The Walker Art Center’s four-week Out There festival is an annual reminder of just how high the bar gets for innovation and execution in creative staged performance.
Walker Art Center
Curator Philip Bither invites national and international artists to bring their work to the McGuire Theater, which becomes a site of pilgrimage for local artists and fans of boundary-pushing performance. Sometimes you love the shows, sometimes you hate them, but you rarely forget them.
Even in that company, Andrew Schneider’s YOUARENOWHERE is a standout. The Brooklyn artist’s OBIE-winning 2015 piece, which opens this year’s festival and runs through Saturday, is a mind-bending magic show that’s stocked with surprises. Those surprises are so integral to the show’s impact that any spoiler-free description has to be brief.
Briefly, then: The audience is seated on the McGuire stage itself, a configuration that’s not unusual for Out There presentations. In the enclosed space, Schneider appears, shirtless, with electronic devices strapped to his body and a microphone taped to his face. The stage is bare except for a small, seemingly empty rectangular frame suspended at Scheider’s eye level.
The first section of the show is something along the lines of a remixed TED talk. Schneider seems to be trying to communicate some deep thoughts about perception and connection. In one of the most coherent segments, he explains one of Einstein’s thought experiments, involving lightning and a moving train — but his presentation is constantly disrupted by blackouts and audio distortion.
Schneider jumps from one physical location to another as lights flicker and bass-heavy static rumbles. He interacts with the frame, which alternately lights his face white and throws it into darkness. He presents a soundtrack CD and encourages an audience member to pick a song, but the music, too, is soon lost in the disjointed mix.
What happens next, you have to see for yourself — and you really do — but it will keep you guessing for the rest of the show, and when it’s all over you might find yourself poking your friends to make sure they’re real. It’s a flourish so brilliantly executed that there are a million directions Schneider could go with it, and where he chooses to go in this case is to explore mortality and consciousness, with intimations of substance addiction.
Schneider is both a performer and an inventor (you may have heard of his solar-panel bikini), and with YOUARENOWHERE he’s created a show that requires both technical and technological virtuosity, with a performance that creates the impression of desperate improvisation when in fact it’s precisely choreographed. It’s a nifty trick, and good luck to you in figuring out just how all the effects in the show are achieved.
The wildly inventive YOUARENOWHERE is just what your new year needs. You might consider a ticket package that covers all four shows in the Out There series, which continues, next week, with the subversive choreographer/director Faye Driscoll.
Walker Art Center