COLUMNS

  • Full Circle

    IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, San Carlo al Lazzaretto was built as a field altar that permitted plague victims to eat of the body and drink of the blood in open air. Two Fridays ago, the church was hemmed in not by the sick, but by loud bargoers unaware of a different form of communion taking place inside. It was the twenty-fifth day of Ragnar Kjartansson’s durational performance The Sky in a Room and the beginning of the end of a summer lull in Milan’s coronavirus cases. A human-sized condom cutout flanked a mobile STD clinic in the church plaza, its cartoonish smile suggesting: We’re all fucked.

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  • Nun of the Above

    AT 8 PM ON A WARM, Thursday night, a crowd of twenty arrives in a virtual room for a Zoom performance of composer, cellist, and writer Ethan Philbrick’s Disordo Virtutum, presented by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. With varying degrees of surprise and pleasure, I find that some attendees are familiar to me. I see a former lover, an artist with whom I have made small talk on several occasions, and a choreographer I once had a shy first date with over greasy pasta at a small Italian restaurant in Ridgewood. (Today we’re friends; she’ll text me after the show.) Curator Lydia Brawner is there

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  • Talk to Me

    THE ARTIST’S TALK CAN BE A DULL AFFAIR: a PowerPoint presentation attesting to careerism and credentialization, an exposition of past and current projects and institutional engagements, uninspired commentary by an artist who seemed fascinating at a distance. The contemporary circuitry of MFA visiting lectureships alone harks back to the form’s origins in academic professionalization, which has largely become a requirement for critical and commercial success despite the unbearable (and unjustifiable) burden of graduate school tuition. Born out of boredom with this standardization of the lecture

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  • Weak House

    ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY, around two weeks into my quarantine in Spain, I attended a comedy show: thirty minutes of new material by Maria Bamford, provisionally titled The New Material Show, broadcast live and for free via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. A couple of hours before showtime, I received an email which began with a caveat that doubled as an enticement: “Instead of comedy, this may feel uncomfortable.”

    Bamford is no stranger to discomfort, or to working from home. Her comedy, whose predominant themes are family and mental illness, has often availed itself to a kind of self-imposed house

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  • Down Time

    FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS—between applying coats of linseed oil to my newly stripped desk and walking my dog up and down the block, maintaining six feet of distance from the other stragglers walking their own in this ominous time—I have been dipping in and out of the Trickle Up: NYC Artist Network, a subscription video platform launched on March 23 by Taylor Mac, Kristin Marting, Morgan Jenness, Emily Morse, Niegel Smith, and other leaders of the downtown theater scene. The goal of the project is to share unique missives from NYC artists as a way to gain 10,000 subscribers at $10 a month for the

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  • TRUE CRIME

    AT THE TOP of Thomas Ostermeier’s History of Violence, the German theater director’s adaptation of Édouard Louis’s 2016 autobiographical novel, three performers clad head to toe in protective hoods and coveralls mark the stage as a crime scene, placing numbered placards at points across the floor. As one begins to dust for fingerprints, another records the procedure on video, live-streaming it in close-up onto a stark white wall looming behind them. Soon, an ominous image of a brush stirring up a cloud of fine powder dissolves into one of falling snow. It is Christmas in Paris and Édouard is

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  • No Man’s Land

    IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE, there is very little in Richard Maxwell’s play, Queens Row. His approach to directing actors has always appeared to be an act of distillation: Eliminating the excesses of dramatic interpretation so that actors speak and are heard not for the force of their conviction—a programmed contrivance of the meta-script which constitutes popular performance—but for their commitment to stilling the physical body in lieu of more obvious psychologically-motivated behaviors. No tics, unless required explicitly by the text. No histrionics. Pure presence.

    In the eighteen years since I saw

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  • Burn Notice

    “IF I AM A BUTTERFLY,” Zapotec performer Lukás Avendaño exclaimed to a rapt audience in the fourth floor black box of Performance Space New York late last Sunday afternoon, “maybe I don’t need a passport.” He was explaining the title of his film La utopía de la mariposa (The Butterfly’s Utopia), 2019, which documents his life as a Muxe artist as well as his search for a missing brother. While much of the performance world was careening rapidly from one American Performing Arts Professionals showcase to another this past month, Avendaño was evoking the spirit of Indigenous gathering at “Knowledge

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  • You Better WeWork

    I HATE CHILDREN. I feel bad about this, of course. My sister has a couple, my friends have others; I was once one myself. Yet only the occasional spike of terror about my own steadily approaching death has ever made me want one. Who wouldn’t like to have a captive audience for their ill-informed theories of everything, or at least an in-house caretaker when one’s brain goes? But those don’t seem like super honorable reasons for taking on the project, although they might be common ones, confessed to or otherwise.

    Last Sunday, however, my aversion to children was overcome by my love of Ei Arakawa.

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  • Action Figures

    NOVEMBER WAS THE MONTH of overscheduled evenings, stacked with events sprawling across three weeks and forty venues for the eighth iteration of Performa. The brainchild of RoseLee Goldberg, the biennial has since 2005 promoted the field of performance art as a coherent subdiscipline of the visual arts, drawing on histories of the avant-garde to firmly tie the field’s lineage to art history. In fact, it is Performa’s habit to produce new commissions undertaken by visual artists with little experience in live media (at the expense, often, of supporting practitioners already active in this domain),

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  • Jennifer Krasinski

    A PERFORMANCE must be believed to be seen. I likely hang its appearance on an act of faith because I—raised Catholic in the Midwest—received my first exposure to theater by watching men in elaborately brocaded dresses conduct mass every Sunday. (As it turns out, church was also my primer on camp.) Applause was inappropriate, prayer was encouraged, and many years later the two otherwise adverse gestures still share a synapse in my head, one standing in for the other—sometimes.

    Which brings me to the frigid Friday in January when I arrived at a Shabbat dinner hosted by comedic singer-songwriter

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  • What’s Cooking?

    GOING TO THE THEATER can be a lot like going to a party. When good, similar pleasures are on offer: diversion, excitement, even uplift. For some fixed amount of time, we forget about the drab minutia of our daily lives. We can feel that we are part of a community, though we know it’s only a temporary one: we’re unlikely to ever see the strangers in the room again. When bad, both a performance and a party can make us desperate to leave, to escape the painful phoniness, the noise, the shouting, the bad behavior, and the palpable feeling of being trapped.

    Sometimes (actually, never) something gets

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