The Performant: Do you SQUART?

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Let it be resolved, improv-based speed-playwriting competitions involving queer performance artists, cake, fabulous spandex, atrocious wigs, adult diapers, bare bums, wind-up hamsters, and flasks of whiskey should always be bestowed a title which sounds like an uncouth bodily function. Because at the very least it leads to the humorous speculation of what particular bodily function that might be. Though hopefully your attention will mostly be on the crazed mish-mash unfolding onstage, because queer performance artists armed with cake, fabulous spandex, and all the rest, put on quite a show.

Or at any rate, they did at the one-year anniversary SQUART, which graced the SOMARTS stage on Sun/9. Conceptualized by Laura Arrington and co-produced by The Offcenter and SOMArts, Spontaneous Queer Art invites participants to create ensemble pieces in two hours abiding by specific criteria, and present the finished piece to a panel of local “celebrity judges”. This season’s theme was New Queer Baby, so the criteria included counting down, making resolutions, and giving birth. Pregnant themes, if you will, and ripe for interpretation.
 
After an awkwardly-timed round of oddience participation, the first of four groups took the stage, dressed to dazzle in glittering tops, tiaras, and a sparkling, assless jumpsuit. After a series of sketches: the birth of a hamster, a needy girl at a party, an impassioned singalong to “If I Could Turn Back Time,” they regrouped to devise a list of non-traditional New Year’s resolutions such as “I need more excessive celebration in my life,” and “I need to find a way to make more money.” Fun stuff, but group number two quickly eclipsed their joie de avenir with a strikingly confrontational piece that traded in “fear, loathing, and ecstasy”. Dressed in diapers and trailer-park drag, the group spent a good portion of the show compulsively adding to the layers of garbage strewn about the stage -- condoms, salt, champagne, crumpled paper, shopping bags, a tank of helium -- while from the oddience a belligerent “heckler” (Philip Huang) kept interrupting their banal patter with a volley of insults, and deliberately annoying behaviors such as pacing around the room, and throwing his chips at the judges. A climactic moment involving another singalong and a half-naked performer (Michael Velez) being pushed around the stage on the back of a
dumpster screaming “I’m God” to the apathetic masses was the most visually interesting tableau of the whole evening.
 
The exceptional cohesion of the winning group doubtlessly pushed them to the top, points-wise. A woman (Loren Robertson) with a microphone sat on the edge of the stage singing “100 Bottles of Beer” as the rest of the group enacted a fully-clothed orgy which resulted in the birth of one very naked man. Brought to Loren, his head in her lap, he began to nurse at her breast while she continued to sing. This scenario repeated itself variously, while the rest of the cast danced the Hora, and attended a “dance class” in spandex, until there were four wriggling, naked bodies attached to Loren and no more bottles of beer on the wall. Her world-weary acceptance combined with the boundless enthusiasm of her “babies” and the dancers was strikingly nuanced.

A great example of how “spontaneous” doesn’t have to mean “sloppy”, and makes me think SQUARTing more in the New Year could be a resolution worth sticking to.

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