipulated). And I still believe this in the political sense, but this view is facing complications in practice now. And why now? well it’s an argument for multi-disciplinary collaboration because my experience has been that working purely in theater and performance theory from a theater perspective, young theater artists such as myself have to dig deeply into post-dramatic and extremely avant-garde (and mostly German and British) theater in order to find work functioning outside of the assumption that the audience (most childishly put) has expectations. Additionally, I have had ideological issues with much of such “post-expectation” work, often offering the two-cents of criticism that often such work is only a part of a politically-aligned trajectory insofar as it seeks to disrupt the constructed perceptions that the artists perceive their audiences to be holding. (The differences between this and what the “political” epic theater, Boal‘s theater, and so on, uses as its rhetoric of rupture are interesting to analyze in light of Zizek’s Interrogating the Real but that’s another post). It has been only through collaboration with the “music people” of thingNY,  that I am truly questioning the pre-conception that transmission will occur in performance, or even that if it does occur, that it is a controlled enough situation that it can be facilitated by the authors of the piece. Dina Keller tried to explain all of this to me already in 2007 at the Lincoln Center Theater’s Director Lab but I didn’t get it…Now however, it seems that limiting performance modes to those which pre-conceive audience engagement as one of empathy, sympathy, terror, awe, and so on (as theorized by theater’s institutional doxa) completely ignores critical performance tools, many of which have been (exhaustively in fact) explored by the performance theory of music in the 20 and 21st centuries, and more academics than at whom I can shake my stick…So now, with help and humility, I am exploring the range of audience-experience facilitation practices which:

1.) are designed to formally seize (Lyotard?) the audience’s attention and construct (live) their expectations. Obviously, the presentation of shininess, violence, bare breasts, and so on (spectacle) abets this, but where does the grotesquery of Public Relations a la Bernays and psychological marketing meet a conscientious and empathetic invitation to publicly engage with an experience (that has already been paid for at the door, we presume)?

2.) are designed to create a mise en abyme (placement into repetition), unfortunately flying in the face of many of Derrida’s opinions, as well as into those of many dear Situationalists and Fluxers and Psychogeographers, like so many tiny moss-covered airplanes. Mimetic formal devices which are tools for analysis, synthesis, and actualization that can be performed and then used again in “real life.” A pathetically naive example of this would be a musical phrase that is “catchy” that is designed to help individuals cope in daily life. … I looked for the TED Talk about a guy who did this (his results are…eh) but I couldn’t find it again, but here’s a TED Talk by Mallika Sarabhai that puts a dose of application into all this trash-talking of mine. Mantras, and much “traditional” movement, dance, storytelling, etc can be considered, as well at Meyerhold‘s meme/mimetic/abymic efforts…this is all an interesting knot of terms and contradictions…

Moreover, it still makes nothing but sense (and thingNY’s practice agrees with this) that formal devices that function on a public, political level must begin in the smallest of in-performance details, and that the construction of a theory (way of seeing) onstage, in the theater, can be (if possible, should be) consciously and methodologically facilitated.

What one (passive voice) finds in this idea of a Performance Book creation, is inclusion of a whole range of tools in terms of the above 2 conceptions:

1.) direct invitations and rules for audience participation, aleatoric modes of performance as stemming from music theory.

2.) explanations of artist thought-processes that allow the audience to travel “deeper” into an idea being presented more quickly and with greater ease

3.) visual aids, diagrams, and equations to underly expressive modes of performance and link them into overall concepts

4.) citations so that audiences can continue explorations of the ideas contained in a performance, and if the sources are already known, better understand the performance’s historical, cultural, and dialectic context

5.) provide literary “punchlines” and mimetic phrases (of various kinds, as so masterfully done by Kafka, Galway Kinnel, and Anne Carson, links to works which do this), a tone and effect that I love so much…so exciting…I’ve been trying to create this effect with projected text for a few years.

and more, I am sure. But here’s the baron in the mud:

Do these tools give too much authority to the authors of a performance piece? Does the work become less Democratic?  Does it cease to be a public action? Is the audience’s path to engagement meant to remain subjective, and private inside each audience member, not controlled by the authors of the piece? How does this kind of work consider its individual audiences and individual audience members? How can it create these “aids” without being plain old condescending, seeming pretentious, underestimating the audience, or limiting the audience’s experience to that pre-conceived by the creators (who have their own specific, limited worldviews and experiences)? Is this not a colonial mindset? What exactly does aleatoricism do in theater performance?

I hope to better understand the implications of such things in “time” and through the performance of TIME…and I look forward to the endless cycles of proofs, skepticism, analysis, proofs, cycles which are infinite, but the infinite of course, is the opposite of time…AGRIPPA WILL NEVER DIE!

I am curious what any of the other theater artists, for example Witness Relocation, who did that aleatoric piece, I‘M GOING TO MAKE A SMALL INCISION BEHIND YOUR EAR TO CHECK AND SEE IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY HUMAN at the Bushwick Starr think about this…

Last Sunday Surreal Estate participated in BETA Spaces, (Bushwick Exhibition Triangle of Alternative Spaces). In addition to works by Lucy Valkyrie, Carrie Mae Rose, and Samwell Freeman, Chin Chih Yang performed his ‘Protection’ starting at 5pm. What follows is a ten-minute video of a 2.5 hour performance!

