How can one represent the thousands of individuals who have disappeared in the midst of political oppression, whose lives and faces have been erased and whose bodies have been dispersed? How can one create something personal from this vast array of faces, stories, and contexts? Show your face! engages with these challenges through the creation of a character who is both a lone individual and an everyman – a child’s snowsuit manipulated by the puppeteers of Umka.LV and harassed, seduced, threatened, tormented, comforted, and abused by the performers of Betontanc.
Through a series of vignettes and the work of alternately benevolent and cruel puppet masters, a world was invented on-stage, coming into being as it deteriorated and devolved into bedlam. On Saturday evening, a group of audience members gathered to pick through the rubble of this world during a SpeakEasy, a post-performance discussion in the Walker’s balcony bar.
The recurring theme of the evening’s conversation was the concept of facelessness. The problems of the snowsuit began when he was called out of anonymity, setting up a world where there is safety in the mass and danger in becoming singled out. This scenario was later reversed through the introduction of a character desiring fame, beyond anything wanting to be recognized apart from the mass. The evening’s title, Show your face!, encompasses a variety of such situations – a demand shouted by an authority figure, the creation of a subject from a faceless mass through such a command, a desire to be recognized, and an impetus to stand for something and take action.
Despite the facelessness of the primary character, a number of audience members noted an expressive quality and personal connection to the performance. The manipulation of found objects enabled spectators to complete scenes with their own imaginations, involving a degree of personal investment in the anthropomorphizing of the main character. Visible puppet masters demystified the magic of puppetry, which was simultaneously reinstated by interactions between performers and puppets. For some, the presence of puppeteers onstage served a larger symbolic purpose of uncovering power and where power lies.
Ruminations on facelessness in the context of Eastern European communism led to a discussion of the complications involved in balancing the needs of the individual with those of the masses. Such a negotiation exists between the extremes of justifying violence in the name of the collective good and individuals fiercely defending their own power and privilege while the masses rot. Yet violent oppression is but one aspect of the unequal individual/collective relationship and the more prevalent offense is perhaps complacency. Betontanc and Umka.LV brought this home by accosting the audience, shouting out instances where individuals are quick to participate – buying a bracelet for a cause or boycotting a commodity. In contrast, they insisted that when it truly matters, in cases of government corruption – “You do nothing!”
This sequence led to a discussion of the enticement of comfort and the many invitations to participate in social change through small, convenient behaviors in lieu of the commitment involved in direct action. The irony of the commodification of Che Guevara’s face tied into both the theme of facelessness and the affront on the audience. Despite the popularity of his face, Guevara’s life, work, and beliefs are overshadowed by the vague associations with counter-culture or rebellion against authority that his face has come to represent. The man has become separated from his own face.
For some, the evening’s performance seemed to be a call to action, a reminder of the need to continuously reengage, to fight against the lulling allure of comfort, to “Wake up!” The imperative Show your face!, as one audience member stated, is a demand to “be present, be active.”
Join us on January 15 for a post-performance discussion of Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good).
Individuals interested in the themes of Show Your Face! may also be interested in Minneapolis-based Skewed Visions’ on-going Free Belarus Project: http://fbnow.wordpress.com/