What Andrew Schneider achieves on stage literally using smoke and mirrors leaves theatergoers as astonished as 19th century audiences must have felt watching Lumière’s “Arrival of the Train,” that first movie of a locomotive magically appearing on a screen. Those audience members supposedly fled in terror and panic. The audiences at 3LD Art and Technology Center, where YOUARENOWHERE is sold out through April 10, gather in clusters after the show. (Perhaps the show will extend its run once again.*)
It feels like a betrayal to talk about the existence of the coup de theatre at all, even though I won’t tell you what it is, because the perception-altering surprise is so satisfying, I wouldn’t want to do anything to ruin it.
That YOUARENOWHERE aims to play with your perceptions and your assumptions is evident from the very title, which could be read as “You are now here” or as “You are nowhere.” The possibility of being simultaneously here and nowhere is one of those mind-boggling concepts that physics majors like to ponder late at night in the campus pub, and part of YOUARENOWHERE feels like just such a bull session. Schneider says things like: “Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.”
He uses both trains (!) and movies (!) – and video projections — to illustrate theories in physics, employing what initially sounds like a typical high school math problem – “Imagine two observers, one seated in the center of a speeding train car, and another standing on the platform as the train races by…” — to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with remarkable clarity and a bit of wit.
More often his intense, rapid-fire speech evokes the sensation of a physics graduate student having gone off his meds and ranting in the middle of a subway car. The impression may be aided by Schneider’s being shirtless throughout (“Not so quite sure why I’m not wearing a shirt,” he admits at one point.)
But some theatergoers might not get past the show’s bells and whistles – or beeps and buzzers – to grasp the meaning behind any of Schneider’s words, and that’s okay. Over the years, the self-described “interactive electronics artist” has invented things like a Solar Bikini, “a bikini that charges your iPod,” and is well known for his videos, new-fangled installations and electronic devices for the Wooster Group and other avant-garde theater companies. His technical know-how is on full display in YOUARENOWHERE, with intentional sensory overload: Colored lights flash in our faces, amplified musical snippets and sound effects pound our eardrums, even a device under each seat buzzes our butts (maybe a couple of times too often.)
An empty picture frame dangles in mid-air for most of the show. When Schneider sticks his head into it, his face is magically thrust into darkness.
We, too, are thrust into darkness at times, metaphorically (also literally – there are lots of blackouts.) Schneider hints at the larger purpose of YOUARENOWHERE in his explorations of the nature of identity, his questioning of whether or not, as he puts it, “existence is anything more than electrical impulses flowing through your brain.” In his contemplation of such questions, he tries to apply the principles of physics to life and love. The question I have (applying the language of science) is whether Schneider’s experimentation in YOUARENOWHERE can be replicated; can it lead to a fresh approach to theatrical storytelling?
YOUARENOWHERE is on stage at 3LD, 80 Greenwich Street, though April 10, 2016
- * Update: Andrew Schneider says there ARE tickets still available. “WE WILL GET YOU IN. I promise.”