Wow. This is the reason I’ve been coming to Out There since I moved to Minneapolis twenty years ago. I thought this show was simply fabulous, well textured, full of detail, intricately prepared and well executed, and overall – really groundbreaking.
I don’t want to repeat the summaries you can read elsewhere, but a short recap is this: Hotel Modern, the performance company, recreate the atmosphere of World War I using miniature models manipulated live over cameras in closeup, and projected on a giant screen at the back of the stage. Members of the company create the illusion of great mechanized battles and fields of mud and death, while a performer reads actual letters from soldiers.
We’ve already got great battle films, right? And a billion-dollar professional special effects industry? So why recreate a war that took place almost 100 years ago using dirt, amateur cameras, and homemade soldier dolls? Because it tells the story in a much more compelling way than throwing a lot of money at such a project ever would. What makes it work is the balancing act the viewer walks between watching the performers set up a scene using obviously fabricated elements, and then watching the (really compelling) version on screen. This is where the show shines: the images are moving, well composed, and shot expertly – with no trace of irony, or that “look at my cleverness” experimentalism that you so often get in this kind of work. Instead you vascillate between compassion for the material and objective interest in how the effects are achieved.
All the visual effects would be lost without the skills of the Foley artist accompanying the show, Arthur Sauer. A “Foley artist” creates sound effects, and Mr. Sauer does so live, almost without you noticing, as the performers manipulate the objects. Boots squish in the mud; a machine gun lays down an enemy company; a soldier urinates before being picked off by a sniper. I was constantly torn between watching him queue up an effect and watching the result paired with the video action. It was like being a kid again, playing in the grass with little army guys, making homemade sounds, overlain with the horrible mechanized reality of the Great War.
Finally, another reason to support live work.