BOSSS – an essay on the site-specific and one person’s contemplation of realness

Outside The Frying Pan / Photo by Maria Baranova

Outside The Frying Pan / Photo by Maria Baranova

It was already dark when I arrived at The Frying Pan for the opening party, the night turning blustery, wind gusting around me in icy blasts as I made my way towards the little table surrounded by people with glow sticks around their necks.  When I got close enough I could see that most of them has ‘BOSSS’ stickers on their shirts – was I too early?  Was it only the people working the event that were here so far?  I checked my phone as I stood nearby on the dock.  6:43.  We had been told to arrive no later than 7.  Okay, I’d go check in.  It wasn’t embarrassingly early.  Two girls in front of me at the check-in table turned out to be just trying to go to the bar at The Frying Pan, which was apparently not open. They wandered off.  I checked in, and my name was on the list, which I knew it would be, or assumed, but there’s always a moment when you wonder if your name is on the list and you start coming up for a reason why it’s been left off.  “There you are!” the check-in person said, locating my name.  She handed me a yellow glow-stick hanging from a black string.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I put it around my neck.  “We’ll be heading over to the first event at 7:15,” she said, “and in the meantime, just hang around here or go up and warm up in The Frying Pan if you like.”  “O.k.,” I said, “Thanks.”

I looked around.  Only a few people were wearing similar glow sticks around their necks. I didn’t recognize anyone.  I wandered onto the pier and made my way towards the middle of The Frying Pan, which, in case you didn’t know, is essentially a boat at anchor – a barge, really, with a bar onboard.  There are various ramps and points of entry, and I made my way towards a check-point where a bored guy was sitting.  “Are you a worker?” He questioned.  “I’m… with BOSSS?”  He nodded, like he didn’t know what I was trying to prove, and let me through.  I walked along the wooden deck into the bar area.  There were only a few other people there, and no one was drinking.  There was a stage at the end of the barge, upon which a fake head stood on a table.  There was a person sitting opposite the fake head, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything, just sitting there.  I briefly considered getting a drink but then thought better of it, and decided that I would be best served by just standing near the entry point while the next guests arrived.  If everyone seemed to have the idea that they should gather at the bar, I would follow them.  But no need to stand here awkwardly and alone with practically no one else around.  

I made my way back across the wooden deck and started my way down a ramp towards the exit point of the bar area.  At some point, I looked down.  My glow stick was gone.  Shit!  Where was it?  I stopped, put my bag down.  I felt my shirt, under my jacket.  Nope, gone.  I looked back up the ramp.  The floor itself wasn’t a floor, but a deck.  Cracks between timber planks gave way to the Hudson river below.  It was lost, surely.  I retreated anyway, looking here and there but not seeing anything, when I saw one of the worker-types pick up something from the deck.  Was it?  It was.  “Sir!” I called.  Sir?  What?  Why sir?  But he turned.  “That’s mine, I think.  I dropped it.”  He handed the glow stick over.  The string was missing.  “There was a piece of string, it fell off.”  We looked around for the string.  It wasn’t there.  “I’ll be fine,” I said.  I turned, holding the glow stick in my hand, and resumed what had been intended to be a slow-and-casual departure from the barge, as though I had just gone in to check on something and now I was going back to where I was supposed to be.  There were not very many new people at the check-out table, although two photographers had arrived and were busy taking pictures of the handful of guests.  Alone, I stood by the water.  One of the photographers took my picture.  I tried to keep my eyes looking out over the water, like maybe I was thinking about something and didn’t even notice.  

