THE WOOSTER GROUP: THERE IS STILL TIME…BROTHER
posted by laura becker
A co-worker very recently asked me a question they admitted was potentially embarrassing: Is the Iraq War over? The purpose for the question was simply semantics; they wanted to know if it was now proper to say we were in two wars in the Middle East, or just one. We tried to parse out an all-encompassing wording, something like “security presence in the region” that was just vague enough for any reader, regardless of how up on their end-of-combat-operations news they were.
I find it tremendously fitting that it is at this moment in time, when Americans are officially allowed to turn the page on the war that we were already unofficially ignoring, that the Wooster Group and EMPAC bring us There Is Still Time…Brother, to shake our memories loose of earlier days of more passionate anti-war sentiment and frustrations.
Filmed some time around the summer of 2006, during some of the most despairing moments of the Iraq War (before the surge, before we allegedly/finally “turned the corner”) TIST…B incorporates miniature sets with foreign toys, three characters, each with their own script, and youtube videos playing on laptop screens, all vying for the attention of the viewer who happens to be sitting in the director’s chair. The film is labeled in TBA materials as both a “war” and an “anti-war” film, but really, according to director Liz LeCompte, it’s a “what we watch about war when we’re in a war” film, or more specifically, what we choose to watch, what we choose to not watch, and what we think we’re supposed to be watching. The found videos in the piece represent simply what happened to be getting hits that summer, or what happened to catch the actors’ interest. The interactive audience member may stop and focus on what resonates with them, Paris Hilton giving head for instance or Rosie O’Donnell praising Beth Ditto’s voice, or the image of a toddler with a sash of machine gun bullets. The result is something like choose-your-own-historical-fiction as told through a time capsule.
The technological wizardry behind the curtain of TIST…B, is The Interactive Panoramic Cinema, involving 12 cameras, 6 projectors, various sound tracks and overdubbing, and one swiveling chair that commands it all. The technical irony behind this piece is that when the Wooster Group arrived in Portland and plugged in the only machine that makes this magic happen, it blew up. The motherboard crashed, and thanks to the speed of technology, they would have had to go back in time if they wanted to find the pieces to fix it. It was unclear if it would even be up and running before the end of the festival.
This technical snafu actually brings the piece an extra layer of meaning. The technology from three or four years ago is just as obsolete as our past protests of war. The speed with which we can download inane fodder to shield us from more gruesome footage just as quickly replaces anger with apathy, and concern with consent.
Through a lot of hard work, a little luck, and some force of magic, the EMPAC/Wooster team finally got everything working again, but if I were you I would run don’t walk to see it, just in case. It will already have started when you get there, but depending on who’s in the director’s chair, you may get to see “The End” in crystal clear focus. If only we could say the same for the war.