During the festival (which was very satisfying in terms of the work itself, and very well attended ) I kept my eye out for PPL-cousin collaboratives/collectives such as Inbred Hybrid Collective showing work at 49 Bogart as part of an exhibition entitled Mythologized, SKOTE at Fortress To Solitude, DataLore at Chez Bushwick, and of course the project The International Society for the Promotion and Recognition of the Collaborative ART GANG BANG , a kind of “flash collective” -slash- exquisite corpse project…Bushwick! O Bushwick…

The most famous psychonauts, or explorers of the mind/body/soul and its consciousness, construction, and sensation-based experience, have, like Timothy Leary, used psychoactives to launch their rockets into the sensate sphere where consciousness becomes something malleable and non-narrative. Others use psychoanalysis, dreamwork, or spiritual practices, and some use theater as a projection of reality, a “seeing place” that can be used not unlike an external/communicated version of the mind’s private “theater of the future” (Piaget) in which an individual projects the outcome of his or her actions inside the mind in order to determine and weigh the potential narrative of implications for in-the-moment action.

As I have insisted (ad nauseum, my apologies to those in direct contact with me), this theatrical projection of reality for “psychonautic” purposes is not the only “use” for theater, though it is perhaps the most popular in Modern Western cinema, and it can be very useful, when it is not simply a stylistic simulacra of actual psychological/cognitive investigation. Matthew Stephen Smith’s new play takes theater as a projection of consciousness and the human mind in the direction of his patron saint for the project, Ingmar Bergman. See, Ingmar Bergman agreed with Carl Jung (who along with Jean Piaget was the strongest influence on Timothy Leary) and a whole host of psychologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers of the mind, that there is a “break” (sort of like the voice between modal voice and falsetto) where the mind takes a step beyond a simplistic, narrative understanding of the self and into a more complex consciousness. This step is small, but supposedly very few people actually complete it, it’s the step into realization that the self is not the center of the universe and that the self is going to die. Actual recognition and absorption of this, the feeling and sensation of not being the center of conception of reality, the recognition of other consciousnesses, chaos, and of death, is the core conflict in Four Women at the Edge of the Desert, and the catalyst for actions both disturbing and recognizable. Each character in the piece is struggling with this step in her own way, and each resolves the step, or decides not to make it at all, in her own way. The use of this step-taking “event” in human consciousness makes the play seem, on the surface, to be a fairly straightforward psychological family drama albeit with an abnormally tight thematic structure. Yet, Matthew has done something additionally psychonautic here, condensing the play into one actor, unifying the conflict of the play with a subjective struggle, and with an attempt to ‘trigger’ (Jung and Leary) this step in the minds of the audience.

This formal framework for the piece is the most interesting to me, but I suspect that many will be caught up in the story and not get stuck in all of this analytical parlay:
Four Women at the Edge of the Desert‘s basic premise is that a small family of four women (two sisters, their mother, and the partner of one of the sisters) are visiting the Anza Borrego Desert, staying in the former house of deceased grandparents on the request of the youngest daughter, who has recently been released from the hospital. Needless to say, madness ensues, video splashes the wall, and Matthew himself performs the four women with his dance-based fluidity and classical acting chops. Come and tell us what you think beginning this Friday with some open workshop showings:

Four Women at the Edge of the Desert

Written and Performed by Matthew Stephen Smith
Directed by Esther Neff
Music and Sound by Brian McCorkle

Friday, October 22 at 8pm
Saturday, October 23 at 8pm
Sunday, October 24 at 4pm

603 Bergen St. Ste 103 (between Carlton Ave & Vanderbilt Ave)


Heads-up! It sounds like the Nerve Tank‘s (collaborative theater for the new century) masterminds, Melanie Armer and Chance Muehleck will be curating a Saturday-in-May event addressing the deck of questions in and related to my recent blog post about theater and performance art, discipline, the need or perceived need for a “new form,” etc, and the debate surrounding this question, its implications for artists working across the board in performance, and whatever else the participating artists find personally stimulating about anything in this swarm of questions.

The Nerve Tank's 'LIVE/FEED'

Dramaturgically, after speaking with Melanie and Chance yesterday, I have ultimate faith in their ability to nudge and choreograph said swarm into a honey-producing project and am terribly curious about what will come out of this buzzing. In this analogy, I suppose “honey” is dialetic, or concrete nourishment for and by the artists and audiences and we are all bees. Ok.

The Nerve Tank's 'The Attendants' (2007) is an interactive performance installation. The dominant set piece is a transparent plexiglass cube. People communicate with the performers by texting to them with their cell phones; the messages appear on screens that surround the cube.

This event, at Surreal Estate in May 2011, will address these questions through form and content of work by “theater” and “performance” artists whose work draws on multiple performance disciplines. (One hopes in search of  sustainable intellectual, aesthetic, and effectual inquiry. )

In the meantime, if you are not already familiar with the Nerve Tank’s work, please visit their website and watch some of these videos.

Hopefully, if you have not been fortunate to see their work live (say you just moved to the city, or don’t go to the theater), these videos and descriptions, etc will give you some idea of how work can seek to be dramaturgically, conceptually, and aesthetically unified and interesting while remaining nebulous in terms of its medium. Semantically, I guess it’s about medium vs. discipline? Well, hopefully you (reader) will join the discussion!