Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ingenuity WoyUbu

Well, it's been an action-packed couple of days here in Cleveland. On Thursday, we arrived to discover the basement level space for WoyUbu. After some looking around, we opened a wall and took over an some additional space in the Halle building, creating an absolutely huge performance space. So far, so good. Overcoming power limitations, lights, and Ron's encounter in his faux German accent character with an actual German artist, by 7.30pm on Friday night we were ready to go. The microphones were tested. The robots hummed with palpable excitement, the audiences filled up on both sides of our divided space. And so the show began.

Both sides started well, the spaces looked good and performers on both sides were bringing great energy to the opening moments of the play. Technically, things were also as we would hope. 

And, then...smack. 

That sound, dear friends, is the sound of WoyUbu's unique theatrical experience running smack into the expectations of a tech festival audience on a Friday night. What started as an overly full house on both sides gradually became a sea of empty chairs, as people departed for other events. They were replaced steadily throughout the 90 minute performance by new audience members wandering in, checking out both sides and sometimes staying for a while, sometimes leaving rather soon. A few faithful audience members stayed for the whole thing and a few others freely explored the Woyzeck performance space (during the performance, of course), creating an effect both unnerving and strangely exciting. We've seen and encouraged this on the play side, but it was striking to see it on the watch side.

Working from this experience, we've decided to engage the situation at hand. We've taken down the dividing wall, since people want to wander and this will make the environment more conducive to this kind of freeform viewing experience. We've also decided to accept the coming in and out for what it's worth by using the ever-versatile Ron to work both sides of the room and engage people as they enter the space. To this end also, we'll be getting a new program out, so that people have some key references as they enter the space (and a cool souvenir!).  Most importantly, we've decided to accept that Woyzeck will not be the immersive experience of our prior production, but rather a performance that functions as a kind of live video that loops (3 more times, anyway). We're thinking of ways to construct the viewing positions to reinforce the perception that the actors are not performing live rather than using theatrical techniques aimed at the opposite effect. What happens when we do theatre as if it is television? In some ways the fact that we include and engage with audience on the Ubu side does create the kind of distancing effect on the Woyzeck side. If the actors could hear me, wouldn't they talk to me? After all, they do over there. I admit that I've always taken some theatrical conventions for granted (at my peril), but with the conditioning of television and, ironically, participatory art forms, these basic assumptions no longer hold. At least, not all the time.

So, we're going to try a few different things today. Happily, the combined WoyUbu group are some of the most generous and courageous people to work with, so I'm looking forward to what the day will hold. More later on where it goes, what happens, and how we all survive. At the very least, I will enjoy a fabulous performance.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Robots, Schmobots ....

... It's all about the puppets:

Behold them resting up for their big trip to Cleveland, which commences in 5 short hours.

(PS to roboteers: No, no, it's about the robots, too. But mostly the puppets. Though there are also people in the show, actual human beings. Imagine that!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WoyUbu 2.0

It's been a crazy last couple of weeks, but the Intermedia Performance Studio and our good friends in the Real Dream Cabaret and in the Robotics labs of the University at Buffalo and Canisius College have been hard at work putting the WoyUbu monster back together again. And it looks like we'll actually get the whole thing moving again in time for the Ingenuity Festival this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. (Check out the main festival site for lots of great acts! Once again we'll be blogging and tweeting away for most of the show, so if you can't find us in Cleveland, you can always follow us here, here, here, or here. We'll be hosting audience blogging and tweeting, as well as my directorial updates.

This time, we're working with a few new people on both sides of the wall (or, curtain in this iteration) and it's invigorating to see the show through new eyes (and voices). So far, even with the short rehearsal period, we've been able to get the show back together with some interesting new work. Even if you think you know WoyUbu, you don't know this WoyUbu!

As a director, I find this process perhaps the most challenging as I realize the deep extent to which I attach to my own prior work, namely, the images, rhythms, and patterns of meaning created in the original production. Happily, I'm getting over my rusty nostalgia enough (I hope) to be able to see the new ideas coming from our new collaborators and the ever-unpredictable process itself. Thus, the joys (and challenges) of live performance. As I wrote in my original program note, sometimes you've got to do more, just to do the same thing.

More soon from Cleveland...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Live and in the Flesh

That's right, Ubu-ites! We're back and we're coming to Cleveland, where WoyUbu will be part of the Ingenuity Art + Technology Festival. We'll be part of what looks to be a great festival, and I'm happy to report, I'll be able to reconnect with Tim Miller, who is also performing in the festival.

