13 Moments in Artistic Experiences That Made Me Go “Oh S***t” in 2019
We all have different reactions when a piece of art hits us. Some cry, some nod, and some like me go “OH S***T.” Sometimes there is a precise moment in an event when you feel it and other times it’s the whole dang thing. Rather than just make a list of what I think was “best,” it’s nice to a reflect on my year, and revisit the sensations these moments and experiences that shaped me along the way. As this decade comes to a close, I’m back with this list which like last year, spans genre and form.
In no particular order…
Hercules (Public Works — Public Theatre)
Non-stop life affirming bliss. Even as someone who didn’t obsess over the animated film of which this musical was based, I was absorbed in the epicness and beauty of the storytelling. This production, expertly led by Lear deBessonet, with a cast over 200, featuring professsional actors along side community members, exemplified why theatre exists. The spectacle of this show was the act of creation itself and by centering imagination and re-invention, it was the best Disney musical production since “The Lion King.”
Wolves in the Walls (Fable Studios)
This episodic VR series is usually the first example I give to people when convincing them the potential for VR. It’s a dream of a collaboration between Fable Studios, which specializes in virtual beings, and immersive dance company Third Rail Projects. Without any obvious choreography, this experience demonstrates the amazing opportunity for dancemakers in the XR space by gently guiding you with character movement. Marry that with incredible gaze tracking, and you feel the intense presence of a live performer in a virtual character. Learn more here.
Discrete Figures (Rhizomatics Research x ELEVENPLAY x Kyle McDonald)
If there there ever was a show to make you feel like our country is FAR behind when it comes to interactive technology in performance, it’s this one. J-POP choreography was layered with live generated projections in a variety of ways. I usually don’t support use of tech for tech’s sake, which this was, but the use of tech was so far beyond what anyone else is doing, I didn’t care. One of the most jaw-dropping moments was when a single dancer dueted with a virtual dancer, who was only seen through the projection of the live feed camera and a shadow on the floor.
A Strange Loop (Playwrights Horizons)
If you ever doubted that a musical could be transgressive, disturbing, and hillarious, while be entertaining as hell, this will change your mind. A sensational musical triumph by Michael R. Jackson featuring a beyond exuberant performance by Larry Owens about the queer black experience which is ultimaltely about becoming an adult and accepting yourself. Everyone in New York has their fingers crossed this show has continued life next year.
Is This a Room? (Tina Satter/Half Straddle)
The first show I saw this year and perhaps the best. A mind-fuck of a staging of the full transcript of the FBI arrest of whistle-blower Reality Winner. Unsettling, thought provoking, and exhilarting, this piece mesmerizes and haunts you for weeks.
“You Oughta Know” in Jagged Little Pill (Broadway)
From the moment performances began at ART, we’ve been hearing about Lauren Patten’s show stopping performance in “Jagged Little Pill.” Let me tell you: the rumors are true. Nothing encapsulates the energy of Alanis and The Rock Musical better that the construct of this perfomance. From stunning stillness to wrath unleased, Patten owns the stage as she explodes her power with rhythmic specificity and dynamic physicality.
Chained (Justin Denton / MWM Interactive)
The gold standard merging of interactive VR and immersive theatre, “Chained” casts you as Scrooge in a personalized spookly retelling of “A Christmas Carol.” From the on-boarding to scripting, this experience taught me an immense amount about creating powerful virtual worlds. My top “oh s***t” moment: at one point you go THROUGH A MIRROR and it is…gasp inducing. Learn more here.
Ever So Slightly (RUBBERBAND / Joyce Theatre)
It’s so magical when you discover a company or artist and wonder “where have you been all my life?” Thus was my reaction to this monumental dance performance featuring what was likely the most full throttle performances from dancers I’ve seen. Marrying sharpness and propulsive movements, this relentless piece depicted our divisive society with a robust live score. Hopefully they’re back in NY soon.
“Wait For Me (Reprise)” from Hadestown (Broadway)
Hadestown is directed and staged so masterfully by Rachel Chavkin it almost makes you mad. The entire show she is using turntables and an elevator to seamlessly weave the world’s of the living and dead. This all comes to a head in this song which fills you with so much hope you almost think that damn boy Orpheus won’t turn around. Shoutout to choreographer David Neumann as well for working tightly with Chavkin so that their work just bleeds together.
Traveling While Black (Roger Ross Williams / Felix & Paul)
By far the best use of stationary 360 film I’ve experienced, this immersive documentary shares stories of the Black experience in America from the times of the “Green Book” to present day. While a lot of VR is focused on turning you into a super-solider, this experience places you across the table from Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria, and offers the privilege of just being present with her. It’s an empathetic experience that expresses the true power or virtual reality.
The Rumble in West Side Story (Broadway)
This is Ivo Van Hove’s take on the classic musical and so it should come as no suprise that it’s not what you expect or have seen before. That is especially true in The Rumble when he goes Full Ivo: incorporating rain, live feed steady cams, a man in a mask and enough toxic masculinity to make your head spin. It’s bloody awesome.
“This Extraordinary Being” episode of Watchmen (HBO)
Watchmen is one of the best shows of the year and hopefully you already knew that. The season’s sixth episode excavating the past though a “Nostagia” drug induced trip, is a masterclass in recontexualizing the events of a classic text — the original “Watchmen” comic — and how the form of TV can manipulate time and space. And this shot…
Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Playwrights Horizons)
Will Arbery’s new play brings the red feed/blue feed problem to frightening life (if you’re a democrat) with both intimacy and epicness. It manages to humanize characters who hate and make you go “huh, I see where they’re coming from” which is really all we can ask for right now from plays right now. I hope for and predict a very successful regional life for this show.