Several minutes went by as more guests arrived.  I recognized no one.  The photographers were very busy.  Someone who worked either for BOSSS or for The Frying Pan got very upset at some worker-type-looking guy who had brought a beer up past the entry point and was standing at the top of the stairs near the check-in table.  “What the fuck are you doing up here?!” he hissed.  “Go!”  The guy put his nearly-full beer in a trash can, and ambled off towards 26th Street.  I looked down at my glow stick, which I had now affixed to my shoulder bag.  I tried to keep that part of the bag visible, but it kept getting hidden by my jacket.  I decided to unbutton the jacket, so that it wouldn’t keep blowing over the glow stick, although it was getting decidedly colder.  One of the other guests was on the barge and I saw his glow stick drop to the deck as well.  He knelt and put it in his pocket.  I decided that knot-tying was one of those minor acts of logistics that one doesn’t think of prior to events.  It had been someone’s job to tie all these glow sticks with a loop of string.  Apparently the string was too slippery, or the knots insufficient.  But it seemed like most people’s glow sticks were still around their necks, so perhaps it was only a select few that were destined to fail.  

Behind me, hot dogs arrived.  There had been an email that I had responded to, RSVP’ing for a hot dog, and so there was a certain element of expectation that was appeased by this arrival.  I had expected to find hot dogs earlier, on my little foray into The Frying Pan, and having not found them, I had felt a little displaced.  Now, here they were.  I got into line with two other people.  The photographers converged and photographed.  I took a hot dog and put mustard on it, and ate it.  Maybe now was a good time to go back into the bar area?  As I walked, with my hot dog in hand, one of the guests who was just now deciding to leave the bar area asked me where I had gotten it.  “In the front,” I said, “Near the check-in table.”  A worker with another tray of hot dogs rushed past.  There still weren’t that many people, in terms of person per hot dog ratio.  I thought about having another.  The bar was still pretty empty, so I turned around once more and made my way to the entry-point, where a number of people were now enjoying their hot dogs, and others were milling about.  I found the same place I had been standing earlier and resumed standing there.  It was quite cold by now, and so I put my hands in the pockets of my jeans.  A woman in a silver coat turned to me.  “You look like you haven’t dressed warm enough!” She declared. “Who are you?  I’m Anne Hamburger.”  I recognized her name, having done at least a little bit of research prior to arriving at this event and also having read a New York Times article about the festival that afternoon. She was the curator of the festival.  “I’m Dan.”  I said.  “I’m here for Culturebot.”  “Oh!” she said.  I couldn’t tell if she knew what I was talking about.  “Are you sure you don’t want a hat, or gloves or anything?”  “I’ll be fine,” I reassured her, and she turned and started talking again to another guest.  I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed that I hadn’t taken her up on her offer.  She seemed like a nice person.  It seemed like her event.  People kept coming up to her and asking her questions.  Eventually, she called the whole group up and led the way towards the first event, about fifty or so of us trailing after her in the dark along the waterfront.

Harold, I Hate You / Photo by Maria Baranova

Harold, I Hate You / Photo by Maria Baranova

There was a row of about twenty white chairs set up alongside the grassy part of the pier, and a bench with a few lights and a fake cardboard fire set up on a small rise of grass.  We gathered together and waited.  A man and woman in front of me were confused.  “How did you get the glow stick?” he asked me, suddenly turning.  “I checked in,”  I said, “Are you… here for the festival?”  “No,” he said, “We were just here and all these people with glow sticks showed up.”  “I think they’re for entry into the party,” I said, “But this part is free.”  “Oh, the party already happened?” he asked.  “No, it happens after. I think. To the best of my knowledge.”  He seemed satisfied by this, and turned back, and then the performance started.  Three young women dressed in what appeared to be girl scout outfits entered and started speaking.  They were all mic’ed, which was intelligent because otherwise it would have been impossible to hear anything over the gusting wind and the occasional helicopter that flew overhead.  The piece was a sort of dance & theater mix, working around the general framework that the three women would talk, sometimes in unison and sometimes in a stylized manner, about very commonplace things like online dating, for example.  Or the fear of someone breaking into their apartment and how they had positioned their air conditioner illegally in the fire-escape facing window so as to buy some time if and when this break-in would occur.  The conversations were not directly aligned by their ‘scout’-ness, in that the subject matter was what one might expect from a slightly older female, one in their early-to-mid-twenties.  At some point they had fishing poles.  At another point, they appeared to be miming the action of paddling a boat.  Their performances were uniformly fine, although I began to question what it did to the performance that they were outside, pretending to be outside.  Given that I was at a site-specific outdoor festival, I felt that this was a question I was justified in asking.  But ultimately, the question didn’t seem useful as it didn’t feel like it had any major effect on the performance, which ended when the three performers laid down in the grass and stayed there until one of them got confused and sat up to see if the others were still lying down, which they were, but then another one sat up, and a helicopter flew loudly overhead and we started to clap.  As we made our way towards the second performance space, one of the other guests said something like, “That reminded me of the theater we used to make in Atlanta.”  This might be paraphrased, though.  I tried to write it down on a piece of paper but it was very windy and dark and we were walking, so I only managed to write down the first part.  