If you're around Cleveland for July 10-12, please do look us up!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The first night of the last weekend ...

... was nuts on the Ubu side. Absolutely nuts. From looking at these shadowy onlookers near the beginning of the evening--

--you probably would not guess that they would be our wildest audience yet. They took the notion of "play" to unprecedented extremes; several of us seriously worried we might have a riot on our hands. NOT the kind of riot Ubu provoked in its first incarnation, when people thought it went too far, but the kind of riot where they were eager to go even farther than we were willing to. Trust me, the place looked like a frat house after a beer blast by the time we (er, they) were done.

As the Carnival Barker, I am partly responsible for the mayhem, because I gave these otherwise innocent-looking folks the very weapons they would soon use against us. (Ever been shot in the face with a Nerf dart?) But I don't think I added that much more to the mix last night than usual. These people just felt like getting rowdy. Spring fever, perhaps? And don't assume it was younguns--the oldest two people in the crowd were the ringleaders.

Ironically, we had originally thought this level of madness might transpire every night, and then when it didn't, we started to take for granted that all future Ubu viewers would be polite and respectful and suss out the unspoken etiquette of our unusual setup. But no!

Me, I thought the whole affair was fascinating as a study in mob psychology. (As Ma Ubu put it after the show, "I've never been on the receiving end of a 'Power to the people!' chant before this.") Then again, I wasn't the one getting pelted with plastic paratroopers and dodging 70 exploding confetti bomblets.

What will tonight's final (and already long sold-out) performance bring? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

WoyUbian Whiplash

Last Saturday I sat on the Woyzeck side of the show. As I had expected the
the Ubu projections served the Woyzeck play by appearing to be the character Woyzeck's hallucinations. What I didn't anticipate was how jarring the process would be: how over the course of the performance the feeling grew that I was not only wrenched back and forth between two plays but between two mutually exclusive world views. Until I began to hate Woyzeck - because he increasingly personified hopelessness, greyness, death. The Ubu visions burst in defying his relentless life, but he didn't learn anarchic joy from them, instead he found a road to murder. His side crushed life.

I was glad to see him go through the wall and away. But then the Ubuites came out through that same wall, popping into existence right there in front of me. And suddenly, what had been brash and funny, was horrible. They were horrible. They no longer represented life but were voyeuristic, vampiric consumers of other people and their painful lives. They were on the side of the evil dead, and the poor Woyzeck, now staring out of the projection, was the only thing worth nurturing. Whiplash!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Transhumans, tweets, games without frontiers, and the joys of turning in your fellow citizens

Time for another collection of items that caught my attention recently because of their connection to aspects of WoyUbu:

This hourlong episode of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge devoted to computers is a must for anyone interested in the ramifications of techno-culture. I recommend the interviews with Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of Creative Commons, on copyright issues raised by mash-ups and other digital art; Sherry Turkle of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self on the ways in which we are developing relationships with personal robotic devices; and sociologist James Hughes, executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, on the quest to merge human flesh with computer technology in search of immortality and/or "transhuman" interspecies breeding; plus a couple of quick mash-ups by GirlTalk and DJ Spooky. But the real treat for Ubu-ites is surely the segment on video game designer Jason Rohrer; I have no idea how well known he is among those in the know, but his work sounds pretty remarkable and far beyond the average computer game. (Here's Passage, about mortality, and Between, a game about dreams and "stale evidence" of the Other. And here's Rohrer's homepage, which contains links to more games and all kinds of other stuff.)

•Much of what Rohrer says about games is echoed in intriguing ways in this brief segment from another public radio show on Peg Tyre's book The Trouble with Boys, and specifically its take on violent fantasy in video games (like the one in our Ubu). In a nutshell, Tyre argues that such games can potentially serve a beneficial role as an outlet for natural tendencies. She, like Rohrer, has much to say about the essence of "play" in the lives of both adults and children.

This is the funniest (and smartest) thing I've ever encountered about the phenomenon of Twitter and Facebook status udpates. Three cheers for Brian Unger!

•Finally, courtesy of BoingBoing, an ad campaign from the London police urging citizens to report suspicious activity:

Cory Doctorow notes the "stupidity" of
the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing.

Perhaps this weekend I will encourage the Ubu audience to report any Woyzeck spectators they catch staring at the surveillance cameras aimed at them ...