Andrew Schneider on “YOUARENOWHERE” at COIL 2015
A couple days ago, I was standing in a part of the set for YOUARENOWHERE during load-in at the Invisible Dog, where it plays this month as part of PS122’s COIL Festival, as Andrew Schneider—performer, video artist, performance technologist, and the show’s creator—lamented the limitations of commercially available LED wash panels.
“They have a user friendliness built into them that’s great for 99 percent of people,” he said, comparing the rented, ceiling mounted units to his custom-made strands arranged vertically throughout the space, “because you can go to any light board that every theater has and you can run a bunch of DMX cable that every theater has, and you can program it, and it works.”
He paused. “But I’m like, ‘It’s not quick enough.’ I want these things to be strobing at like 30 times a second. And so one of the things Christine”—he gestured to where Christine Shallenberg was cuing a pair of laptops to run a demo for me—“has unfortunately had to do is go in and program a 10-millisecond delay so they match up.”
That level of technical specificity is precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from Schneider. After starting his career in musical theater (“I played the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors three times”), he developed a fascination with the way technology was shaping contemporary life, and enrolled in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYC, from where he was immediately “snapped up” by Liz Lecompte, for whom he spent seven years as a video designer and, later, performer for the Wooster Group. It was the experience that transformed a song-and-dance-man into a multimedia performance artist with an exacting vision measured in milliseconds.
“I had an eye, but it wasn’t refined” before the Wooster Group, he told me. “Working around Liz, she tuned my ear in a different way. She taught me the importance of design in ways I wasn’t thinking about. You know, color-correcting a TV for three hours in Croatia for no reason. And I’m thinking, ‘This is insane! I can’t see the difference.’ And she’s like, ‘I can.’ I said, ‘No one’s going to notice,’ and she said, ‘No one’s going to notice, but people aren’t going to like the show as much, and they’re not going to know why.’”
Despite his reputation as a formidable performer and the designer of a nerd’s grab bag of cool tech toys (a solar-panel bikini?) for on- and off-stage use, his work as a creator is somewhat limited. His only previous evening length work was WOW + FLUTTER at the Chocolate Factory in 2009. Otherwise, his own work has been limited to short presentations at mixed-bills like Catch, where YOUARENOWHERE was first shown in-development in 2012, followed by another WIP showing at Prelude 13.
Described as a lesson in quantum physics with reference to the ever-hilarious Craigslist “Missed Connections” section, the performance is not actually a re-tread of the plot of the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Sliding Doors set inside a James Turrell installation. Explaining his intent to “curate emotion in a non-narrative fashion,” YOUARENOWHERE employs a variety of high- and low-tech devices to produce a fluid, shifting landscape (“the room is a character in the performance”) in which the performance unfolds. I’d describe it more, but that would risk ruining the effect.
The technological aspects are primarily tied to creating a light show that’s responsive to Schneider’s actions, particularly his voice. “That’s what this show is,” he said. “Big dumb color. For me that’s instant mood change.”
In other words, despite its inspiration in science and employment of technological gadgets, those elements serve as devices externalizing the psychic-emotional state of the performer, writing large personal experience in space. Schneider termed it “hyper-cutting reality,” but it’s as much Expressionism as postmodernism: A Munch painting realized as a performance.
[To be published after the show opens, to preserve conceptual integrity]