Small Metal Objects started with a sense of wonderful displacement. We sat in tiered rows of seats placed in the main square of the Vancouver Public Library, wearing headphones that were wired directly into microphones worn by the actors. A fantastic idea – as the soundtrack started, suddenly all of the people who happened to be walking by were part of the production. They acquired extraordinary depth and meaning as we scanned faces, trying to pick out what we were meant to be watching for, much like background music sets tone in movies. Voices began, a plodding two-person conversation punctuated with surprisingly effective ambient pieces of song. It was interesting watching other audience members examine the surrounding pedestrians, searching for the actors we were ostensibly there to be watching. I liked how divorced we were from our surroundings, how replacing what we heard created an artificial barrier between participants and everyone else, molding us into a rather ultimate audience. Suddenly absolutely everything was part of the show. One man, dapper in a works-at-university sort of way, white hair, books in hand, did a little dance number as he walked past, enjoying the attention, as did a tiny girl. Another pair stood directly in front of the actors, blocking our view entirely, and pointed to our smirking amusement, unable to figure out why everyone was suddenly looking right at them.
The story itself was not particularly arresting, an (unconfirmed) awkward drug-deal that didn’t go anywhere, tense, interesting and fun without being captivating, but I loved how simply the production premise transformed the beautiful, though otherwise mundane space into a gloriously semi-anonymous stage. It reminded me of what flash mobs have evolved into, groups of people participating in what seems to be something completely random to anyone not in on the event. Invisible theater. Pillow-fights, flash-freezing, going without pants on subway trains, silent dance parties. Especially silent dance parties, but with an extra level, as we were only passively participating, yet could be mistaken for a performance all our own when we laughed in unison at apparently nothing.
I saw another hyped show this week, Clark And I Somewhere In Connecticut. Heavily relying on video, it involves a man in a subversive, slightly creepy, caramel coloured bunny suit telling the story of a suitcase full of anonymous photo albums he found in an alley behind his home. Tied in with accounts of a famous Japanese cannibal and strange repeated interviews about a story of a puppy killing, the facts and fictions woven around the family history he reconstructed from the photo albums make for a fascinating narrative, as well as a perfect background for the legal saga that unfolded once he found the family pictures. The family that, unfortunately, did not want him to use the photos in any way whatsoever and threatened him with a lawsuit if he continued, which led into a very interesting exploration of copyright and the use of found images in art.
I felt somehow that it started out trying to be provocative, but ended with a catch in its voice, thoroughly sincere, as if it’s impossible to remain cynical or ego-less when dealing with such personal subjects. One of the books, for example, the fifth book, is devoted entirely to a poet Pomeranian, Mandy, who gets more attention than the other fourty years of family combined, and it was easy to tell that the artist who wrote and acted the piece, James Long, found something inescapably heartfelt about it. Though initially he mocked the dog-obsession with a wry condescension, his tone becomes compassionate, more serious as the emotions tied to the books become increasingly anxious and urgent. In the end the little dog is a showpiece, a fluffy little metaphor ferociously loved and compellingly protected. There were other choices I appreciated, like how, in order to avoid mentioning any of their names, he created complicated physical memetics for each one, like the patting of his breast to signify as the name of The Archivist, his title for the woman who seems to have put the books together. The tone was heavy water, but bright as an oil slick on a puddle. Michael tells me he’s booked it to play at the High Performance Rodeo next year. by then, we agree, it will be really worth seeing.