The Streaming Experience: Theater In Quarantine’s Footnote for the End of Time
“God made him die over the course of a hundred years.” This is the first line displayed on the screen when Theater In Quarantine ushers us into their next wildly inventive and finely tuned new production. It’s a captivating and engaging quotation, a dream of pawns with a good solid twist, where time stops for a Jewish playwright who has been sentenced to death during the Nazi occupation of Prague. In this magical and dynamically engineered retelling of Jorge Luis Borges’ classic short story, The Secret Miracle, Footnote for the End of Time finds graphic dynamic details as it unwinds the charcoaled beauty of this daring and dark tale. Premiering on August 27 on Joshua William Gelb’s YouTube, the creating, reversing, and erasing of this hypnotic poetic translation is created with deft care in a impressively artistic collaboration with composer Alex Weston (The Farewell). It’s tense and timely, setting this transfixing translation of Borges’ cacophony of spoken verse to the fantastic musical accompaniment inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, itself composed in a Nazi POW camp.
It’s hauntingly elegant in its solid literary warning to others, where “the enemies” are killing the writing man countlessly and theoretically in a repetitive style that is nothing if not punctual. “How long have you been here” asks God when the unfinished drama inside his head filters and floats out into the white canvas, where all these strangers that have gathered are actually something quite else than what they first say they are. The tension is poetically sketched with detail and finesse, paralyzing our senses as he screams wildly in the everlasting moment of 9:02am. Theater In Quarantine has found their own language of intense and deliberate artistic technique pulling this piece forward into our senses, “maybe more, maybe less“, finding an intense emotional core from their fantastically creative rendering that will linger in your imagination for some time.
Footnote for the End of Time, the latest debut from Theater in Quarantine, is a must-see new performance laboratory from the creative mind of Joshua William Gelb who performs and live streams his work from his East Village home closet. Gelb’s performances have set an extremely high-bar for live performance inside the digital space, challenging us to embrace the confines of remoteness with daring clarity and vision. He’s a champion of the creative collaborative mind at a time when New York City is in need of exactly this, amid vital protests and the threat of a second wave looms. Theater in Quarantine remains dedicated to producing new live experiences while brick and mortar theaters remain closed, and this is one not to be missed. It’s wildly smart and sometimes overwhelming with its literary dimensions, but that’s when it radiates with its devotion most solidly to good art.
From the press package regarding this and their other fun productions available on their YouTube channel, Theater in Quarantine states quite bracenly that they remain fully dedicated to producing new live experiences while the live theaters remain closed in New York City. Gelb states, “When everything shut down, I set out to adapt to the digital form without sacrificing the integrity of the live event. How can we artfully push against the boundaries of this new social distance to theatrically embrace the limitations of remoteness? What we might consider our shared theatrical values? And how might we continue to collaborate responsibly even while we social distance?” And thank God for that.
Gelb and his collaborators started releasing pre-recorded studies in movement, clown, camera orientation, and perspective, finding ways of building upwards towards more complex theatrical experiences. On April 23, they premiered Theater in Quarantine’s first live-stream performance: an adaptation of Kafka’s The Neighbor which has been followed by an unauthorized edit of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and collaborations with artists like Scott R. Sheppard (Underground Railroad Game), Nehemiah Luckett (Jazz Singer), and Ellen Winter (36 Questions).
“I often think about Peter Brook’s invocation of the empty space when standing in front of my closet,” says Gleb. “How can this utilitarian container, so uncomfortably small, so disproportionate in its aspect ratio, become a stage for the imagination? And it’s here I find the central metaphor, and perhaps appeal, of the entire project — it’s about as obvious as you might expect — that my attempts not only to make art in this confinement but to exist whatsoever, are not so dissimilar from what many of us are experiencing. There is frustration, and boredom, and lots of loneliness. But there is also great potential and for once an expanse of time that we have the chance to fill not with mere anxiety but with the thoughtful, rigorous creative impulse.” It’s a noble and vital response to a closed down dangerous world and the aloneness of quarantine, one that he not only finds humor in his craft but unleashes so much more inventiveness than one can ever imagine, all buried deep inside his tight white closet in the East Village. If only my closet had such treasures….
Check out my review of Theater in Quarantine & Sinking Ship’s The 7th Voyage of Egon Tichy. Visit joshuawilliamgelb.com for more information and youtube.com/joshuawilliamgelb to stream all of the Theater in Quarantine original works.