We all come as audience to any performance with our own personal histories and experiences through which we encounter the work, but rarely does the work come to visit at home- to do our chores. Brian Feldman’s Dishwasher is a lightly structured score that necessarily takes place in your own home, so the audience becomes co-author of the piece and a primary subject.
Something I love about this kind of participatory and site-specific work is that the construction and content of the work relies so much on the actuality of the individuals who took part. It cannot assume a passive or arbitrary audience, hidden in the dark, as if anyone ever could be neutral. To talk about this work I have to address my individual experience of it, subjective and lived. And, sometimes life doesn’t go the way you expect it to.
In this piece, Brian comes over to you house at a pre-arranged time, does your dishes, and then reads a monologue of your choosing which is presented to him for the first time once the dishes are complete.
When I confirmed reviewing this show I expected to be moved into a big group house with several artist friends. But no, that fell through and I am (equally embarrassed and lucky to be) living with my parents as I trudge through grad school.
It occurred to me that my mother might be home at the time of our arranged dishwashing. I scoured the confirmation email and Brian’s Fringe webpage for rules, nothing about privacy or the conditions under which the work must happen or other parameters of participation. I reasoned, the piece must take place in your own home, and certainly my mom is an integral component of my home, whether she happens to be in the kitchen during the performance or not. And, sometimes your home is unexpectedly filled with Irish musicians.
Every year, my folks host a bunch of top-notch Irish musicians during a week of workshops, classes, and performances known as “MAD Week.” I knew we would have a few more dishes than usual for Brian, but thought the musicians would be out. Not the case.
My tour around the house went something like, “So, Brian, here is my kitchen, here are the dishes, dish soap- and here is my dad, mom, brother, dog, and eight of the best Irish musicians in the world. Life is weird.”
Suddenly, all the psychological baggage and influences I carry with me out in the world invisibly became quite physical, represented through my objects, belongings, the people around me, and the space I inhabit.
Life does not fit neatly in a little black box, so why should we expect performance to be able to? Whether rules were spelled out or not, I certainly got the sense that I was breaking all the rules as I was “the” designated audience in this very experimental performance. The musicians gathered around the kitchen table, perhaps inspired by Brian and perhaps at the prodding of my exuberant father who was pretty delighted by the whole situation, and played a bunch of really great traditional tunes.
Not coincidentally, the monologue I chose for Brian to read (at my mother’s suggestion) was a passage from Yeats’ “Celtic Twilight,” very much about music and magic. He looked it over a few times, and then delivered it tremendously well to a quiet and rapt audience of otherwise very noisy people.
I cannot emphasize enough that it was never my intent to use Dishwasher as a platform or showcase, I believe it should be a frame for a shared encounter, but this is just what a slice of what my life happens to be like at this moment. And certainly, this was a unique encounter of two intersecting worlds right in the kitchen.
Of course, every other version of this piece is going to be totally different, a beautiful reminder of the scope and diversity of interpretations in any audience. Concurrently, Brian is running a show called txt at the American Poetry Museum every Sunday in 2015, a marathon run of another very experimental show that his demonstrates his integrity to his work. My suggestion to future attendees of this or any of Brian’s other one-on-one work is to come without a plan or predetermined ideas of what might happen, and come with a receptive and open mind, and for Dishwasher, an open kitchen.