- Diciking Around with Radiohole: Toward Hyperreal Performance and Criticism
Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.—Herman Melville (1988:571–72)
—Did you actually punch that whale?
—Hell! I’d strike the sun if it struck me! Be a pussy and find a priest or be a man, and stand up in a hurricane. More sperm!—Radiohole (2006:3)
Introduction: Bon Voyage!
Entering the Collapsable Hole, a Brooklyn warehouse space, each audience member—including me—is greeted by Scott Halvorsen Gillette, who appears on a 15-inch video monitor atop a small card table: “Step right up, step right up!” Gillette, an original company member, moved to Vermont three years ago, but appears here, in Radiohole’s most recent production, Fluke (The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep) or Dick Dick Dick, thanks to iChat. There is a camera atop Gillette’s screen-head—“Hello!—oh you are looking beautiful tonight. Beautiful! Do you have a reservation? Good, good: put the money on top of my head”—and each person is greeted personally from 300 miles away. Gillette trusts you will make correct change from the fishbowl that is the box office. He is grating and overbearing, in a rush, but at the same time, we are welcomed into his homes, both the theatre and his house, where he is broadcasting. He lets us in. He is there, but also here with us. Gillette establishes the box office itself as part of the performance, and, not being a “live” ticket-taking presence, immediately brings the audience into the mediated act of performance; like Gillette, we are a part of and apart from the piece.
Other than this unusual introduction, all else is in place for a typical Radiohole performance: wires, mixers, and general tchotchkes clutter the stage—a phonograph, a small video screen (upon which Gillette appears “onstage”), and mechanized moon are the most immediately noticeable. A large projection screen dominates upstage, its arts-and-crafts frame adorned with pasted-on seashells, starfish, and other aquatic paraphernalia. Posters adorn the walls, including various seascapes and a prominent portrait of Abe Lincoln that reads “DO NOT HUMP”; ropes hang from the ceiling; and fishing poles lay on the ground. It’s all part of Radiohole’s “trash aesthetic.”
Near the audience, there is another Radiohole signature: a tub of cheap beer, and, special for this marine extravaganza, a fountain of “grog,” all free for the taking. Radiohole performances aren’t just for the senses—they appeal to the dulled senses as well. After all, in order to join Radiohole on their strange trek at sea, the audience, too, must be invited to give in to the spirit of reckless abandon of the spectacle—to implicate itself in the performance’s actions.
Once Gillette’s telepresence has ushered everyone in, performer Maggie Hoffman comes [End Page 156] out from behind the curtains and quietly scales a homemade crow’s nest/platform, eight feet in the air stage right. She harnesses herself in, prepares her sound mixer, and leans forward into her microphone, whispering radio warnings to all present seafarers: “Low 48 North, 63 West, 982 millibars. Will drift East-Northeast” (Radiohole 2007:1).
Call them Ishmael.
Radiohole, the Brooklyn-based performance collective, has become something of an experimental darling in the past few years. Founded in 1998, they are known for their messy, violent, and loud performances. They’ve also gained a reputation as “the drunkest, highest group in downtown theatre” (Hannaham 2000). Despite the favor of many critics, however, much of the writing about them has been disappointingly reductive, the precious language used to describe them seems to be a cop-out for a lack of journalistic vocabulary, performing a critical and artistic disservice to Radiohole and other experimental companies.1 At worst, Radiohole has matured into the rebellious teenager of the performance community; at best, the group poses a significant challenge to the experimental performance aesthetic by creating impassioned, lyrical, and timely pieces...