Upon arriving at the second performance point, Anne addressed the group.  “We’re a little early, and so they haven’t done their sound check yet.  But because we believe in open processes, you’re welcome to take your seats now, or you can just hang back if you don’t want to ruin the magic.”  But everyone already seemed to be thrusting forward to take a seat, so I followed suit.  There were a number of audience members who had apparently just showed up for this event and did not have glow sticks, and were instructed to stand in the back.  I was able to find a seat in around the fourth row of chairs that had been set up facing a darkened carousel.  After a few minutes, a man dashed onto the stage, semi-masked by a sound person.  He was dressed in yellow and had on a blue cap with ear protectors.  “This isn’t happening!  You don’t see me!”  he said, over his mike.  He finished the sound check and departed.  We waited for a while longer.  It was quite cold now, and I sat on my hands, which were starting to feel numb in spots.  Then music started and the carousel started to turn and revealed the man in yellow, sleeping on a small bench that was part of the machine.  Way over to the right, a polar bear entered.  Well, a person in a polar bear suit.  It mounted the carousel and a voice-over told us that animals feasted on human dreams, or something along those lines.  As I watched I thought to myself, there’s no way to review this or even offer a response.  It has to be prose.  I should write this all in prose, just based on what happened and how it happened.  I wondered if that was too showy or indulgent, but then my thought process was interrupted by the man in yellow, who stood up and became ‘the janitor.’

Night, Janitor, Carousel / Photo by Maria Baranova

Night, Janitor, Carousel / Photo by Maria Baranova

The carousel piece turned out to be delightful.  I had a certain expectation for this piece as well, having read in the Times that one of the performers (who I assumed, correctly, was the man in yellow) had been in the band Neutral Milk Hotel.  So there was a sense of this being an appearance by someone who one wouldn’t normally see on a cold windy night at the carousel on the Hudson River.  He was telling us a story about being the janitor of this particular carousel and how he had even created a narrator for himself (the voice over guy) and how he always felt like there was an audience watching, even when there wasn’t (although obviously, we were the audience, and we were watching).  His quality of speech and manner of storytelling was compellingly child-like and earnest, open and engaging, and I began to wonder if I was adding a special-ness to the proceedings based on my knowledge that he was ‘special,’ or at least, ‘not just another emerging artist.’  I couldn’t tell if I was projecting this, or if there is an actual inherent specialness to certain performers, and this is why they are no longer emerging and are now fully arrived, here on a carousel telling you a story about their great-grandfather and occasionally singing into a towel roll (which contained a microphone and was protected by the overly-gusting-now wind that wreaked havoc with the body mic that Julian – the man in yellow’s name is Julian Koster – was wearing).  But the piece was wonderful, weaving between the childlike and adult, featuring minor animatronics and audience participation and the afore-mentioned polar bear and light changes and a sense of earned whimsey which is easy to dismiss or denigrate as a critic, but the charm and elevation of the setting (cold, windy, October, a darkened carousel, a closely listening audience) turned it into something memorable and accomplished.

