Below are the videos of five entries in the sixth annual Exponential festival, which has gone completely digital this year and largely loopy. I’ve written brief reviews, but I try to be gentle because these are experiments, and free, and short – all under an hour.
The festival, which runs through January 31 and features five more premieres ( the festival’s calendar ) will continue to showcase these works on YouTube.
What’s most striking about what the organizers explicitly bill as a theater festival is how digitally savvy all these emerging artists are, even the ones whose pieces were initially planned to be in-person works on a stage in Brooklyn; they are instead presented on YouTube at the last minute only because of the surge of COVID-19 infections.
The five below are presented in the order in which they premiered, their titles linked to their festival page (where you can donate to the artists.)
Spencer Fox and Theresa Buchheister portray the two hosts of a podcast series about a hit sci-fi network TV show called “Recursive.” Written and directed by River Donaghey, this audio play begins as a spot-on spoof of such podcasts, as well as of the sort of abstruse sci-fi TV series that sprouts obsessive fans, who search for clues to its meaning in the deepest of rabbit holes. But then Tad starts to go off the rails, insisting on telling Tammy his dream rather than recapping the latest episode, and the podcast starts to turn as mysterious and ominous as the series.
Annie Heath explores in poetry and dance her feelings of being born in Korea and adopted in America. She moves through womblike hanging pieces of Korean fabric known as bojagi, against a brick wall, addressing her birth mother directly (“Did you hold me with sadness?”) At one point, she describes the process of bleaching flour, which she says is not as healthy as the original, “sometimes has a bitter taste” and “unwanted side effects.” Then she says: “I am white bread. You bread me, rolled me out, and flattened me, until I too bear the resemblance of bleached white…”
Joseph Hendel calls his 28-minute video an “AI collage of internet masculinity.” As he explains in a title card upfront, the piece originated in actual comments made by men in Internet message boards. Actors speak the lines in voiceover, while the characters are depicted in stop-motion animation. The lines are accompanied by an underscore that includes Beethoven and John Philip Sousa but is overwhelmed by synthesizer music. Overwhelmed is the operating word here, certainly for the characters, at least when it comes to women. If Hendel’s experiment can also feel more overwhelming than insightful for the viewer — if it’s more impressive as a technical achievement than an aesthetic one — it’s fascinating nonetheless. There is so much conversation about circumcision that it begins to feel like a metaphor. The piece reveals the men’s fears and frustrations (“Recently I had a dream where I finally managed to have sex.”) and their confusion and incoherence (“Feminism continues to present in society but I am still confused about where exactly we struggle, even though I understand that part about our words meaning nothing.”) If this is not necessarily a look at American Maleness in 2022, it’s at least a glimpse of what Hendel calls the Manosphere.
Braulio Cruz presents almost an hour of monologue, song and images that is billed as a funeral service, but seems like random reflections about such cosmic issues as the origins of life and the necessity of suffering. His delivery is full of pauses, stumbling and stuttering. (Sample passage, picked at random: “But there’s a lot of pain, and I think that’s that’s where I’m getting to is that if you look at pain, and the cycles of pain, you know, I mean, like honestly, maybe that’s all ok, I don’t know. I don’t know if we need to fix that. Yeah so if the universe is nothing and everything um then there’s no pain, and yeah that’s positive, that’s the positive and um there’s nothing um to strive for, and that’s positive too. I mean I’m tired…”.) It’s hard to discern whether Cruz is portraying a character or just being himself.
In what looks like a Virtual Reality animated panorama, two dogs named Spot and Lysol want to be human, and become featureless versions of human beings – more like mannequins– who travel over some gorgeous/eerie computer-generated landscapes, while in the bottom right corner of the screen, we see the two-member creative team, Nola Latty and Thomas Wagner, who voice the characters and apparently also operate in real time the computer program. The two virtual dog-to-mannequin characters journey through open fields, under water, on a raft before a sunset, on salt flats, in a maze-like house, until they finally learn life’s lessons when they end up…on a stage, complete with a red curtain. The piece is in a theater festival after all.
starts at around 9:40