Academic journal article TheatreForum

Manufacturing Dreams: The Shape-Shifting Poetics of WaxFactory

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Manufacturing Dreams: The Shape-Shifting Poetics of WaxFactory

Article excerpt

In the 2005 Act French Festival production of WaxFactory's multimedia performance ...She Said (a meditation on Marguerite Duras's novel Destroy, She Said), the viewer enters the hollow industrial space of The Brooklyn Lyceum and first notices a sort of stage-within-a-stage. Inside a black box space that would be familiar to attendees of alternative theatre throughout much of the world, there is another, smaller proscenium stage, a space resembling a stark black and white diorama. This playing area is distinctly sculptural, its cool modernism reminiscent of the architecture of Eero Saarinen, or Stanley Kubrick's 2001. Director Ivan Talijancic and designers Ursic & Batistic modeled the space purgatorial, like the liminal spaces of waiting rooms and airports. Concentric layers of white fabric create an illusion of extended dimension, as if we are looking into a deep tunnel, finally ending at a movie screen at the back of the playing area. The next thing one notices is a long table placed approximately at the lip of the stage; the center of the table is left empty, as an adjunct to the playing space. On either side of the long table sit banks of technicians seated in front of sleek, glowing laptop computers. The laptops are working, screens containing images that are detectable even when the theatre is dark. One cannot tell exactly what they are being used for, but assume they are for sound, lighting, and video. However, the colors and patterns add an extra layer to the aesthetics of the playing space. The visible technicians and computers are not merely a 21st century version of Constructionism or the Verfremsdungeffekt à la Meyerhold or Brecht (though they are that, too), but spectades in and of themselves, complementing, if not competing with, the large screen at the back of the stage. If one looked hard enough, one might see a smaller version of the movie screen's images on one of the laptop screens. As director Ivan Talijancic put it to me,

In terms of theatrical tradition, there is a Brechtian element that is involved in the choice to have the entire technical crew placed before the first row, in the full view of the audience. This creates an inherent conflict, an ambiguity, in that we are making the spectators aware that they are in the theatre, we are creating theatrical illusion, and destroying it almost at the same time in which it is made. It's like making these mesmerizing soap bubbles, and bursting them on the spot.

Multimedia theatre is nothing new, of course. At its best, it is elegant and beautiful, a similar experience to dance or visual art-the joy of pure aesthetics, perhaps with some narrative thrown in, often as a secondary concern. At its worst, it tends to suffer from a sort of overly busy maximalism that proves itself overwhelming; not only is the audience "alienated" (a slight mistranslation of Brecht, whose Verfremsdungeffekt is closer in spirit to "making the familiar strange"), but shut out entirely by visual and aural over-stimulation and a near-total absence of narrative. ...She Said, like much of WaxFactory's arresting work, clearly belongs in the former category. In ...She Said, there are indeed multiple layers of alienation. The piece in many ways exists as pure image and composition, belonging at least as much to the world of visual art as it does to performance. But the performers are committed to their lines in a way that echoes more naturalistic theatre, and hints of a narrative arc bubble up periodically, though they are fragmented by technical effects and the structural composition of the piece. Beyond the architecture of the set, the piece works on multiple layers-one performer (WaxFactory co-founder Erika Latta, as M) comes out to "our" level, giving the closest thing to a naturalistic performance one finds in ...She Said, drinking and smoking in the blank central space of the technicians' table. In a segment inspired by a filmed interview with Duras, she gives the following speech:

Sorry I'm late. …

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