Liz Magic Laser

Liz Magic Laser talks about Flight

Left: Poster for Liz Magic Laser’s Flight performances in Times Square. Right: Elizabeth Hodur and Michael Wiener rehearsing. (Photo: Mia Tramz).

Liz Magic Laser will present a new iteration of her ongoing work Flight in Times Square’s Duffy Square on May 3, 6, and 7. Flight adapts chase scenes from films such as American Psycho and Vertigo with a cast of six actors, and was sponsored by the Times Square Alliance and the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art.

WE PSYCHOLOGICALLY REHEARSE FOR TRAUMATIC EVENTS BY WATCHING MOVIES; by enacting panic we anticipate its cause. But these scenes of violence and terror place us in a passive role. When they are transplanted to a crowded public space, atomized spectatorship is replaced by interactivity and mutual responsibility.

Flight is made up of twenty-three scenes that take place on stairs. The action traces the history of the staircase in cinema from a social to an individual space. In Battleship Potemkin, the staircase was the site of the catastrophic defeat of the 1905 revolution. In later films, like The Shining, the stairs became the site of individual trauma. In every case, this architecture is the stage for a dramatic confrontation. Over the course of Flight, the actors––Nic Grelli, Elizabeth Hodur, Liz Micek, Michael Wiener, Lia Woertendyke, and Max Woertendyke––shift roles between victim, aggressor, and witness. In the final scene, which takes its cue from Final Destination 4, the trauma returns to the public arena, but the struggle is now defined by apocalyptic paranoia.

Flight is highly scripted, but the script includes many moments when the actors have the option of engaging with the audience. We’ve been rehearsing in Times Square before an audience of bystanders; many are sightseers, people waiting in line for theater tickets, or teenagers hanging out. The script facilitates engagement with this crowd: If someone runs toward you screaming “Help!” or approaches you with a raised fist, you’re implicated immediately.

These scenes of violence resonate in a place that has a history of petty crime and public danger. When I asked an actor to scream “Help!” she did and immediately asked, “Is this OK?”—was she shouting fire in a crowded theater? Last week, we were rehearsing a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and an actress performed Madeline’s suicide right next to the line of people waiting to buy tickets. A security guard came over and said, “You can’t do this, you’re alarming people.” Yesterday, I had to intercept a police officer trying to save an actress from being strangled in a part from Henry Hathaway’s Niagara. As we’ve rehearsed, we’ve started to see what happens when these fantasies enter everyday life.

Times Square is swarming with cameras. We are constantly asked to take photos, and we inevitably appear in them. Experience is mediated through the camera, and this becomes integral to the piece. When I first staged this performance at PS1, I did not want cameras to prevent people from engaging with the actors. In Times Square, the camera and its image are part of the environment. The video of the performance will mimic the cinematography of the original films, but the onlookers—the crowd—will become the backdrop for these iconic scenes of individual trauma.