At times it can be useful to reflect upon an experience by observing the setting and circumstances a person is currently in; to use the present moment as a mirror to the previous. In considering Miranda July’s world premiere of New Society on October 30, 2014 at the McGuire Theater, this approach is not only useful, but necessary. To maintain the truth and novelty in this performance for all who will attend – or rather, participate in – it, July has asked that no explicit details be published about the piece for one year.
As the Walker’s Contributing members gathered at a post-performance reception to mingle and react, Philip Bither, Senior Curator of Performing Arts, emphasized the importance of this rule. Bither pointed out that the structure of New Society allows for “a completely different show every night,” and that each one remains “truly a surprise,” for both performer and audience, which is what live theater is all about.
But as daily life is different every day and quite often a surprise, was it required this rule be established because the experience of live theater has become the opposite: an expectation of knowing what will happen ahead of time? How often today do audiences attend a performance simply because they do not know what will happen during the course of two hours? Perhaps this is what gives contemporary theater its modern relevance, but even July flips this concept on its head with her latest creation. The uncertainty in New Society is not only a nervous experience for the audience, but for the performer. July admits she was curious, eager, and anxious about her initial participants, wondering “who will all these people be?” And like a performing artist would thank their fellow actors, Miranda told this group of audience members, “thank you for coming through for me.”
It was all slightly surreal, returning to a non-theatrical setting after taking part in New Society. Although it was simply a cocktail hour, it was difficult not to notice people gathering in small groups to have private discussions, the photographer documenting our actions, the ability to walk wherever one liked, or to even not interact with others at all, and the large windows on the north wall. This hyperawareness of space and socialization pointed out the freedoms of daily life, and the limitations as well as the possibilities available within the walls of a theater. A group of a few hundred confined in a space for a specific number of hours has the potential to experience almost anything – if they decide to. This is, at the core, what July accomplishes with New Society: a stark examination of our lives outside of theater by creating a new world within one.
July’s eyes sparkle with this concept in mind, commenting that there is “so much raw enthusiasm to be shaped” in a piece like hers, in theater that asks an audience to sit down and let go. Whereas our everyday lives are chained to expectation, theater gives us a unique freedom in that it allows an experience to be shaped for, or with us. Yet as the reception ended, it can be noted that even in real life, people still don’t like when the lights come up and they have to go home.