Reflections about a live performance by Slater Penney that was entitled “The Other Show”
Performed, April 12th, 2019
at UC Davis Arena Theatre
BEFORE THE SHOW
Slater Penney is dressed in work overalls. His demeanor is serious, rude.
We are waiting in the hallway to be let into the theatre. Slater comes around and takes people's names down.
As he comes to me, I ask him: 'Why are you so unfriendly?' His grumpily rambled answer involves reasoning around if I wanted to get paid for the job I needed to give him that info.
AFTER THE SHOW
After seeing the performance, another answer to that question forms in my head: He is rude because we don't deserve niceties any more. Each of us is
implicated. We are guilty of contributing to the way the world is stuck amidst of an environmental crisis, global warming, garbage everywhere, violence, consumerism and 'trashism'.
We don't deserve pleasantries or conveniences. We are here to work and clean up the mess that we made.
And, in the end, after seeing the show, and looking at the audience's response, my response: I'm not able to conclude that there is any real hope, either.
EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
A human wearing a helmet with a long stick protruding forward and away from his body, as long as he is tall. At the far end, a small light is dangling off a string. It is the only light in the dark, but it illuminates the scene: cardboard boxes, black trashbags, cardboard tubes and the sound of flies, hundreds of flies.
As he chases the light, tries to catch it. I think about how we follow thoughts that can't lead to anything, that can't be gotten unless we look way down, further down into ourselves, until our neck's bend so far that it hurts and the long stick attached to our heads finally touches our toes.
Slater evolves in this scene from utterly stupid to smart enough to do this, to bend his head down, to look down, bow and then step on the light and pause the Sysiphian chase. He can take the light and examine it: And we can realize that the answer lies in our own hands. Our actions, always
close to us, attached to us.
I was disappointed in the audience. The highly sensitive, educated audience that had fun and laughed playing with turtles made from disposable one time use aluminum catering trays, with trash, with jellyfish made from plastic, with cardboard boxes and other items that right or wastefulness. He kept it pretty safe for us, maybe too safe. There were sounds of flies, but there was no real disgusting trash. But there was new trash mixed in. New plastic, new gloves, for those that honestly feared
to get too dirty. Sad. I was disappointed that nobody cried or just stopped having fun. This isn't fucking entertainment, people!
It was so in your face that it made the denial we all live in all the more obvious and depressing.
Yes we are stuck.
We can't change. We can't save the fish, or ourselves.
We are chasing something that is unattainable, like Slater chasing his own light on a stick, an image at the very beginning of the piece, that was reminiscent of a lantern Fish.
OUR OWN TRASH
I recognized some of the 'trash' to be materials from previous shows. It wasn't hard to get all that junk together to fill a stage and create a scene that simulated drowning. Drowning in our own crap. But still everyone was having fun.
We were recruited to clean up the great Pacific garbage patch. We PLAYED.
We didn't DO. We should have DONE. We should have felt bad, not good.
Why is he having us, the audience, clean up? We don't represent anyone outside ourselves, no politicians, no 'people', none other but us. Exactly.
Fucking hell. Plastic is the material we interact with the most. And all this started in the middle of the last century, only roughly 70 years ago. And nobody can imagine ever having lived any other way. Do we really need the convenience of nitrile gloves for cleaning our homes, or for cutting onions?
There is no hope, not from us, consumers. That's what we are. We consume things, ideas, beings, lives, bodies, the world. We poison the 'resources' (a terrible word that indicates our relationship to nature) we need to live because all we see is that little light and the little space it illuminates in front of us. There is more beyond that!
Slater opened the big stage door and a massive wind, imagined, simulated, came in and blew him all around the room. He managed to close the door and shut out the danger. But it is lurking behind the wall, ready to blow down the building, to destroy us, to level all.
Nobody really WATCHED this tragedy. Everyone seems too busy playing with plastic. But I think I remember applause at the end. Bravo, for incorporating something physical and so well done. The reactions of the audience did not lead me to believe that they felt threatened.
The trash is delivered from all sides of the room, through all the doors.
It is everywhere. The towers of packages are tall, insurmountable seeming, but they can be disassembled, it will take time....
The piece isn't hiding much, and it hurts.
We descend into the ocean floor, slowly over time, inch by inch it gets darker. Small lights are being distributed to audience members. They are small like the lantern fish light he chased in the beginning, but even tinier. The stage lights change and flicker, until they finally are turned off all the way and the big door opens again to let the waters of the ocean sweep over us.
THE LAST FISH – THE CONATMINATED FISH
A large lantern fish, made from plastic and found objects emerges. Like captain Nero's vessel, Slater sits inside it navigating it through the twirling crowd that is having fun, and the trash, to swallow up bits and pieces of trash that float into his path. He is getting excited screams here and there from audience members when the mouth gulps. The fish's teeth are made of plastic forks. Skin of packaging material. Scales of coffee cup lids. The fish eats and becomes our trash.
Everything has become trash, is enveloped in it, inhabited by it. People are puppeteering catering tray turtles and plastic bag jellyfish... It's all swirling around.
The clean up crew is making a mess. The crew, us, is instructed to breathe life into these items of trash to replace the lost turtles with aluminum ones, the jellyfish with plastic ones. The lantern fish floats around the room and the audience feeds it trash. Why isn't the audience trying to keep the trash out of its path. We reenact what IS happening instead of playing out a DIFFERENT reality. How are we going to create change if all
we do is reenact that which is happening? Why/how can people do this? Why don't they cry, see the mess, halt the insanity. I suppose we behave according to specific rules. The rules say, in a performance you don't disagree, you don't change the course of events, you engage and follow instructions. Just like life, this is why we will not be able to change course on this plastic avalanche any time soon, or ever.
There were actually no instructions to feed the fish. This was our own choice. It is our own choice to buy, use, and throw away plastic.
THE LAST SHOW
At the end Slater instructs his crew, us, to sort everything by material and bring it to the recycling bins. That's the solution?
Outsourcing the trash to another person. Another country. This shows that we are all in this together, Slater included. Did he order the little lights on Amazon? I ordered a bunch of things the other week...
I attended the last show, which ended differently from the previous night's performances, where all the trash was sorted into bags and put back on the pile for the beginning of the next show. But this ending is a slap in the face, illustrating so obviously the mechanisms of denial. It's beautiful. I love this piece, for it's cruelty, it's honesty. I hate this piece because it feels like a nail in a coffin.
In a conversation about what to do with the plastic lights that each of us was given, Slater talks about choice, it being the choice of the person asking. But I don't think the audience member understood that. I think the he was upset about the answer, about the lack of instruction. Left to our own devices what will we do? The piece shows that the crowd will follow instructions, any instructions, good leadership, bad leadership. Within a variable range, that being temporality or severity, the plan of the leader will always be implemented. People enabled leadership goals of dictators until that range was stretched too far, or something went on for too long, or the situation got too dire even for those enabling the leader. But it will be Politics that will have to take a leadership role in cleaning up efforts or it will not get done, at least not on the scale needed.
by Karola Luettringhaus, June 2019, Davis, CA