When the piece ended with Julian thanking us most sincerely for listening, we rose up and made our way back to The Frying Pan for a final performance that I’m not going to write about because they requested it not be critiqued in its current form. (Although let’s be honest, this is hardly critique, is it?)  Then, we made our way back to the bar, where it seemed that you had to have drink tickets to get a drink without paying for one.  There was food on the way but I wasn’t terribly hungry, and still hadn’t recognized anyone that I knew in any way.  I stood for a few moments watching the proceedings, then made a snap decision and decided to go home, which I questioned even on the subway platform, the yellow glow stick still dangling from my bag.  But the unease of being alone at a gathering with nobody to talk with overwhelmed the fear of ‘missing something,’ and once home I poured myself a glass of wine and researched Julian Koster on the internet, where I found this video.  After finishing my first glass of wine and then one more, I went to bed.

Lying in darkness, I reiterated to myself that prose was the way to go with this article, that the rewards possibly outweighed the risks.   I would assume the position of one of my (new) favorite authors, the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, and write the piece as if I was him and he was tasked with giving the response.  This was how he might do it.  I would try it out.  It would be a risky endeavor in that I would be creating a piece of writing, of ‘art’ even, in response to someone else’s art.  I suspected that this is possibly out of bounds, the danger being that one’s own response should never be in combat with that which is being responded to – the personal voice overwhelming the act of ‘writing about someone else’s work.’  But why not?  I couldn’t imagine that responding in an academically formal and technical manner would really shed any light on these pieces in the dark, and what was I putting at risk after all?  My standard of ethics?  My ‘journalistic voice’?  It was all artifice anyway, I might as well be honest about it. So, I would borrow a prose voice. I would hope that starting from a place of mimicry would push me towards something else – that I would find a way to share an experience, to go beyond the annoying or cloying, to find something else in the darkness that felt like a truth, or an honest telling, something more real.  Going places by yourself has this effect.  The performance is always half in your head.  But maybe that’s always true.  It’s just writing down the inner voice, that’s what I would try to do.

MOMS / Photo by Maria Baranova

MOMS / Photo by Maria Baranova

On Saturday, I worked elsewhere and didn’t see any of the day’s shows.  So it was Sunday, the last day of the (three day) festival that I returned, this time in broad daylight, to continue my engagement with these site-specific performances as best I could.  Having left my house slightly behind schedule, I arrived just in time to catch the first piece of the afternoon (actually, there were two pieces at the same time, forcing me to make a choice and also forcing me to miss one of the pieces altogether, although I take some pride in announcing that it was the only one that I missed).  The performance I chose to attend was We Were Wild Once Episode 6; Talks With a Drunk.  Set amidst a rock garden somewhere between Pier 64 and 62, it was relatively easy to locate due to a number of festival staff hanging around (with headsets and wearing shirts that said BOSSS on them, which by the way, stands for Big Outdoor Site-Specific Stuff – I just looked it up finally!) Waiting for the show to start, I initially thought that a person sleeping on a rock and wrapped in a sleeping bag was unrelated to the performance.  I don’t know why I thought this.  It should have been obvious.  But you see a sleeping person on a rock and you think, “Oh, they’re going to get in the way,” as opposed to, “Look, an actor!”  The audience gathered and the piece started.  I liked the opening best, as a man wearing baggy jester-like clothing roamed between rocks and smoked a cigarette as music played.  Then the music stopped and the sleeping person woke up and turned out to be an actor (of course) and they started a scene, which felt a little like something out of Waiting for Godot but without context.  It was difficult to concentrate on heightened text at this hour of the day amid the water and rocks.  There wasn’t a way to pin it down inside its setting.  Perhaps within a theater, where we have been trained that people can and sometimes will speak in this heightened manner, it’s easier to create a world around the characters that is equally heightened.  And maybe there’s a way for the presence of heightened characters to elevate and enliven their surroundings – after all, everyone seems to love doing Shakespeare in the Park for some reason.  I thought about this juxtaposition for awhile, but it didn’t really get me anywhere.  Even if I didn’t really track it, they seemed to be doing a good job of making sense of the text for themselves, and the piece ended gently with a mild chase around the rocks and a song.  

