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The Life and Times of Life and Times: Episode 1

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight 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. Today, playwright/performer Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance by […]

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight 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. Today, playwright/performer Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance by Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Life and Times: Episode 1

Photos courtesy Nature Theater of Oklahoma

Following my experience of Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times: Episode 1 at the Walker, I feel unable to respond in pretty much any other way besides doing what I’m doing, which is, um, remembering the experience into Garage Band and then transcribing it exactly, word for word, into this overnight response. I realize this idea is already full of so much failure because, um, it’s a really different thing to just read this on the page than—you don’t have my—you don’t have anyone singing, or dancing, or otherwise creating any kind of contrast to these words. And also because knowing—ah, that this piece is the reason I’m doing this—I mean remembering in this way. There might be a kind of self-consciousness that is annoying. But I’m really going to try to avoid thinking about all of those things, you know, I’m going to try to put it all aside and be like, I’m just telling you about this performance I saw, as if we’re talking on the phone.

I feel like I must, ah, I mean, to set up the experience of seeing this show, I first, um, leading in with the state of being that I was experiencing as I walked into the theater. I had stayed up almost all night, the night before, finishing reading something like 40 grant applications, because I then spent the whole day today in a grant panel. When I came to the Walker, I had not eaten dinner yet, although I knew this was bad, and I needed to use the bathroom but there wasn’t time, we were running late so we just went straight into the theater. TG was with me, and when we found our row, it was already past time for the show to start, but other people were still getting settled, too, and we were seated next to this row of. Oh my god, what did I—I just did this—oh okay. I just leaned on my computer or something and messed everything up but now it’s okay. I don’t know what just happened. Anyway I saw the performance with TG, and when we arrived, our seats were next to a big row of students, maybe ten students, and one of them was sitting in one of our chairs. And—at least, I think they were students, I don’t really know. But it was a big group of young people who seemed to have been forced to come to this performance at someone else’s command. And one of them was in our seats, one of our seats, and we had to ask them to scoot down, so the whole row stood up and moved over one seat. Oh and then as soon as I sat down, I realized I had forgotten my notebook, which was not ideal at all since I wanted to take notes for this overnight response. But so we just sat down and we had made it. Hungry and having to pee, in my case, but also very excited.

So then the piece started. And, um, I was really excited by the outfits first, which reminded me of scouts, like girl scouts and boy scouts. And by the instrumentation, piano and ukelele and xylophone, or glockenspiel, I’m not sure which one it was, I am pretty sure it was a xylophone, it was bigger than a glock. And percussion occasionally, tambourine, for some reason that girl cracked me up so much when she played the tambourine. But that’s later. So um. I really liked the gray dresses with the red accents, the ascots and headbands and whatever. I guess that’s not all at the beginning, but—I mean because it started really with just one performer, who was—that first performer, I loved her so much! She—very shortly into the piece—she was just making us laugh so hard. I haven’t laughed that hard since, I can’t remember when. And TG sitting next to me was like, pushing his leg into my leg, in this very specific way that he does sometimes when he’s laughing really hard and really earnestly. It’s hard to explain. But that happened, and I kept thinking, I could watch her dance these silly bouncing dances, her facial expressions which were so subtle yet so hysterical, all day. In fact I wrote that down on the back of a piece of paper that I found in my bag, since I didn’t have a notebook, “I could watch her dance all day” and then a few minutes later I wrote “PURE JOY!!!” in all caps and also, “I am so happy.”

So—I’m just stopping for a minute here, because I actually don’t know how I want to proceed, um,  because I don’t really want to try tell you everything that happened in the piece. It is still really fresh in my memory so, you know, I wouldn’t remember everything but I might remember a lot. That would be re—well, it would just be silly and super long. And um, really the thing is, you should go see it if you haven’t seen it. And if you have seen it, I’m pretty sure you don’t need a recap. Um. But I—I don’t know, it seems like the whole point of responding in this way would be to remember everything I can remember, because in some ways, you know, it’s all about memory, and how we put language to—well, maybe in lieu of that right now, I’ll just try to remember a few things instead of everything, I’ll cheat a little bit. I think that’s okay.  But how about this, I won’t censor what I share, I’ll just share the first things that come out. Okay?

Um. Um. Okay. So. Ah—there was a point at the beginning where I remember thinking about SJ and SuperGroup. And how much I love this movement, how much that—the movement is so perfect and cracking me up. These very small little simple things, precise though, intentional, and different every time they do it—those prompt cards—reminds me of some of our conversations—well anyway, I really—I really could have watched them dance forever. By the time “Traxson” came up, I had tears in my eyes from laughing. And somewhere around that time, I just remember thinking about the, uh, one of— the other two performers that had come in, the two women, and that smaller one, I remember just, around the “Traxson” part, really trying to understand how old she was, or is. I mean, because she’s so small and fierce and hilarious. Her face when she sings. Um. Yellow plastic circles are something I remember, but will not try to explain. The abrupt shifts in color, the backgrounds, these little small but mighty changes.  The students sitting next to us were rowdy in the first part of the piece, talking out loud to each other, like not even pretending to whisper. Switching seats with each other sometimes. TG had to ask one guy to please turn off his phone because the screen was distracting. Um. The Izod. Red bouncy balls. Just the sheer bouncing in place forever.

