What Happens Outside the Box
Last week, a piece of performance art almost literally drove a woman crazy. Some performers were doing something secret in a gigantic, silvery box that filled the small stage of the Rendezvous Theater. The woman wanted in.
"My biggest fear has always been that someone will rush the box," said Korby Sears, the organizer and host of STRIKETHROUGH, a monthly series in which he invites different performers (actors, dancers, musicians, even primarily visual artists) to do something that nobody can see inside an eight-by-eight-foot box made of Dow insulation panels on a small stage that shares a building with a bar. "And she rushed the box."
The few other spectators in the theater said that the woman, who looked very normal—"when you go to the dentist's office, she's the person behind the counter who checks you in," one said—ordered dinner and a drink. (The Rendezvous has tables in the back of its long, shotgun theater.) Then, in the middle of the performance, she rushed the box, trying to tear it open and lobbing pint glasses and bulbous glass candleholders—"mazel tov cocktails," a manager at the Rendezvous called them—at the performers inside. The performers happened to be Implied Violence, an ensemble that just won a Stranger Genius Award. (Only one of them, Megan Birdsall, suffered slight scratches.) The aggressor demanded to know "who was in charge." When nobody piped up, she stormed out. The woman, another witness said, "must've been suffering from antiperformance anxiety."
Sears discourages people from coming to STRIKETHROUGH, but if you drop by and want to sit outside the box for a few minutes, it's not strictly forbidden. The series has everything a normal performance would—except an audience. Sears asks performers to write an original piece that's 15 to 90 minutes long, rehearse it, run tech rehearsals, and perform it. Sears tacks up posters and sends out press releases (wherein all the text is struck through) listing the date, location, and time of each performance, followed by a notice in bold: "NO ONE ADMITTED. No public. No press. No family. No friends." For every STRIKETHROUGH, Sears sends a postcard to Mayor Greg Nickels, asking him to stay home on the night of the performance.
The first time I attended, DK Pan was—allegedly—inside the box. It sounded like he was jumping on a trampoline while three low, electronic tones droned out of speakers overhead. "It's Schrödinger's Cat: The Musical," whispered a friend I'd brought along. He snickered a bit—there's something comically decadent about a performance that doesn't want your attention, love, or money—but reported no urge to hurl pint glasses at the performers.
What Happens Inside the Box
T his just isn't about you./> "In 2006, I was 37, and I wrote this song cycle," says Korby Sears, a member of the loose performance group Seattle School. "I wanted to perform it, it needed to be exhumed from me, but it didn't need an audience. I wondered, will they rent out the Rendezvous to me just to do this thing, get it out of my system, and be gone? And then I thought, does anyone else have work they want to do that's just between them and the cosmos?"
Under the name The Malfeasance Four, Sears performed the first STRIKETHROUGH in January—not that song cycle, but another piece about "recalibrating my relationship with money"—with the blessing of the Belltown theater-bar the Rendezvous. STRIKETHROUGH is, basically, a performance for no one but the performer. The location is important: "It's an act of privacy that occurs right in the center of downtown," Sears says.
Every month he finds a performer and spends about $500 of his own money on the theater rental and for posters and advertising disinviting everyone (the project is recalibrating his relationship with his own money). Artists are loving the privacy and formality of STRIKETHROUGH—the chance to create, rehearse, and produce without the restraint of an audience.
"I really, really needed this," said Marya Sea Kaminski, an actor who was transitioning from performing in a group to producing a one-woman show when she wrote June's STRIKETHROUGH. "I totally rehearsed. I made costumes and a soundtrack. Confronting the fact that it was just for me and just for a theater space actually challenged me not to half-ass it.
"When I got in there, it was really scary. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be. I felt very alone. It demanded surrender, which I'm really not used to onstage."
In July, Jennifer Zwick, a photographer, presented an entire musical about Teddy Roosevelt in the STRIKETHROUGH box, including members of her family as performers. But there was no documentation. The rule is that only the people inside the box can ever know what happened.
This month, photographer Steven Miller is scheduled to perform. Miller and Zwick both incorporate performance into their photographs, and Miller says this is a chance for him to "do to myself what I always ask other people to do." Following the regulations of STRIKETHROUGH, which Sears hands out to every artist who participates, Miller can only speak vaguely about his upcoming show, which is titled Bruised Fruit and includes him, one other performer, and a single prop: "I think all I can say is that if there wasn't a box around this, I'd probably get arrested."