June 30, 2015
While art’s embrace of chance often incurs theatricality, theatre lacks an extensive aleatoric repertoire. With Readymade Cabaret, This is Not a Theatre Company dives head (or tail) first into staging the choice of allowance.
At Judson Church, Sam Silbiger warms us up with pieces after Dada’s forefathers. A stretch of wall is labeled “self-portrait.” Titles make fun for us. Discovering dice in a tray, we witness simultaneous existences of the cabaret - recipe and event.
Spectators roll the dice; an activity is chosen accordingly. Ventilating the system is an ostensible dependence on audience participation. Before entering, we create inkblots before composing poems from a bag of words. In Tweet Dance, prompts are submitted to be embodied by Kayla Ernst-Alper. We feel agency, but the game plays itself.
Scenes, written by Jessie Bear, follow separate plotlines. A man explaining the brain’s perceptual shortcuts teaches the epistemological roots of Dada while romance brings emotion into a usually sterile subject. Caitlin Goldie lectures Chris Moriss on the meaninglessness of reading into shuffled songs. Moriss responds, “Like us?” An aimless life is fun to ponder from afar, but humbles when wedged into one’s own.
It is in the pieces that are neither narrative nor participatory that experience is colored. The third movement of 4’33” could potentially feel overbearingly didactic or spicy, depending on the mix.
To teach, one must have control; to take a chance, one must relinquish control, yet to be truly aleatoric, one must exact control through structure. Erin Mee has done quite a bit of meddling, repeating certain activities to increase rolling probabilities. Preventing the show from concluding before it happens, two possible endings are kept separate. Sensing this control, the unconsidered surfaces. Reciting our Dada poetry, actors read only the chosen words, no constraint placed on delivery’s options.
The cabaret blatantly breaks its rules, consisting of scenes crafted for the work gracefully integrating Silbiger’s artwork as props and costumes. Improvisation, while instant, is still composed, disqualifying the Tweet Dance’s readymade status. The purest aleatoric theatre is simply watching things happen; we are given too much more.
Minor offenses prove necessary to humanize chance operations. How does the result of shuffled scenes differ from a play with non-linear narrative structure? Eliciting uncertain results through arbitrary change has always been a trusty tool. We begin experiencing theatrical content as just as much of an object as an upside-down urinal. Mee’s guarantee of time allows the aleatoric exercise comprehension. What happens is not important, that it happens is.
Cage defined a movement maintaining, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” Readymade Cabaret suggests new intentions. Our noticing turns inward, as we try to devise creative inkblot interpretations instead of embracing our readymade impulses. Pieces overlap; 4’33” continues on repeat after its initial performance. There is something here, but hardly in the content, reversing our habituated expectation. While plentiful, the material is empty; the structure, historically pointless, carves caverns of communication.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews