SALT LAKE CITY — I hesitate to review this show using any sort of absolutes. I’m not going to say, “The show was this,” or “It had this effect,” because the whole experience was no doubt a singular experience for each audience member.
Sticking with the “no absolutes” theme, I don’t want to put any sort of label on the performance, either. I can’t call call it a “play” or “installation art” or any sort of simple name; Waves of Mu was more like a fusion of art mediums—theatre, conversation, film, installation, observation, and visual art—to create a new and stimulating experience. Overall, I would deduce that the performance wasn’t about the conventions or even the messages. Rather, it was about giving the audience an experience; it was about making us feel and think and examine and just be aware. Let me start at the beginning, though, and tell you about my experience.
The “show” (I’m going to use that word from here on out to designate the night.) began from the moment we walked in the building. Our names were checked off the reservations list, and we entered a room set up like an art gallery opening, complete with paintings and graphic art on the walls, comfortable seating, a coat rack, and refreshments. For the first half hour we stayed in this environment munching on cookies, mingling with other guests, and taking in the artwork and artist statements that adorned the walls–not to mention interacting with the strangely-dressed servers (wearing floor-length capes, goggles, and large astrological-looking emblems) and “research assistants” who measured things like our head circumference and foot length. At this point, I’m wondering what I’m supposed to be thinking, and if I’m supposed to be reacting in a certain way. Are they observing us? Are we lab rats?
After removing our shoes, they next ushered us in groups of six into what I’m going to call the “brain room.” Imagine a room designed like the inside of the brain–shape, color, and all–and you’ve got this room. The walls were plastered in brain-texture-covered paper from floor to ceiling, the floor was covered in pink carpet, and the room was filled with interesting neuron-related, thought provoking objects. At the center sat what we might presume was the master operator of the brain; he sat at a desk and filled the time typing, filling out paperwork, and answering phones—so maybe he was more like the brain’s secretary. I don’t know. Needless to say, the room was full of activity. We all explored the brain, walking from side to side, examining objects and interacting with the master operator. After a while, people discovered an exit at one end of the brain and the audience slowly moved into a room set up like one would expect to find in a typical theater: stadium-style chairs all facing an office-like set, complete with lighting, a projector, and props strewn about. Very typical. It was at this point that we audience members (now we finally felt like audience members) finally met the artist. Amy Caron presented herself as one researching the brain, neurons, and a whole lot of other stuff that went over my head but that was wholly fascinating in the moment. She wore a homemade lab coat, gold heels, and immediately began presenting her theories and experiments. For the next hour or so, Caron and her assistants bombarded our minds and senses with images, scenarios, smells, sounds, and even tastes. (First time I’ve ever been given Cheetos during a performance.)
Now, for days before attending Waves of Mu, I wondered and stressed over what would be required of us audience members, but it turns out I needn’t have worried. The space remained safe for us all, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The audience participation was minimal and all in groups, and most everyone was willing and eager to participate. Caron trusted us, asked for our trust in return, and gave us experiences–not meaning, not explanation, but instigators. The performance as a whole broke just about every convention I’m aware of. I mentioned before that the space and the performance was safe, and it was, but at the same time it was by no means gentle. The artist wanted us to think, not be comfortable.
As we experienced and began thinking about what we were seeing and feeling, the audience—again this is me speculating—became one, and this is where the performance began to take on meaning for me. A theme that stood out again and again was empathy. Caron wanted us to experience empathy in various forms, but especially discover the empathy we could have toward a room full of strangers all watching a performance together. I noticed at the beginning of the evening, the gallery time, we were all nervous and sizing each other up. There were judgements and apprehensions as no one knew what was coming or who was a performer. By the end, though, we were a community. We’d shouted and danced and lost our shoes and been weirded out as an audience. We were one: no more judgements. Just . . . something else. Again, I can’t declare any sort of universal absolute resolution, because I imagine it was different for everyone. But feelings were maybe something like . . . relief? Curiosity? Celebration?
Whatever it was, the whole evening was a fascinating exploration of emotion and comfort, and I could continue discussing and wondering about every detail for a while, but I’ll stop. Read about Caron’s research and performance at wavesofmu.com and explore for yourself.