Next I moved on to a still-green lawn that makes up part of Pier 63.  I spotted the requisite BOSSS staffer, who instructed that I sit on the grass in a certain location, at the bottom of a small hill.  On the side of the hill was a sleeping body.  “Of course,” I thought, “Naturally.”  After awhile, fourteen men with pink lightweight baby strollers appeared at the top of the hill in formation.  This was the beginning of MOMS.  It became quickly clear however, based on the performers initial reaction to the sleeping form mere yards below them, that this body was not a planted actor but an actual sleeping person who was probably in the way.  Undeterred, they started the performance, which included a bullhorn and stroller choreography and a lot of speaking in unison.  (I appreciated that they did not have microphones, other than the bullhorn, and that also they were easy to hear even outside.)  The sleeping person briefly became aware that he was in the middle of a performance.  He raised his head, looked at the performers and their strollers as they chanted, “I am a mom!”  He looked over at the audience collected near his feet.  He went back to sleep.  This was impressive.  

The piece lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes and then started over and looped two more times (which meant that twice more they assembled at top of hill above sleeping person, and twice more the sleeping person continued to sleep through it).  Along with the rest of the audience, I followed the parade of ‘moms’ as they pushed their strollers across the lawn, along a sidewalk, and eventually settled into formation on the walkway at the head of the pier, the Hudson River sparkling behind them.  This active progression of ‘place’ allowed for several other disruptions involving those passing by, including an actual pregnant woman who literally ran away, scooping up a small child during her dash to safety.  It was hard to say if it was the incongruity of fourteen young men yelling in unison about postmortem depression and stretch marks or just the fact that it was unexpected and therefore threatening that caused her to flee the scene in such a way.  Joggers, however, were not bothered by the performance and ran right through it without so much as an altered facial expression.  After I watched an entire second loop and determined that there would be a third, I peeled off to go watch the next piece, which was happening nearby.  I enjoyed MOMS, although I wasn’t sure if I was entirely getting this version of the joke (men as moms), which I assumed was intended to be more complicated and/or nuanced than the Arnold Schwarzenegger variety.  Aside from that, the performance played well with its setting, heavily populated as the plaza was in mid-afternoon with actual moms with children and strollers.  That one of them had actually run away seemed indicative of something approaching success – although, success?  Was that the right word?  What was it exactly that site-specific work strove to do?  How might one measure success?  Is it simply that you can follow what’s happening and it manages to transform itself or its surroundings in some way beyond the obvious or expected?  The term ‘happening’ came to mind, which was something I was taught about in undergrad; during some directing course, we had to create ‘happenings’ across campus and beyond.  A small audience would collect – something weird would happen.  (One of my classmates cast me as a person who had to stand up on a table in the dining hall and start singing ‘RENT’ acapella.  This is likely one of the many reasons I’m no longer an actor.)  A ‘happening’ seemed to be content with causing a disruption, making a wrinkle in the otherwise smooth exterior of public existence.  There did not need to be a story told, or an arc, or a moral.  Its ambition was aimed at the active over the philosophical. MOMS seemed to align itself with this definition (more-so I think than any of the other shows I saw throughout the festival), although if you listened closely to the various deviations in unison chanting there was certainly commentary on class and gender embedded within its text.

