YOU ARE NOWHERE.
The first thing you should know going into this show is that you should know nothing about it. But isn’t that true of all shows? The less you know, the better? Maybe, but you see Desdemona having read or seen Othello. You see The Bacchae, perhaps knowing the original play or the Greek myth or the word bacchanalia, at least.
I went into YOUARENOWHERE knowing it was made by Andrew Schneider at PS122 in New York and that it was highly regarded by people who had seen it as part of the Coil Festival back in January of this year. I knew this was one not to be missed, but I didn’t know why.
The brief in the Festival program was enough to whet my appetite. It hits my interest in science fiction and time travel and individual perspective. And the production/promotional image is intriguing.
The first thing I want to say about my reaction is that I walked out of the theatre speechless. I get this way. If I don’t know what to say, it’s always because I loved the show. Because adding words to the experience can’t make it better. Because starting to talk about something right away almost tarnishes it.
If I come out talking about a show, maybe I liked it, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I need to talk it through. I’m the most vociferous when I hated something. If I’m barely out of my seat and I’m ranting, something’s gone wrong.
It’s two days since I’ve seen YOUARENOWHERE and I’ve tweeted about it and raved on Facebook. And because I’ve not wanted to say too much, I might have said too little. And I’ve spent a lot of time reading reviews from here and New York; trying to piece together my thoughts and trying make sense of what I saw.
And part of reading those reviews and listening to podcast reactions to the piece is in seeing how much people have said about the show and how often the phrase coup de theatre has been used. Do they settle on talking about the technical achievements and the physicality of Schneider’s performance because they don’t want to tell you what else to expect?
Some of the best theatre I’ve seen this year has been non-text-based and that’s always invigorating for me because my own work is driven by the texts I write. Schneider says his work evolves from his performance; that he has no great stories to tell but is interested in exploring moments. And this is true of this show in many ways: the sound and lighting design responds to Schneider’s movements. The story is told as much in his physicality as it is in any of the particular words he chooses to say – whether forward or backward or when he mimes to “Lonesome Town” by Ricky Nelson.
Even knowing nothing more than the show would tackle themes and topics that are of interest to me, I still brought in cultural and personal baggage. There are moments early on in the show that reminded me of Philip K Dick and, soon after that, of David Lynch. If you are going to talk about an understanding of what makes you you (and not someone else), why not allude to those who have preceded you on this very subject? Give the audience little touchstones before pulling the rug out from under them.
Some of the discussion in the foyer after the show focused on the technical achievement, much like the reviews have. Even standing there talking with people who saw what we saw – filtered through our own perceptions – we wanted to tackle the lightning and the sound and not touch on the pure emotion we felt when... well... that thing happened. That thing we will never talk about.
The use of LED lighting combined with as pure a blackout as I’ve ever seen in the theatre (no illuminated Exit signs here) was disorienting. Schneider is here and then he’s there. And now he’s lit by a frame hanging in the middle of the space. And now his face is in shadow.
And then there were the technical difficulties which, were they part of the show? I still don’t know. There’s a tension between performer and audience when such a slick show starts to fall apart and yet everything else was so precise, maybe these mistakes were deliberate? Maybe he wanted us to think about technology by having it go wrong? He’s already talking directly to us anyway. It’s a lecture, it’s a speech, it’s an AA meeting, it’s a desperate call from the future.
Schneider is charming, engaging and funny. I was with him quite early on because I had a handle on things. These observations on observation. These musings on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. A mention of “missed connections” on Craigslist. These are the moments Schneider wants you to connect with, small things we can grasp and understand. Before... well, before.
There are several surprising moments in the second half of the show, though once the rug is pulled out from under the audience once, it’s hard to reset their expectations and pull the wool over their eyes again. Which is fine. Once for me was enough. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. I couldn’t process it. I was lost, confused. What was happening? Where was I? How?
There were gasps of surprise. Intakes of breath. Nervous laughter. Chortles of recognition. A wave of WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE. WHAT’S GOING ON. HOW.
I had tears in my eyes because... for so many reasons. Because it was a coup de theatre. Because it wasn’t just a spectacular trick; it was so simple. Because it told us more in a second than some shows can tell us in their entire running time. Because it’s as pure a moment of theatre as I’ve ever seen.
And the show kept marching forward. And my mind couldn’t keep up.
And I wish I could see it again, so I was better prepared. But I know that magic moment wouldn’t quite be there the second time, but at least I might be able to parse what was happening a little more easily.
Sometimes I write reviews because I need to tell the world about a show I’ve just seen.
Sometimes I write reviews to better understand why a show hasn’t worked for me.
Sometimes I write reviews to even understand what I just saw.
Sometimes I write reviews just to record that a show happened and I was there.
Sometimes it’s all those things at the same time.
YOU ARE NOW HERE.