Lecture, Elizabeth LeCompte of the Wooster Group
Posted By: Julie Hammond
So claimed The Wooster Group’s Liz LeCompte in her Sunday afternoon discussion with Geoff Abbas and Kathleen Forde. This was immediately clarified and limited to pertain to the role of the director/viewer in THERE IS STILL TIME…BROTHER, The Wooster Group’s 360 degree interactive war/anti-war film. I understood what she was saying: the company created the film, a 20 minute loop with a beginning, middle and ending of sorts, that can be watched over and over in a choose-your-own (or experience-someone-else’s) perspective adventure. There are no right or wrong answers, no better part to watch, no uninteresting moments; indeed the tiny connections and actions, setting trees and wind-up babies in place, were some of my favorite moments.

While I agree with LeCompte that this piece has “no bad directors,” there was a moment when I experienced what felt like bad directing, no fault of LeCompte or The Wooster Group: an enthusiastic viewer decided to spin randomly without attention to the potential of the on-screen actions, taken in more by the remarkable technology and the position of power than the real opportunity to “direct” and directly interact with one of the greatest experimental companies in the world. And yet, I cannot help but think that my adverse reactions to this random spinning were no less a part of the piece than my twinge of anxiety when I sat in the directing seat: was I choosing the “right” part? did other people want to see something else? what did it mean that I skipped over the Paris Hilton sex tape? were other people annoyed that all I wanted to do was watch Kate Valk smoke a cigarette? This monologue running parallel in my mind to the actions and sounds from the screen ebbed, flowed, found relief when I relinquished the chair to others, and then rose up slowly again when I crossed my fingers for the new director to turn more to the left or more to the right.
The extent to which this anxiety connects to the content of film, indeed the extent to which this anxiety is intentional, is up for grabs. Following successful showings in Germany with felicitous Europeans taking turns directing the films, LeCompte and company were concerned about how Americans might take to this power role. Sharing continued without a hitch in Troy, NY where THERE IS STILL TIME…BROTHER opened EMPAC, but in Portland they’ve found audiences hesitant to take the directing seat: are we overly polite? passive? nervous? Are Portland viewers uncertain of what is going on? I don’t feel qualified to say, but I encourage viewers to take both sides: sit in the seat and let other people sit there are well. Do both for a long time if you can.
As for the film itself (not that the format of the film/technology can truly be separated from the very time-based act of watching/directing the film) it is remarkable. Working in the theatre (full disclosure: I am performer with Portland-based ensemble Hand2Mouth) can be very hard. This is not to say hard in the sense of no heat in your studio or no money to make your shows, although these both are true, but hard in the way that you have the be in the room to see the work. Imagine being in a band and making music, but there are no records or mp3 or tapes of all the music in the world. Instead you read books and articles and reviews of live shows, and only when you travel to see a performance or a group tours to your town do you get to hear their music. It sounds ridiculous to say that The Wooster Group is one of my favorite performing companies when I have never had the chance to see their work live (video clips don’t really cut it), yet in the paradigm of live performance it seems okay somehow. Imagine again that you are in the fictional band in the world without recording, and your favorite band (whose music you have never heard) arrives in town, not to play a concert but to present a film, or a puppet show, or something that connects to the work you know they’ve made, but is not exactly the work. You are excited to see them, but nervous that it will feel disconnected from what you know (or think you know) about their work. This is my state of mind in the weeks and months leading up to the TBA Festival: I do not want to be disappointed by the Wooster Group.
THERE IS STILL TIME…BROTHER is anything but disappointing, and it is entirely Wooster. There are the layers of actions and stories, On The Beach meets Rosie meets the French-Indian war written by a 14 year-old; there are the computer screens (facing the cameras, not the actors) to show us sex tapes, eye operations, and the end of the world; there are dioramas filled with tiny toys and junk food; and of course the incomparable Scott Shepherd (perhaps you remember him from ERS‘s Gatz? in TBA:08), Kate Valk and Ari Fliakos. The three stories blend and support each other, first one seeming more necessary then another until you discover that they all need each other and that they will keep going, changing slightly moment by moment despite their static state as digital film. Finally there are the special joys: Liz LeCompte writing at a diagram; disappearing actors and props; heads peaking up now and then in an attempt to sneakily move objects from place to place; and the hands moving around the circle, gathering the audience in their grip, at once like a firm handshake and gentle hug.