The next piece, on Pier 64, called Harold, I Hate You!, and was a piece I had already seen on Friday night under cover of darkness.  Behind me, the third loop of MOMS was still happening, fourteen men lying on pavement groaning with birthing pains, just barely audible across the brief expanse of water.  I was curious to see if HAROLD, I HATE YOU had changed much by virtue of being performed in the daylight, and found that it… didn’t.  I could determine the ages and features of the performers a little easier.  One appeared older than I would have expected.  The fake fire seemed somehow more appropriate in the daylight, though.  I suppose they weren’t allowed to start real fires anyway.  This time they nailed the ending.

Then it was on to Long Time, which took place at the very end of Pier 66.  The sun was starting to set and cast crazy shadows through a water wheel that occasionally spun and scattered a spray of water over the collected audience.  A man was lying on his back in the middle of the pier.  I actively declined to make a decision based on his participation likelihood based on recent history (though it turned out that he was a performer).  A nearby fisherman pulled a crab out of the water.  A man and woman tried to dock their boat with much difficulty amid the choppy waters.  The woman had failed to cast her line over the necessary wooden post twice, and when she finally succeeded the assembled and waiting audience applauded.  This made her laugh really hard from the gut, which made me wonder what would happen if you assembled an audience and then installed them to bear witness to non-performative acts (a traffic cop directing traffic, say).  Someone must have already done this, right?  In fact, I suspected that I might prefer to witness the commonplace site-specifically.  Anything that had an overt ‘theatrical’ quality felt out of place in nature, artificial, cartoonish in the face of the ‘real’ real.  After LONG TIME had began and finished (it’s also not open for review), we trailed after the performers back down the pier. The fisherman continued to fish, probably more freely in our absence. I wondered what he made of the whole thing.

Extreme gusts of wind blasted off the water, and I put on the gloves that I had brought and which had seemed silly at the beginning of the afternoon in mid-sixty-degree sunlight.  It now felt like exactly what it was – dusk at the end of October on a pier on the west side of Manhattan.  A cruise ship passed by, the size of a skyscraper.  Then the next piece started (The Visitors).

Without divulging much about this piece either (when something is not open for review but you find yourself committed to a narrative exploration of an event unfolding, what do you do?), I think it’s okay to reveal that it was centered around the theme of activism – one of the girls had defaced that ad in the subway with the breast enlargement doctor and the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of the sad girl holding apples and the happy girl holding cantaloupes. There was some singing.  Joggers continued to inadvertently become part of the performance for a few seconds as they forced their way through the performative space. A few other people stopped and smiled at the spectacle with uncertainty.  This happened throughout the day, this slowing and then stopping and then staring.  These people would generally be intercepted by a BOSSS staffer who would give them a postcard with the schedule of events and names of the pieces, which seemed to alleviate the tension of the moment between recognition (what the hell?) and understanding (oh, it’s a theater piece.)  I wished the staffers would have been allowed to let this moment last longer, or forever, but I suppose it’s also useful to know what you’re looking at.  

After the piece ended and we applauded, I retreated to 8th Avenue and found a place called ‘World of Beer,’ where I had two of America’s beers and some tacos before making my way, slightly thawed, back into the now-total darkness beyond 12th avenue.  

Night, Janitor, Carousel / Photo by Maria Baranova

Night, Janitor, Carousel / Photo by Maria Baranova

The second-to-last piece was Night, Janitor, Carousel – I had also already seen it on Friday night, which seemed like a long time ago.  I enjoyed it for a second time, appreciating the way the performers slightly altered their performance to better facilitate the more complex components required of the performance (thirty-six audience members need to be incorporated onto the carousel and enticed to follow directions, not an easy task in the dark and when some of the audience is drunk).  I realized that while the piece was perhaps the most successful-feeling of the festival in terms of a theater-based storytelling-centric approach, it was also the most tightly controlled. The carousel was real, it was the exact (incorporated) setting, and there were lighting cues, seats set out, a clear distinction between the performer space and audience space which was then willfully exploited by adding the audience to the carousel, and a low possibility of the performance being interrupted, which allowed for a closer attention to be paid to the proceedings. In a word, it was more comfortable.  Was this a good thing? What should I make of my desire to be comfortable during performances?  Or maybe it was control – I liked it when a performance felt in control of itself.

