To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, writer, director, and interdisciplinary artist Chantal Pavageaux shares her perspective on Real Magic by Forced Entertainment, presented as part of Out There 2018.
Alright, the way it’s going to work is this:
There will be three performers with three cardboard signs and three chicken suits.
They are going to play the same fragment of a game show or a cabaret act on a loop, over and over and over again, rotating lines and signs and costume pieces until they are exhausted.
All you have to do is stay to the end.
Or don’t. I saw multiple people leave the performance before it was over, including the older woman next to me who, when the man in front of me was too tall for me to see over, let me sit in the seat her friend Bonnie would not be occupying. When she realized that the performers were going to keep looping, she quite audibly said, “Oh my God,” and not in the good way. She stuck with it for a long time, but left after checking her watch at the 50-, 60-, and 70-minute marks (the show is 90 minutes), probably to call Bonnie and tell her how she wished they had both stayed home. A young man just across the aisle was visibly distressed every time a new loop began, at one point hitting himself repeatedly in the face with his program and leaning down to people he was with to say urgently, “Can we please just go?!?”
Conversely, there was a large swath of audience members who were having the time of their life, people laughing hysterically, practically shaking the bleachers. As they were leaving, after the curtain call, I heard someone saying, “I would have sat and watched that forever!”
In some ways it’s a piece about being trapped, it’s about the performers being stuck inside of something, this very limited range of material that they’re dealing with, and in other ways it’s about inventiveness, it’s about the possibility of them playing this thing in all these different ways and the ways that it can change and does change in your experience of it as an audience. (Tim Etchells, Director of Real Magic)
Full disclosure: I HATE feeling trapped.
Full disclosure: I LOVE Forced Entertainment.
Forced Entertainment has been making performances as a company since 1984, when I was three years old. I was introduced to its work in 1999, and I have desperately wanted to see them perform live since then (but they don’t come to the United States that often). I knew going in that there was no way that this one 90-minute performance could live up to the magic cloud I had constructed around Forced Entertainment in my head over the years. When I first read the collective’s book Certain Fragments (which you should totally read), I barely understood it, but knew that I wanted to do what I thought they were doing, if I could just decipher from the pictures how they turned it into magic onstage. So much of my artistic aesthetic comes from poring over the pictures in that book and reimagining my own version—cardboard signs being just the tip of the iceberg. They are, to me, the Godfather of (modern) Devised Theater. (We can discuss the Wooster Group and Mabou Mines another time.)
The performers are outstanding. The design is top notch. The direction and the soundscape are effective and moving. (I cannot tell you how well the canned applause and laugh track worked.) But I, personally, found sitting through the show, the feeling of being trapped in that loop, excruciating. There was no telling how long the actors were going to hold me hostage in this “No Exit”–like hell. This may have been the goal. There are many thoughts I am still untangling—about whether what I felt is what the artists wanted me to feel, about whether the exhausting repetition reflects the experience of performing in a touring company, about whether the potency of one’s new work is diluted when one has a well-known back catalogue, and about how quickly our world is changing (this piece was made in 2016, and you can feel some of the gender relations may not have had the same impact two years ago, and perhaps it was less maddening to be trapped in an inescapable loop of someone else’s devising before 45 was elected).
Towards the end of the performance, people in the audience were shouting at the performers, begging them for release, and I couldn’t tell if the people shouting were doing so as hecklers or as happy participants. If I had not had such a long love affair with Forced Entertainment, I am pretty sure I would have been much more aligned with the previously mentioned young man across the aisle, who was not alone in shouting “Yes!” when a performer finally said, “That’s all we have time for,” indicating the performance may be coming to a close.
So I will leave you with this:
These artists have been perfecting the craft of working together for almost 35 years, and every person is working at the top of their game. Ultimately, the question is if this is a game you want to play ’til the end.