Theories of Nothing: Experimental Theater
Aluminum foil, cardboard boxes, crumpled newspaper, plastic wrap, bits of string, stained sheets, techno music. Here is a list of things to which your first reaction, upon finding them in your attic, might be “junk.”
Those are just a few of the items that the Experimental Theater Ensemble turns inside out, wrestles with, tears apart and gets inside of in A Unified Theory of Nothing, five new theater pieces composed by the ensemble and facilitated by senior Jon Levin. The Experimental Theater Ensemble includes seniors Taylor Bibat, Andrew Broaddus, Emily Dodd, Celeste Eustis, Rachel Jacobs, Clare McNulty and David Unger, and juniors Carolyn Usanis and Alyse Frosch.
The show’s beginnings, Levin explained in a brief interview, were rooted in Viewpoints, a form of movement-based improvisation derived from modern dance and developed for stage actors by American director Ann Bogart.
The pieces also draw loosely on the genre of science fiction, resulting in titles such as “On Schrodinger’s Cat: An Experiment in Quantum Physics,” “Wormhole” and “String Theory.” This weekend’s non-Trekkie audiences needn’t worry, though — Levin prefers to describe the show, if he must, as “science, fiction, and science fiction.”
The pieces, because they are founded more in movement than text, mostly draw from science fiction the richness of its eccentricity, its human mysteriousness and its sometimes unintentional comedy. Each piece could be said to follow a clear narrative, but their strength is centered on their visual storytelling.
The ensemble had only a week to rehearse in Little Theater, but the sparseness of the set and lighting make the show’s presentation personal and starkly beautiful. Each scene seems to emerge from and disappear into a dream, with breaks in linear logic and imagery. The objects — only a few of which are listed above — that comprise the shifting sets and properties are used in such a versatile way as to convince the audience that the more limits were imposed, the more infinite the pieces’ visual vocabulary grew.
Light, too, is treated as a found object or toy — sometimes minimal, sometimes full and un-interpretive. At times it is also a prop or an actor, as when “Wormhole” is lit only by moving flashlight.
Perhaps with the knowledge that many people shy away from what they aren’t used to, Levin noted that everyone in the cast “was afraid of being pretentious.” Even if one enters the theater with a guard up against the word “experimental,” the guard will surely drop as the pieces’ clear intention to move and excite pervades.
The ensemble, however, does not do these things without pushing the envelope. By the very nature of its “experiment,” the group draws the audience’s attention to light, objects, the human body, sound and story in twisting, evasive ways, creating an unexpected sense of connection between them.
A Unified Theory of Nothing plays tonight and Saturday at 9 p.m. in Little Theater.