Back at the rocks, where I started the afternoon, yet another audience gathered for the last show of the festival.  I wondered how much of this audience was the same audience from previous showings.  The crowds had been getting progressively larger as the day went along – I had started here with maybe fifteen other watchers, and now we must have numbered at least fifty, if not more. This piece was called Given the Present, The Future Does Not Depend On the Past. I found a rock to semi-hide behind.  A few moments into the piece, a spotlight lit up the person sitting on the rock that I was leaning on, and I had to scoot over so as not to be ‘in the show.’  This was actually the first time this had happened. Contemplating my apparent ability to position myself on the periphery of things, I followed the performance as it moved from rock garden down the pier, where about twenty performers with LED lights were doing something aerobic-looking.  The content of the play, if you want to call it that (but it did seem like it was structured like a play at least), was centered around a failed relationship in which the male person berates the female person in the (former) relationship about her blog.  Apparently she’s getting a lot of spam comments. In a stand-out moment, she decides to click on one of the comments to try and respond to it which then triggers a profoundly dirty song that two members of the ensemble sing, backed by the enthusiastically choreographed movement of the other LED-bearing performers – the word ‘pussy’ is used in various combinations, and the blogger can’t make it stop.

Here was an actively engaged moment, I thought! One of those fun theater transpositions wherein it’s clear what is being represented (dirty porn pop-up ads brought about by an inadvertent click of the mouse) but the depiction of the event, if you remove the context of knowing what the piece is about, is still capable of functioning as an entirely independent (and surreal) act.  So, surreal transposition plus enough storytelling to create a context to play against = success? The piece as a whole eventually abandoned that context and left us standing in front of an intriguingly spectacle-based landscape – three women dressed in what appeared to be wedding dresses and holding helium-filled balloons sang in the background, a person on stilts looming overhead, the LED ensemble – having placed their lights into their mouths – lip-syncing creepily to a self-help mantra being given voice by the blogger, who had realized that using a self-help tone helps her get more hits on her blog…  I was lost, but it was pretty.

Then it was over.  The person on stilts told us to go home.  “Well, go wherever you want,” she added, “but you can’t stay here.”  I made my way back to the 23rd Street C platform.  Nobody else from the show seemed to be going uptown, not that I would have made small talk anyway.  I arrived home to find my wife already there, working on something at her computer.  In bed, I tried to describe a few of the pieces I had seen, but struggled to find a landing point that felt insightful.  “I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s kind of like…”  But she was already asleep so I stopped talking.

It’s kind of like, though – here’s what I might have said – watching unreal things in a real setting can recalibrate your ‘audience-based’ receptors for awhile, which is an interesting experience not unlike the effect a museum can have.  This has value and can in some situations (but not all) justify the chaos of placing something out into a public and uncontrolled environment.  But then again – what’s actually real is (strangely) more interesting than that which presents itself as ‘performance’.  Even now, even here in this essay of overly wrought prose – I’ve left things out. I haven’t divulged my entire experience (every stray thought, judgement, interaction) for fear of revealing too much of myself in public.  Even as I strive for the ‘real,’ I get only halfway there.  For those of us who aspire to support ourselves through our artistic and creative practices, what does it mean that our ability to create meaningful content, when placed out in public space and gauged alongside the non-performative (the fisherman, the boat, the jogger, the waves and sun on the water), is only able to draw an audience’s attention and hold their focus at a slight-above-the median engagement level?  We’re just contributing to, not necessarily commanding our environment.  But maybe that’s okay?  We’re existing.  We’re watching.  Still watching.  Waiting for something real to emerge.

One thought on “BOSSS – an essay on the site-specific and one person’s contemplation of realness”

  1. Anne Hamburger says:

    I love this thoughtful and philosophical treatment of a theatre-going experience.

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