Expectations


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My mail the other day included a clipping from Seattle magazine, sent to me by my mother, about a Seattle theatre that plans to stage plays in elevators later this spring. The clipping, in its entirety:

Going up? You are if you’re joining Seattle’s edgy Annex Theatre for its series of Elevator Plays. Held in a yet-to-be-determined high-rise downtown, the series features 30-40 60-second plays calibrated for the tight time and space confines of an elevator ride (claustrophobics beware!). Switching elevators to see different plays, audience members get a visceral experience of the ups and downs of experimental theater.

The performance, unfortunately, has been postponed, (here’s a similar project in Louisville, KY) but there’s something tantalizing about using an elevator as a stage. It is a constricted space—temporally, physically, culturally—and it would be a fascinating project to use those constraints in pursuit of an artistic goal. How do you play off of these constraints? Does an elevator play follow (or have time to follow) Freytag’s pyramid? Do you treat the space as a kind of condensed theatre in the round? And how do you address the cultural proclivities—not speaking, even distribution, avoiding eye contact—that  people carry with them into elevators?

Elevators, because of these constraints, can’t be treated as a normal stage. To perform a thirty-second Hamlet or Waiting for Godot in an elevator, to an audience clustered against the back wall, misses the point: An elevator play should not transpose conventions of theatre into a space not designed for them, it should seek out the incongruities between the theater and the elevator and exploit them. It should find the cracks, force them open, and pour itself into them. The plays become thirty-second conversations overheard by the audience. The smallest gestures—hitting a button, shrugging, shifting weight—are freighted with new meaning. 

In this incarnation, the elevator play is a framing device. This is site-specific theatre at its most subtle. The actors and their conversations don’t appear any different than the people we see and the conversations we overhear everyday. The frame’s the thing: By cloaking their activities in the robes of theatre, by putting the frame of art around the mundane, we are able to direct and channel the attention of the audience, focussing it on a thirty-second snippet and encouraging a search for deeper meaning. (See Joshua Bell’s performance in a DC Metro station for how people respond to frameless art.)

The box of the elevator cab stands empty, ready to receive physical or cultural freight. I’m reminded of Jeff Stark’s I.R.T.: A Tragedy in Three Stations, which staged the history of the New York City subway system inside the New York City subway system, and of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, a book that uses the rise and fall of the elevator as an extended metaphor for racial uplift. An ideal elevator play would be a sort-of meeting of the two, a work staged in elevators that simultaneously played off of the constraints of the elevator and found deeper meaning in its structure and history.

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The extent to which we are unable to erase the local inconsistencies of our nonlocal systems.

Men’s restroom/tornado shelter, Denver International Airport, Denver, CO.

img_0421The repeating patterns that organize our world. Extrapolate, interpolate: Fern-like, a railroad network is equally legible at the level of the tie, the railroad track, the line.

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Chock Full o’ Nuts Coffee? Earlier examples of brand creep here and here.

C Concourse, Newark Liberty International Airport.

The New York Times has an article about how the subway trains on the 2, 4, and 5 lines sound as if they’re singing the first three notes to “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. (“There’s a place…”) The sounds aren’t notes, really, but screeches made by the DC/AC inverter, and the difference between them makes them register as a melody to the human ear. Reality as Rorschach test—we see in it what we want to see.

Related: Repurposing rumble strips to make roads sing.

The Atlantic has a great piece on Bob “Fish” Fishman, the director of CBS’s football coverage. Fishman is a one-man on-the-fly editing machine: He’s the one who splices together the view of the game, from dozens of cameras and video feeds, as the game is happening. 

Fishman is one of a cohort of artists and craftsmen who are invisible, working beneath the surface of reality to craft it as it happens. Sports coverage is a particularly apt metaphor for the creation of reality because these men and women create live work: If it’s in real-time, it must be real, right?

But the work can be live even if the creation of said work happened once, long ago. Disneyland comes to mind as a deliberate creation—sights, sounds, smells, actions—that can only be experienced live, a creation that lives through the scripts and protocols written once and set in motion, by Walter Elias, the absent-watchmaker.

Or without a single creator: There are absent-watchmakers aplenty behind our architecture and social rules, behind our objects and expectations.

[The Atlantic via Gizmodo]

rollercoaster_web - ilkka halso

Finnish artist Ilkka Halso imagines a Museum of Nature: roller coasters, theatres, exhibition chambers designed to frame what’s already around us and to put it on display. The idea of putting nature on display in this way is startling, until you recall that entertainers such as Disney have a long history of doing this and are still doing it. Issues of display, expected audiences: Running a roller coaster through nature strikes a discordant note because it fits neither our expectations about roller coasters (high on excitement, low on detail) nor our expectations about how to experience nature (the reverse).

It doesn’t really matter, for example, that the Jungle Cruise is an amalgamation, name-checking Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America in its tour of rivers, because the Jungle Cruise is implicitly understood not to be an authentic representation of those parts of the world. Entertainment, not education. (The Jungle Cruise is, on the other hand, fascinating for its Orientalism, as is most of Adventureland.)

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The images are almost more startling than the idea, reminiscent as they are of certain abandoned amusement parks. This appears not to be a museum of nature, but a museum appropriated by nature. We’re so used to seeing trees grow up inside a derelict frame structure that it doesn’t occur to us that the steel could grow around the trees. 

 

[Ilkka Halso via Tropolism]