it's been such a long time since i participated in the first and second parts of 600 highwaymen's a thousand ways, a triptych of participatory experimental theatre. the first time, in may of 2021, i met a stranger and a bot on a phone call and we were directed through telling a story together; the second time, a month later, i met another stranger through a big piece of plexiglass in an empty theater and we interacted as a stack of cards instructed us. this time i went up to midtown to what i figured until today was the new york public library's stephen a. schwartzman building (the one with patience and fortitude, the lions, and where i went to try to get my first nypl library card almost two decades ago because i didn't know any better); actually it was the stavros niarchos foundation library, the one southeast of the flagship that replaced the branch where i actually did get my library card. i walked up to the seventh floor, hung up my coat and left my tote bag on a table in an event space, took one of sixteen chairs after reading the card it held, and waited for the door to shut.

we were encouraged to remember what happened simply by remembering it, and i want to honor that by, to paraphrase myself when i'm mocking a camera-happy friend, just taking a picture with my feelings. i will say that at one point another participant came up and put his hand on my shoulder because he thought i was the one, of all of us, who most liked to be by myself - his eyes smiled at me above his mask - and i put my hand on his shoulder: he would know that because he was the one. i think we can smell each other.

as we were walking out and waiting for the elevator i asked one of the other participants if she'd done parts one and two of the production; she had, and she'd even done the phone one twice, because she'd wanted to know what it was like to be person A and person B in the exchange. we agreed that we'd found the first parts more intense than this one; i remarked that those had hit like booze at altitude, and she said it was just like that. did the creators have to wait until now to stage this conclusion to the cycle because of the tricksiness of meeting in person during the pandemic? (there was touching today, as i said, and a few of us weren't wearing masks.) i learned when i got home that it was staged in seattle in march of last year, so - no, at least kind of no. i also said i thought that mimicked what the stages of transitioning out of lockdown had felt like; we entered it together, but each of us left it alone, in their own way, the connections all eroded. her name is molly, and she told me she was going downstairs to use the bathroom; i told her my name was lauren and i was going to go play frogger with my husband. that sounded like an excellent thing to do, she said. i have already forgotten the wording of what she told me she was glad to do with me today and i agreed i was glad to have done with her; i walked downtown to st. mark's place after repocketing the copper arcade token i'd passed around the circle, to molly, and when i got there i fed it into a cabinet and it was gone.


Anonymous said...

[sjp] i passed around a bracelet gifted to me by a stranger named techiera after seeing the opera “omar” two days prior. (it was either that or pass around lint—my pockets were empty.) i like that it has been on journey with me.

i was in seattle when part 3 was happening in early march, but went to cirque du soleil’s reimagining of “alegria” instead.

LPC said...

This feels terribly sad to me. Lots of things in life are sad, of course, and it's nothing to shun. Sad. It feels sad.

lauren said...

LPC, you know me well and might have felt the frame of my sadness as i described this; i was thinking of ending the post by talking a bit more about the friends i lost this year, and why i was realizing that perhaps they had never been friends at all. sara [sjp] can speak for her experience earlier this year, but i'd say this production was all about ephemerality rather than sadness: lots of "this is what this looks like now, but it will change," and "i'm grateful for the eyes i have in this moment, i am glad i had this wrist" and so on. we noted that one of us had a great anger, and one of us was looking for love, and one of us was in such a state of change that we wouldn't recognize them in six months. i was also instructed to think about if i would trust molly with my kids, and i nodded yes; as we parted in the lobby of the library i told her again, laughing, that i would trust her with my theoretical kids. it all felt better than time with the friends did. to quote that seattle times piece i link in my post,

'It feels like it should be a false sense of connection. After all, people can, and often do, lie in uncomfortable situations. And one segment of the experience even encourages making some assumptions about people: put your hand on the shoulder of who you think is the best dancer or who likes to be alone. But even the act of hands hitting my shoulder when prompted to touch someone who gives good advice was moving. And another segment, imagining what someone’s parents may look like, even if there’s no way to know whether you’re right or wrong, provides mysteriously profound connection just through the act of taking the time to think deeply about a stranger. “An Assembly” gives unparalleled space to consider other human beings in a typically unyieldingly fast-paced world.'