Nature_Theater of Oklahoma, Life and Times: Episode 1

Photo courtesy Nature Theater of Oklahoma

I mean, I don’t know, I’m just, I’m thinking of all these little random images, and it’s just—sorry, I’m not very much into this, but I’m already just conscious of how boring it will be for you to read this, me remembering out loud, I’m just reminded why I tend to like to write instead of talk because thoughts don’t come out very eloquently or quickly for me—when I try to say them, aloud. I mean, the whole point of, um, I guess, reflection and processing, then editing, shaping—ah but. Anyway I guess the goal is not—I mean obviously the goal is not—The whole point of the performance, them having done it in this way, it’s about looking at this—I mean of course, me just saying that reminds me of these golden moments throughout, where she says, “God this must be so boring for you!” which you know, brings it all home. Actually Isherwood started his New York Times review with that quote. But also he loved it. And of course in this context of you reading this blog post, if you don’t know what I’m talking about right now, I’m giving you no framework for what this is, or anything you might take out—away—or well—I mean, never mind. Anyway.

Um. Blue hankies. Homework Dessadee. That girl who played the flute and sometimes danced, who reminded me so much of HM because she’s so skinny. I think she is the person they originally interviewed. All the descriptions of bodies, faces, hair, I mean, I became really interested in the idea of the preoccupations that we have at different stages of our lives, and why. Even now. How they do and don’t change and why some things stick. And the entrances of all those—all the men, the male performers, like halfway through this particular version of the performance. I’m just, like, they were there the whole time, somewhere back stage, and here they are finally, it’s like they’re so happy to be on stage now, in the game. And they’re just, they’re—the whole cast, together—I—I don’t know, I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, that maybe—oof I’m yawning—sorry. Um. At the part where the performer tells the story of wetting her pants in class, I actually get weirdly weepy, um, I guess embarrassed for her. And like, why—why am I able to connect with this ridiculous moment in this kind of profound way, I’m laughing and crying and really having an emotional response. Is it just because she’s telling this very human story about being embarrassed as a child? But I think it’s something more about the way—the combination of that story and how it’s being articulated and what my eyes are seeing, how the bodies are contrasting with it in these amazing awkward formations. And the expansive space, really, but—the space that it all creates.

After intermission—well, first I should say—intermission comes, maybe two hours in, and I’m really feeling like not much time has passed. Like, it makes a lot of sense for it to keep going, to keep going and going and going. Um. Of course there are those people who are like, “Okay we get it,” and TG tells me about some guy who we speculate is in Performance Studies, or at least a PhD student of some kind, because he uses words like “historiocity” as he tells his friends he’s over it and leaving. But aside from people like that, we and most other people in the lobby seem to be glowing and happy to be on this ride. And I love what—that—the way the Nature Theater directors put it in the program. About resistance. Oh it’s in that article that’s also on the Walker blog. Here, let me find it and read it. Or well, it’s a whole paragraph, so you should just read it yourself. But it’s that part toward the end, about the audiences having a complicated relationship to the performance, and like, paying money to do a workout, not watch one. And I would add, see it all the way through. I always want to stop doing pushups after like, two, you know? I’m like, I get it. I don’t like it. But it’s really worth, at least this is what I think—it’s worth persevering through a full set.

There’s a moment after, sometime after intermission, when the, I guess, what would you call her, the character, the—the voice of the piece, is referring, I think to her neighborhood, or—and she says it’s all, something like, “it’s all very white-ish.” Oh! I think not her neighborhood, but she’s talking about her upbringing in general, her experience? I can’t remember exactly, but I do remember that it made me think about, um, Kenna’s overnight response after Momentum in July that brings up this notion of “white art” and parsing out what that means. And this piece, all the performers are white, or have the appearance of being white, and they’re talking about one white person’s, you know, very uneventful upbringing. Why, but also this piece seems to be in some ways aware of that, I don’t know, maybe—maybe not—but you know, always coming back to, “Do you really want to be listening to this?” But also, we are, I mean we’re here, listening for many hours. And I’m glad this work is happening. But um. I guess it’s, I don’t know.  It’s a lot to think about and makes me want to have more conversation. And maybe try to write about it sometime when I’m not responding verbally in the middle of the night on very little sleep.

Another thing I wrote down on my piece of paper was “Cindy spending the night,” but I don’t remember why, just something, about that section, talking about her friend Cindy spending the night and going home because she was homesick. I remember looking over at the high school students, and by this point most of them were dropping like flies. They just can’t believe that the piece is still going. Uh… one of them is kind of keeled over in her seat, like, I think she’s sleeping. And at first I think, you know, about this article I read awhile back, about how high school students are all sleep-deprived and what that does to their learning processes. Actually I don’t know if these are high school students, they might be older than that, like college, in fact I bet they are. But either way, they’re kind of acting like high school students, so it’s hard to say. But. Um. I think about them all being so sleep-deprived, even if they’re college students, that’s probably still true for them, and then I think about the fact that she’s going to wake up from this little nap, if she’s really taking a nap, and the piece is still going to be re—it’s just still going to be happening. It just keeps going. It’s still going to be happening when she wakes up, and how surreal that would feel, like if you drifted off into a deep sleep and don’t know how much time passed, and then—then you wake up and it’s all still there. It’s like we started, dipping into this strange time warp, this other reality or dimension of being where—I mean it’s really exciting, dropping into that mode. And I remember thinking, of course there should be nine other episodes of this work.

When the piece ends, um. TG and I are walking out to the parking garage, and we talk about the fact we feel like we just, you know, like got off a moving sidewalk, uh, and feel like we’re still—should be moving, or we have to, like, we’re having to jolt back into reality in this way that, like we can still feel what came before, viscerally. And we just want to like sing everything that we’re saying and articulate our laughter as “Ha Ha’s,” Like. Um. Really, like a moving sidewalk. I feel like there was one other thing, another image or whatever that we used to describe the feeling, that was also very accurate. But I don’t remember what it was now.

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