Catch as Catch Can

Claudia La Rocco on “Catch 50” at the Chocolate Factory

Left: Paul Lazar. Right: “Catch 50.” (Photos: Jeff Larson)

AT 6 PM there were little kids occupying the front row of cushions, helping out the performers. By the top of the 7 PM show, one of our hosts was already facedown and motionless on the stage. During the 8 o’clock stretch, six mini–Krackel bars and an unwisely full glass of red wine had solved my dinner quandary. Fewer kids and more drag: Life was moving in the right direction. At 10:05 we were all, somehow, enthusiastically clapping along to a cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” The wine and its successor were long gone. By 11:30, there were grandmothers doing power moves on the stage. I was ready for bed.

This Cinco de Mayo was also “Catch 50”: a five-show extravaganza at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City celebrating the fiftieth iteration of the exuberant multidisciplinary series run by Andrew Dinwiddie, Caleb Hammons, and Jeff Larson. True to form, the evening was a boisterous, homespun affair that nonetheless featured a who’s who of contemporary performers and companies: Paul Lazar, Anna Sperber, the National Theater of the United States of America, Joseph Keckler, Big Dance Theater, Karinne Keithley Syers, and Yackez, to name just a few.

And that was just onstage. At one point, after all of the kids had gone (to bed?), the cushions alone were graced by a cluster of performance royalty: choreographer and director Annie-B Parson, artist and curator Salley May, and Wooster Group star Kate Valk. The makeup of the crowd shifted from show to show, with a few diehards sticking it out from start to finish and the night growing progressively more packed, so that by 8 PM the noise from those denied access or taking a (liquid) breather in the theater’s basement lounge would have upstaged many a performer. But Catch denizens are made of hardy stock. After dryly noting the “commotion” happening downstairs, Keckler calmly captivated the crowd with an operatic rendition of a mushroom trip gone bad.

And, in any case, the commotion is part of the point—it’s what separates Catch from the numerous, typically tedious sampler programs clogging up the New York circuit. Though the offerings are freewheeling and sometimes little more than rough sketches, the ideas are vibrant and there is an incoherent coherency within the curatorial framework. Five Catches in one night is a crash course in what performance looks like today. “It’s not a disjointed showcase of artists with no relationship to each other’s work,” artist-writer Sarah Maxfield pointed out. “It’s a slice of conversation. There’s a sense of community, which we’re all starved for these days because we’re all so spread out.”

“I’m here for the whole night,” said photographer Mathew Pokoik, cofounder of the Mount Tremper Arts festival. Then he paused. “Well, that’s the plan. But we’ll see. Too many beers and maybe not.” Just about everyone managed to come out for at least some of the proceedings. “Even the squirrels have to get into Catch,” joked Sheila Lewandowski, the Chocolate Factory’s executive director, as people milled around the sidewalk in between shows. (A squirrel had in fact snuck into the building.) She and the theater’s artistic director, Brian Rogers, had barely made it in from the Fusebox Festival in Austin, which is something of a spiritual cousin to Catch. “We just got off the plane. Literally,” Lewandowski said, before going to shoo someone with a beer in off the street—her husband, as it turned out.

Lewandowski rolled her eyes as she pushed Rogers toward the door. In his defense, there wasn’t really room inside. “It’s probably legal,” he said, musing on the theater’s capacity versus the number of people who appeared to be crammed inside.

He stumbled back inside. “Come dance with us, you pussies!” the ladies of Fantasy Grandma screeched as they closed out the night. The crowd obliged, following Katy Perry’s immortal words: “Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets.”